In this article you will find:
“Short version: Hello. My Name is Original Poster.* In my previous life, I sold financial software, news, and research to hedge funds and banks. Like most of the people I know, I was laid off in October of 2008. Now I am a stay at home mom thinking about going back to work.
Long version: Hello. My Name is Original Poster.* I am currently a very happy stay at home mother to my two very young children. The bulk of my career was spent at Big Media Company*. I left Big Media Company* to start and manage the capital markets arm of an existing social media research firm. I was laid off in October of 2008 shortly before the company closed and shortly after I had learned I was pregnant with my first child. Given the rough waters the market was clearly about to sail, I decided to take some time off to enjoy this very special time in my life rather than kick off a job search.
I know that I have to go back to work at some point and that I have been very lucky to be at home as long as I have. While I am not actively looking, I am looking forward to lurking in the background of your conversations. I am excited to learn about other fields that might work into my new life more easily.
Frankly, I have many questions and fears about going back to work. Do I have to start at the bottom after being out of the rat race for three years? Does it even make sense to go back if I spend half of my earnings or more on child care? Would I be going back for the money or for me? Am I better mother if I am at home loving them full time or out in the world improving myself and building their college funds? Most of all, how do I leave these wonderful, little people? Will it hurt as much as I think it will? Oh and when did I become such a wimp? I digress. Comfort in strangers, I suppose.
There are two very important young adults in my life due to graduate from college in the next two years (fingers crossed). I will also be keeping my ear out for internships or entry level positions as well.
I am thrilled to have found this group and look forward to maybe finding the answers to a few of these difficult questions in the future or at least a new friend or two along the way. Thanks for reading.”
Tip: Remember the costs of daycare diminish once your child is school age:
“As far as the cost of daycare, it does take a chunk, but in a couple of short years they will be in school, and you will have been able to use the time to lay more of a foundation for a future career. In my experience, as long as you find a daycare you are very happy with, as I was lucky enough to do for both kids, I get great pleasure from dropping my kids off in this magical place full of toys and art projects etc, where they get to have their own relationships and activities. It feels great to me to have some time to think and work on something other than the kids and the housework, and then it's an equally great joy to leave that, and be reunited with the kids, hear about their day and what they've learned. As they get older, they will want and need to learn more about career options, about where money comes from and how finances work, about how to be independent, and I really feel that being a working parent sets a great example. So, I wish everyone the best (including myself as I struggle to finally finish grad school and get a 'real' job)!!”
Tip: Working means you can stay connected to a world outside of kids, with emotional benefits outweighing the financial struggle:
“My husband and I struggle with these same issues and debates too. I now know that there is no role more important than that of parent. That being said, I am finding it really beneficial right now to also have work outside of that, even if it doesn't do much more than break even with child care. It's not my ideal gig either, but I feel at the very least it keeps me connected and somewhat relevant to the working world. Our son and family have also benefitted greatly from the attention and care from our part-time nanny, which is an enormous t benefit I hadn't even considered when returning to work. Even when you work outside of the home, you are never off-duty as a parent.
So, I think that there are emotional benefits that override the money, and it's ok if it's 'for you' and not money. I agree that it is a good example (and a reality) for kids to see their parents in different roles too. Instead of 'starting at the bottom' my mom also went for a whole new career when I was in college. It inspires me still, and is a lesson that it's never too late to start something new. So maybe this is a chance to go for something you've been wanting to try professionally, but haven't yet. Also, there are all sorts of ways to configure hours if you are worried about missing your kids. I'm finding the balance of 3 days at a job 2 days with my son to be ideal. Won't always work, but it does for now.”
Tip: It varies from family to family. Consider you own circumstances and what you, your kids, your partner need:
“I wanted to also weigh in on this topic- I hope you’re not too overwhelmed yet! I was working full time when I got pregnant with my first daughter and had absolutely planned on going back to work after she was born. However, once I started looking for childcare options (I didn’t make a lot of money at what I did so couldn’t afford a nanny) we decided that we would make the sacrifice, financially, and I would stay at home.
