Last year, 5.1 million American mothers were stay-at-home parents.* This accounts for 19.8 percent of all mothers in the United States in 2009, and is down 0.2 million from 2008. (Interestingly, the number of stay-at-home dads remained unchanged between 2008 and 2009 at 158,000, or 0.6 percent of all fathers.)
I know a few of those 5.1 million SAH moms, but, as you probably already know, I myself am one of the 20.7 million working mothers in the United States. In my experience, and by talking to those I know who are SAH moms, there are plenty of pros and cons to either situation, and of course a lot of it depends on personality.
In doing the research for this blog, I came across some interesting articles ranging from “SAH moms are hurting themselves and others” to “having a SAH mom is the best option for the whole family.” It seems that not even the experts (whoever they are) can agree as to whether SAH parents are making the best possible choice…or the worst. While I’m sure many articles, books and blogs have been written about this, I’m going to share from my experience and perspective as a new (working!) mother the perks to both options.
If you’re in the process of making the decision about working or staying home, take this as one version of the list and do more research on other opinions before making your final call. And finally, keep in mind that you must do what is best for your child. No “expert” or random mom blogger can possibly know what your child needs more than you do, so do your research and then be comfortable with your decision. And if, later on down the road, you change your mind, don’t feel bad. We all live and learn…parents especially.
So, without further ado, here is my own personal list:
The Perks to Staying Home
- Bonding. This is the obvious first answer that everyone lists. While mothers and their children naturally bond from birth, it’s easier to maintain and strengthen a relationship when two parties are together constantly, as anyone who has gone through a long-distance relationship will tell you. Many researchers will also tell you that maintaining the parent-child (especially the mother-child) bond is important for successful development into a well-rounded individual.
- Convenience. If Jr. comes down with a bug, there’s no need to find alternative care because the daycare won’t take sick kids, or try to arrange for a sick day with the office. You’re already there and you can spend your day nursing little Jr. back to health without any frantic changes to your schedule.
- Easier Learning Curve. For parents who spend all day with Baby, it may take a shorter amount of time to adjust and to learn her cues for various needs and wants. Trial and error takes weeks instead of months and within a relatively short amount of time, SAH moms can be experts on their children and feel comfortable in their new roles.
- Flexibility. When you have all day to work your responsibilities around Baby’s schedule, making a run to the grocery store is easy to plan for when Baby is happiest. Once you know Baby’s typical schedule, you can also more easily schedule doctors appointments so they won’t be in the middle of Baby’s typical nap time.
- Cheaper. Childcare is expensive. I live in a small town where the demand for childcare is significantly higher than its supply, and that means daycares can almost charge any amount they wish. I pay nearly $650/month for Little Miss to be in daycare four and a half days a week. Staying home allows you to skip this monthly expense altogether.
- Networking is easy. These days, there are a lot of support groups for new moms as well as seasoned ones, and many of them are free. In addition to online resources such as babycenter.com, whattoexpect.com, circle of mums, and thousands of other mom-centered sites, there are mommy-n-me play date groups, moms only book clubs, young mothers support groups, MOPS, and countless other networking opportunities. You can find one list of national (and some international) moms groups here. A lot of these groups have weekday, middle-of-the-day get-togethers, so SAH moms can easily find other moms to spend time with and get out of the house during the day.
- Naps and House Cleaning are Possible. Everyone says “sleep when Baby sleeps,” and they mean it. If you can, when Jr. is first born, take advantage of his constant sleeping and catch up on your own. Then, as Jr. gets older and you get back on your feet, you’ll have energy and time to do housework, both while he sleeps and while he’s awake, entertained by the toys on his play mat or strapped to your chest in a baby carrier.
- Peace of Mind. If you’re the one taking care of Baby all day, every day, there’s no wondering how well she’s taken care of during the week, and no questioning what kinds of activities she’s being allowed (or not allowed) to enjoy.
- Fewer Illnesses. Keeping your child away from large groups of children who are probably passing germs from toy to toy as they play at daycare may be the best way to ensure that your child and your family avoid housing every bug that comes to town.
The Perks to Working
- Time to Yourself. Every new mother will agree that after a few weeks of exhaustion and feeling like a koala with your baby clinging to you 24/7 breaks are most definitely welcome. Going to work offers that opportunity regularly, allowing Mom to focus on something other than a crying baby, poopy diapers and smelling like spit-up.
- Being Your Own Person. Working outside of the home gives mothers an identity outside of Mommy and allows her to be a professional, a colleague and an individual. For those who need it, it can also provide a sense of accomplishment and success at something that doesn’t involve a mini-me.
- Adult Conversation. “Bababa” and “googoo” and blowing raspberries on a soft-skinned tummy are only cute for so long. There comes a time in every mother’s life when she craves a real conversation. Having a job outside of the home gives you several hours a week to interact with “regular sized” humans, discussing anything from a work project to the weather to the woes and joys of being a new parent.
- Extra Income. Though this may be nearly negated by having to pay for childcare, it’s likely that in spite of that your family will have some additional room in its budget with Mom at work.
- Socialization for Baby. Giving Jr. a chance to interact with other children with various personalities at different points in development can be a huge benefit, especially for a first/only child who has no other children at home with which to interact. It is likely that kids who spent their early years in daycare (or in other regular non-parental care) will do better when transitioning to school than those who did not.
- Faster Learning for Baby. When my daughter started daycare there was a boy two months younger than her there, as well. Within a week, after watching her crawl around, he had started to crawl, as well. Now that she’s walking, he is trying his darnedest to keep up with her still. He will probably be walking long before he would have had he spent his days at home without interaction with kids further along in development than him.
- Highly Valued Time Together. Without the 24/7 time spent with your little one, the time you do spend together will be extra special, especially if you work full-time. This makes evenings and weekends the times you – and your child – look forward to with eager anticipation. You will learn quickly how to make the most of whatever time you have with your child.
- Fewer Diapers and Temper Tantrums. This may seem like a silly perk, but when you realize how many diapers most SAH moms change in a day, you learn to appreciate having a childcare facilitator who takes care of the majority of them for you throughout the week. Similarly, less time spent with your child during fussy times (before naps, etc.) means fewer temper tantrums you have to deal with, and a positive outlook is easier to maintain. Since children often feed off of the mood of their parents, the better mood you are in means the better mood your child will be in. And this makes the entire family happier.
*United States Census Bureau, January 15, 2010