I’ve never worked as hard as when I’ve been a stay-at-home mom.
I need to start with that because I’m about to tell you one of the main reasons I stay-at-home: I might work hard, but I’m simply not as busy as I would be if I worked outside of the home. Admitting that I would prefer not to be busy comes with a dose of humility.
Researchers from the Columbia Business School have put out at a paper claiming that the new status symbol isn’t how much money we are spending – it’s how we are spending our time. And the busier, the better.
The researchers showed participants in the study pictures of a woman wearing a Bluetooth headset (symbolic of a busy lifestyle) and another wearing headphone (representing a more leisurely lifestyle). The participants who saw a picture of a woman wearing Bluetooth rated her as higher in social status, financial wealth, and income. Likewise, researcher participants rated Peapod, an online shopping service, as having a higher social status than shopping somewhere like Trader Joe’s.
It’s no surprise that working mothers, who still tend to pick up a greater share of the housework than working fathers, are also more likely to say they constantly feel rushed. Four in 10 working moms report always feeling rushed, compared to just one-in-four stay-at-home moms and working dads.
While the constant rush doesn’t translate into a lack of happiness for working moms, it’s not the lifestyle I wanted for my family. I didn’t arrive at this decision directly. It took me a few years of staying at home to come to that conclusion.
I quit my job after my second child was born. My older child had just been diagnosed with multiple food allergies, and my second was born a month premature and was in physical therapy. At the time, I was working three days a week, but paying for full-time care. We had been on the waitlist at the only daycare that had part-time slots since before I found out I was pregnant with the second. Paying for full-time care for two children meant the vast majority of my salary would go to childcare.
So I made the difficult decision to quit my job, which I loved. I worked from home for a few more months, bouncing the baby in his seat while I typed. Eventually, we turned my office into his nursery, and I joined the ranks of stay-at-home moms.
When I worked, I found plenty of articles supporting my conviction that working outside of the home was not only not harmful to my family – it was actually beneficial. The daughters of working moms are more likely to work outside of the home and earn higher wages. The sons are more likely to partake in household chores.
I read how stay-at-home moms who take five years off to care for a child can lose over $700,000 over their lifetimes through lost wages, wage growth, and retirement savings. I knew the quality of time spent with children, not the quantity, mattered most. I felt confident in my decision to be a working mom. When my circumstances changed, I didn’t know what to think.
While society has long pressured women to keep the home fires burning, the reasons given were never that convincing to me. “You can see each precious first!” (My husband was home for both of the kids’ first steps.) “You can be there to kiss every boo-boo!” (I never minded if someone else kissed their boo-boos.) “There’s no one like mom!” (Tell that to my kids, who are perfectly content with Dad, Grandma, etc.)
I knew, in my heart, my children would turn out fine if I stayed-at-home or if I sent them to daycare. But after a year of being at home with them, I knew I wanted to keep up this arrangement, at least for the time being. While moments of peace and quiet were rare in a house of toddler boys, we could at least forego the rush.
There was no bustling to and from daycare. There was no coordinating our vacation days, or negotiating which parent had more important meetings on a day one of us needed to be home to take care of a sick child. There was no trying to figure out something quick to make for dinner at 6 p.m. (Okay fine, there was less trying to figure out something quick to make for dinner at 6 p.m.) Adding a second child to the mix sped up the pace of our life, but staying at home allowed me to slow it back down a bit.
With multiple food allergies in our family, I spend a good amount of my time in the kitchen accommodating our needs. This means we often have hot bread cooling or fresh yogurt brewing on the counter. The boys and I spend hours outside nearly every day, exploring the hiking trails in our community. I can take my children to visit grandparents without having to clear vacation time with anyone. On weekends, we can go fishing instead of playing a frantic game of catch-up.
Busyness has become a virtue, and in modern society’s eyes, staying-at-home might make me an unvirtuous woman. Maybe admitting that I find not working preferable for our family makes me sound lazy or unindustrious. I don’t believe that anyone who is the sole caretaker of children can be criticized for being lazy. But I will gladly admit that I enjoy having more free time.
Without a doubt, I know my children will be happy and well-adjusted whether I stay at home or go back to work. Despite the daycare costs, we might feel more financially comfortable if I had stayed in the game. But as a whole, my family is happier when we’re little less rushed and have a little more time to stop and examine every bug along the way.