Luckily, I had some skills that enabled me to start my own business and I began doing freelance calligraphy work to help pay the bills. But after 9/11, my husband was laid off from his job and couldn’t find work for two years. I ended up taking a job that I absolutely loved and that lasted about a year. I had to quit because my family couldn’t handle my working. They really needed me to do all of the things a stay-at-home mom does that we all take for granted. Dinner rarely got made- we ate out a LOT. Childcare cost a fortune and my girls were there from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm every day. If one of them got sick it would be a battle to decide whose job was more important and who had to stay home with them. The house was a mess, Dr’s appointments had to be made at certain times…SO many things. And my kids weren’t happy. So I quit.
Then the economy crashed AGAIN and I went back to work for another year. My oldest was now in middle school and started hanging out with three girls who bullied her mercilessly. Her once terrific grades were slipping, and she was visibly depressed. When she started smoking pot I quit my job again. This just wasn’t worth it for us.
I now have a part-time job with my daughter’s school, so when school’s out, I’m off too. And if someone is sick, I’m very welcome to leave work and be with them with no problems. I also work (from home) with a health and wellness company that allows me to be available for my family.
This really long-winded reply is really just to say that there’s no right or wrong here. It’s what works for YOU and for the people who matter most- your family. Some people prefer to be at work, some to be at home, and some work from home. Your kids will not respect you more if you go back to work. It’s who you are as a person and what kind of a parent you are to them that matters. You’re having the same, normal feelings that we all have. And you sound like a smart woman- just remember that no situation is perfect. And you don’t have to be perfect either –which is a hard one for most of us! And make sure you have a strong network of friends who support you no matter what.”
The added emotional benefit is more valuable than the money:
“I thought I'd add my two cents for one of your questions -- "Does it even make sense to go back if I spend half of my earnings or more on child care?" I am the primary earner in our family, so our situation is a little different. We have three small children (a son and twin daughters), so we have quite a bit of child care costs, even though my husband is home 2 days/work week. At the end of the day, we might even save money by having my husband stay home full time (maybe), but there is an emotional cost and a value to working that you can't put a price on -- that, as you suggested and [another poster] agreed -- contributes positively to being the healthy, loving parent we all strive to be. It probably varies by person - but my husband is a better father and better spouse by having those days where he gets to do the work he loves. So while we don't necessarily come out ahead in our savings account, we still do come out ahead. The same would be true if it were me in his shoes. I think it helps (and matters in the equation!) that he has a job he loves -- the emotional and other benefits he gets from his work might not be outweighed by the expense of childcare if he hated (or was indifferent to) his job. But I would say -- and I think many others would agree -- that you can't just compare your earnings vs. expense of childcare to see if it makes sense. The emotional benefits you could get from working have to be weighed in and, in the right situation, are likely the most valuable.”
Tip: Weigh your options:
“I agree that there is no wrong or right answer. You can always change your mind and take another direction. Sometimes economics may dictate your decision, but if you have a choice, the decision will come when you are ready to make it! There are certainly benefits to being out in the workforce, greater independence and possible career advancement. It feels good to make money. But spending time with your children could also have a wonderful impact on their lives and educational development.”
When one of our PSP member replied, the conversation evolved into a discussion about the larger picture which prompted a dialogue about the social and political issues at play…
“I wanted to second [the above poster’s] post and remind everyone of some of the larger issues in going back to work or not, and how we feel about families who make or made different decisions than we are or did.
First of all, it's a relatively recent phenomenon that a family with children needs to have more than one adult bringing in an average U.S. salary to live decently, or two bringing in part-time salaries . As far as I can tell, it started in 1980 with Reagan's policies that were then continued by many other administrations since. Today we're in an economy as bad as I can remember, and I think I'm older than most if not all of you.
We're also one of the few western countries that gives almost no financial support to new parents. As the world economy shifts, more countries are giving fewer benefits to new families, but I think our government's policies are still the most regressive. I know in the past there were many European countries that gave 2/3 of a salary to new parents for 2 or more years - and that was to BOTH parents! And free quality childcare was available as well. I knew someone from Sweden 10 years ago or so who worked in a childcare facility who was complaining that due to budget cuts they were lowering staff:child ratios at his center from 1:3 to something like 1:6 and that his working conditions were becoming so much more difficult in the quality of care he could give to his kids who were 2-6 years old. As a then part-time public school music teacher who usually had classes of 25 kindergarteners by myself, I could only drool at the thought of a 1:6 ratio.
In this country, being a parent is treated as a hobby by our government - not as doing one of the most important jobs in the society - raising the next generation of workers. We get no time off to speak of (a new dad married to one of my daughter's best friends got one week off without pay from his job when his son was born), no training, no conferences, no help, usually no good perspective on what we're going through. (Well, now you folks have Park Slope Parents to help you out with perspective!) But really, mostly there's lousy advice out there with folks trying to make money off of parents instead of really assist and help.
Many years ago when I was in the playgrounds of Prospect Park with my then only child, I remember hearing many moms bad-mouthing with great distain any mom who made a different decision than she did about staying at home. The moms who went back to work weren't good parents; the parents who went back to work full-time looked down on stay-at-home moms. And while part-time working outside of the home moms often appreciated each other, they usually looked down on both the full-time stay at home moms as well as the full-time working moms. And I thought - this is ridiculous! We're so hard on each other!
So given the society in which we live, if you're lucky enough to be able to actually choose between staying at home or going back to work part or full time, give yourself and your fellow parents a break and know there are absolutely no perfect choices - only the best that you can figure out at any given moment. I have my own personal preferences and thoughts about work and raising children, but I know that they don't work for everyone, and I know so many families who have done things really differently than I have who have raised fantastic kids.”
As a working mom, you feel like you can empower your children:
“I'll take the "better mother" question. It's important to be a role model for your children -- a 'whole person' role model. Before kids you had interests, a job, and a life without kids. I find that when I put too much time and energy into my kids without focusing on me that I lose a bit of myself. When I work (or do projects, or volunteer, etc.) I end up nourishing a part of myself and in the process I'm a better mother. I'm actually hoping to have a job when my kids are teenagers that affords me to be home more-- seems like those times are more critical they need critical thinking and coping skills than times when they are learning to use a cup, ball, or other physical skills.
Legislation needs to change:
“This is a very important topic that has its root cause in the type of society we live in. As a new mom (Olivia is almost 4 months old), I am facing a very tough situation. With a C-section, I went back to work only 10 weeks after delivery. It's been tougher than I could ever thought about.... with 3 horrible nanny experiences that kept my husband and I awake at night, the reality that I cannot become a stay home mom because we both need to work full time to pay our expenses... and the realization that I do no longer want to be Chief "something" Officer ...
I agree that in order to change this and other situations we need legislation. However, it cannot come if society does not value the benefits of stay home Moms and Dads. In my company, I work with employees who live in other countries where maternity leave is anything from 6 months to 4 years. These countries have higher educational stantards and rankings than the U.S. When were we #1 in the world in Education? Oh yeahhh! In 1950!!! Sorry for the sarcasm... but I hope you see my point.
The change starts with siciety... legislation will follow..
When do we start? I am ready!
Mom J, who worked about 16 hours a day until the last day of pregnancy and travelled on Business until month 8 :(
“I'm ready too! In fact, this has been my favorite subject since before I even had children--or a career. I think I always knew it was going to be an issue for me. I'm an attorney specializing in nonprofit law. While I love my work, I recently decided to take a detour in the very linear career path I've followed to date, to spend more time with my two year old son and newborn daughter. I didn't completely step out of the professional world: I'm working on a part-time basis for my (previously full-time) employer for the time-being, and I plan to continue to stay active in my field through part-time work, consulting and/or volunteering. (With the many in our community active in the nonprofit sector, I'm actually hoping this listserve will be a resource for that!).”
Problems with the system:
“My children were born in Germany, and I was given three years maternity leave. When my second child was born they added another 3 years on top (not sure what my job would have been like after 6 years). This time could be split between my husband and I if we so wished. Naturally only the first few months were paid for but I got full health coverage and a child allowance for staying at home. I was allowed to go into any cafe or restaurant, without buying something, and ask to use the bathroom and they would have to provide me with a place to breastfeed. I was basically looked after. Although money was tight, it meant it was worth it as I knew, with a month's notice, I could go back to work if needs be. And the local government child services provide a free service to find you a babysitter.
I chose not to go back to my job, but set-up my own business. But how do you full-time parents manage it with both working out of the home? I seem to be in school for various plays, dances and field trips and then the 9 week summer holidays, half days, clerical days and sickness. The school system is not set-up either to help working parents.”
Both working and not working causes anxiety - just different types:
“This conversation has been fascinating! Thank you all for sharing your experiences and insights. I didn't work for the first few years after my twins were born and it definitely generated a lot of anxiety on a number of fronts -- the disparities between what my husband and I were each contributing to the household, my career, retirement savings, the low value society places on parents, etc... Currently, I am working very part-time from home, but the work/family/financial issues certainly continue.”
Reminder: Every decision has pros and cons:
“This is a great discussion! I've wrestled with many of these feelings for the last few years. I used to ask every parent I knew how he or she managed work and children, thinking there was a magical solution that I hadn't though of myself. So far, I've taken an extended leave of absence to stay home, worked part-time, worked a few days a week with additional at home projects, and I am now back at work full-time. Obviously, there are pros and cons to each situation.
Now that I am back at work full-time, I do feel more at ease knowing I have enough time to finish my work instead of conducting research on my phone during a puppet show with my kids because I was afraid to turn down work. And, for me, full-time is the right decision. But, of course, there is a ton that I am missing with my kids now that I'm back full-time. I am also in awe of some of the creative solutions I've seen other parents craft so they can pick their kids up from school and spend time with them during the weekdays while still working on meaningful projects.
One of the best pieces of advice I was given on this issue is that the happiest families have the happiest parents whether they are working full-time in their careers, part-time, working on a freelance or consultancy basis, taking time off, or not working.”
Creative solutions require creative employers:
“You mention some of the creative solutions you have seen parents who work full time come up with in order to spend meaningful time during the weekdays with their children on a regular basis. Could you share some of those?
Of course in order to implement creative solutions we need the support of our employers. But if we can come up with the suggestions - and pitch it in a way that helps the company see they will benefit from it - we get one step closer to striking the balance. Knowing others have found some creative solutions (and that there are workplaces that support them) is encouraging.”
More state supported and flexible childcare arrangements are needed:
“This has been such a great discussion. (First a quick note, that I hope what I said in my first email about my aunt did not come across as denigrating anyone who chooses not to go back to work and I have many friends who for a myriad of reasons have chosen or needed to leave to their jobs to be the full time caretaker, and I in no way was trying to put any of them down!)
But my main reason for writing at the moment is that I think one of the main difficulties for those of us who choose to or have to go back to work is the cost of daycare, this is another critical service to society which you would think the government/employers/universities would want to provide and support for their citizens/employees/students. The fact is that in New York City there are Child Development Centers that offer great care for working parents on a sliding scale, and a couple of them in Park Slope. Both of my kids have attended Helen Owen Carey CDC on Lincoln Place after the vicissitudes of income made it impossible for us to afford the private daycares where they were previously. They have had great experiences there and it was a total lifesaver for us. But these CDCs are having their budgets slashed right now as I type this, when what we really need is more of them, and for their services to be expanded, not cut. This is a live issue, so while we are organizing other lobbying initiatives, everyone please take a moment to write to your councilperson or pick up the phone and call 311, you can tell them at 311 that you want to leave a message for the mayor regarding keeping child development centers open, and that we need more of these services not less of them. Maybe if we can hold on to what little social services exist we can build on them while we fight for more…”
“There was a story in the WSJ recently about finding "me" time as a working parent. I thought it was very telling that the story mentioned some parents "sneaking" out at lunch to get to the gym, etc. It says a lot that the standing expectation seems to be that you'll eat at your desk. And if you actually take a break in the middle of the day you're shirking off. ”
and from a parent shares a similar experience:
“I see this a lot too, and almost even more so working from home. If I tell my boss I'm taking a "lunch," I get the sense she thinks I'm doing laundry! But just the fact that I need to tell her "I'm taking lunch" tells you how often I actually do it! ”
“I think the lunch example is such a good one.Even the time of day that is AND should be considered a break from work, is ALSO considered a time that one could be working. My husband is half-French/half-American and acts out for me what he sees as the American lunch break: one hand holding a plate with a slice of pizza and the other on the keyboard!”
“This is exactly why I left my last corporate job over 12 years ago. The place I worked at had a cafeteria- in fact it was right on my floor, however, I always made it my business to go out for lunch and was looked at somewhat oddly. It seems like eating on the premises gives better the bosses better accessibility to their workers in case they want to grab them for some "emergency" - a convenient way of keeping employees on a short leash. Later on, during a corporate merger, they were bringing people in from the partner company to work in the premises, and they needed desk space for them. What was the first space to go? You guessed it- the cafeteria! The food counter was still open, but people had to bring lunch back to their desks. The place you worked at before, you had an hour lunch break, but generally you had to be near the office. I was heading off to the gym during lunch hour and eating my lunch by my desk. For some places, the bosses thought this was a bad thing. My leaving my last job at corporate America permanently was not planned. They terminated me for making wedding plans by my desk (places are generally closed at most other times) and extending my honeymoon by one week. Can't say I wasn't overjoyed! ”
“My wife tells me my life is a vacation because I don't work a regular office job. Some places in America give longer vacations than others, but it is rare for them to treat it like genuine time off. At my last place of work, they gave you 2 weeks of vacation and added more the longer you were there. Unfortunately most of my vacation time was spent on observance Jewish holidays and ultimately they fired me for taking a 3 week honeymoon, most of it unpaid. Boo corporate America. I think Europe is way more advanced - though I think American CEOs need to change their views rather than waiting for government to regulate it. ”
Words of thanks and encouragement:
“I am Member R, ABD mom, "at war with herself" is exactly how I feel about reentering the workforce. I wanted to say thank you to those who shared their personal stories in the initial thread about going back[and forth] to work. I have to admit until my son was born my stance on social issues regarding parenting and the workforce was embarrassingly theoretical. Other's choices and decisions are of course rarely applicable to one's own situation, but reading these stories has reminded me how lucky I am to be "undecided" about going back for now and brought up some aspects I had never considered.”
“I'm Member C, mom to almost 9-month-old Z, who (a little unexpectedly for this one time "I don't know if I want to be a mother") has joyfully become the center of my life. That said, I, like so many of you, believe in a work/life balance and in not losing my creative/professional identity, which I have worked so hard to develop. But that's not why I'm writing ... I actually wanted to comment on these last two emails, because I would LOVE to help spearhead some kind of initiative re lobbying for/educating/promoting real legislative change for working mothers (and fathers!) And this ties in nicely with what I'm trying to do in my own professional life ... move away from corporate law to non-profit persuasive writing work. Would love to write more but the Big Boss is cranky about something and if I don't attend to it, I risk getting "fired." ;-)
“Hi, I'm silently following this like I'm sure many others.. I myself can offer only very limited support, but wanted to be a little voice for those of us freelancers out there. Because of our chosen paths, we are a group that doesn't have access to the benefits of even a few days of maternity/sick leave or many of the other so called 'social support' systems (sorry my snicker may have come through, I'm originally from Canada).. and I feel this conversation is just so crucial.”
“Here's another important take on the consequences of staying home by my friend Barbara Hannah Grufferman. The biggest worry among women over 50 isn't wrinkles: It's money."
“I was given a book to read when my oldest was born about the economy and motherhood-- at the time I was in New Mommy Bliss and didn't think it was important (not sure I even finished it because it was so depressing). Now I realize, as Corinne's email points out, it's so important right now."
“I wrote to a friend of mine who's a professor of Women Studies at Boston University for book recommendations for us, and she had two authors to recommend: "Taking Time - Parental Leave and Corporate Culture" by Mindy Fried, Temple University Press and the author Marilyn Waring, a feminist economist from New Zealand who has written several books, one of which is "If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics."”
“While this thoughtful discussion is going on, I wanted to mention a blog called The Mama Bee, which offers tips, news and commentary for mothers working in the corporate world. Her entries are smart, well written and often reference important stories in the media.
This post in particular interested me, titled Family Policy for a New Age.
It links to a headline: "Screw Work/Life Balance - We Need Work/Life POLICY” - Which was title of panel the blogger participated in - from what I read, the conference itself was last year, but headline was so strong, I thought it was worth mentioning.
“ This article talks about work/family balance from a vacation perspective. Two quotes that struck me: "The running joke at Brock's company is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else.” A study found: "Americans maximize their... [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure," he found. (not sure I agree with that...)
“As far as resources are concerned, another great site iscatalyst.org. Catalyst is a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce gender inequity in the workplace through encouraging progressive changes in corporate policy. I've no affiliation with the organization, but I've followed them for a long time and they do interesting work. Here are a few recent publications that are relevant to our conversation:
and, where I think we have the most hope for change, prevalence of flexible work arrangements.
“ This has been a really interesting discussion. I have been wanting to take more action around the these issues since I had my first daughter and realized how difficult it is to be a parent in this country. A couple of other organizations that are advocating for family leave policy and other family friendly legislation on the national, state and local levels are:
momsrising.org (I did organize a lobby day with this group around the Lily Ledbetter legislation when I lived in DC)
“I read a book called The Price of Motherhood around the time I had a young baby which was a wake up call I have only partially come to terms with. It deals with the long term economic risks mothers (and stay at home fathers) take on. I noticed a few raised eyebrows when family saw me reading it - new mothers aren't supposed to be worrying about their financial future, nor questioning motherhood in economic terms, they are supposed to be looking after their family's interests. At least that was how I interpreted the reactions I saw.”
“This is my favorite discussion both personally and professionally! I am working on my dissertation in sociology and have been lurking on the group for awhile. I have two kids and have been ABD for about 3 years. This is the year I finish! I teach sociology classes at Fordham, John Jay and the Fashion Institute. Every graduate student I know is in a complete panic about finding work, the economy, higher education/education in general....would love to hear thoughts from any academics out there....BUT:
I second the recommendation for "The Price of Motherhood" by Ann Crittenden. I teach sociology of the family and have students read it, it shocks everyone and vividly conveys the precarious economic position women find themselves in after becoming mothers whether they work outside or inside the home. She makes a nice comparison between veterans and mothers--two groups that 'sacrifice" for the greater good and looks at how the former get social supports (health insurance etc). After reading "the Price" I have radically rethought family budget issues and the price I am paying for taking even longer to finish my degree. I have also decided to keep teaching despite the low pay for all the emotional issues others mentioned.
I saw Crittenden speak at an event put on by A Better Balance (a nonprofit working to get, among other things, state sick leave in place) and she said that what she has heard most often from Americans in the ten years since she wrote "the Price" is that Americans do not feel entitled to social supports (health insurance, paid sick leave, parental/maternity leave, affordable and quality childcare). I hear this from students all the time, many of them side with big business--if you don't work, why should you get paid? If you have to leave early to get kids, is that fair to those who don't have kids & c."
"This summer I plan on reading one of Nancy Folbre's books, an economist who also looks at the value raising children generates, socially and economically. "Opting Out" by Pamela Stone is another interesting book that looks at professional women who 'step out' of the workforce bc the workforce is so anti-family. I could go on about these books and others so if anyone is interested, please email me."
“A good friend of mine works in DC for the National Partnership for Women & Families and she has enlightened me about various labor issues in this country. It is truly astounding and I think the work they do is amazing. It would be great if the parents of PSP could come together to support organizations such as this one and help make changes in this country.”
"I am writing my dissertation in sociology and dealing, a bit, with these issues. I teach sociology of the family and could recommend some books--The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden, as several have mentioned, is one of my favorites and lays out all the issues nicely. I heard her speak at a talk put on "A Better Balance" and the most memorable thing she said was that, from touring with her book for over 10 years, Americans do not feel entitled to social supports (affordable childcare, paid sick leave, parental leave & c.). Students echo this sentiment too.”
Related Reading on PSP:
*names have been removed to protect members identities.