Monday, December 18, 2006

Stay-at-Home or Working Parent: Which is right for you?

When you start a family, who will care for your children? It's perhaps the hardest question to answer, and you began considering and weighing your options as soon as the pregnancy test turned out to be positive. Some of us think about it for years, long before we conceive, or even have a spouse, for that matter. It's a hot media topic, and when women of differing opinions get together and try to discuss it both sides often leave the table angry and confused. The stay at home parent corner claims that it's better for your child, helps them learn, makes them more secure, and that it's your duty as a parent to become a full time caregiver and devote yourself solely to your family...anything else is neglect. The working parents assert that involving your child with other adults and children in a day care atmosphere helps their social skills, makes them more secure, and that if you choose to stay at home you aren't fulfilling your potential as a person because you should have a career and a family, not either or. Stay at home parent? Lazy cop out not providing for the family. Working parent? Money hungry and doesn't care about the welfare of the children. And on and on and on...is your head spinning from all the shouting yet? Good lord, it's unreal...and to think, we're all trying to accomplish the same goal...doing what's best to raise happy, productive, functional human beings. It doesn't matter which you choose, just as long as you make an educated, informed decision and that YOU are happy with the decision and are sure it's best for YOUR family. Debating is for politicians, and no one should ever question your choice, even if they vehemently disagree with it.

How in the world are you supposed to determine what will be right for you? Nothing will be as telling as looking into the eyes of your newborn for the first time, but there are a few things you can mull over before your little one arrives, or before your 12 weeks are up.

Ask yourself if you actually WANT to be a stay at home parent.
When folks think of a stay at home mom (or dad), they often picture Peg Bundy, sitting on the couch of her filthy home eating bon bons and watching soap operas, doing whatever she wants when she wants with the caregiving as a side job. It's almost like she's babysitting, but less work. Being a stay at home parent, when done properly, is the toughest job there is. You'll work 18 hour shifts, and you won't get paid...not with money, anyhow. There is no health insurance, no vacation time, no IRA, and no accrual of Social Security credits. Your career? Gone. You will now be at the beck and call of your little one, all day, every day...and you'll also have to take care of the house, prepare meals, do laundry and a thousand other things you could have never imagined and balance it with caregiving. If your partner works long hours to support the household financially, the entire burden of homekeeping and childrearing will fall upon you. If your partner is lucky enough to have decent hours, and is truly your partner, they'll be able to give you a break when they come home so you can maintain your sanity. And you'll need it...the first two years of life, you'll be lucky to get a hot meal and a shower on the same day. The reward for all this work? You get to watch your child grow and thrive, all day, every day. You won't miss their first smile, their first word, their first steps. They will bond with you and become an extension of you, and every miracle will be your own to see. If all the responsibilities don't seem to outweigh the rewards for you, or if the whole thing sounds like a nightmare, staying home may just not be for you. And there's nothing wrong with that!

Can you afford to stay home?
Some families need a dual income to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables, and staying home simply isn't an option...so their choice is already made. For others things aren't so cut and dry, though. Most families can manage to keep one parent home, but they must be willing to struggle financially to do so. It may mean giving up the new car every year, or even the luxury of having more than one vehicle. Things like digital cable, high speed internet, new clothes and furniture, and many more of life's little pleasures may need to go out the window. You may even be living paycheck to paycheck, just breaking even week after week, year after year. Again, you must decide how YOU feel about your situation. Will your staying home cause undue financial hardship in your family's life? Do you enjoy all those extras so much that you can't imagine giving them up? Is there an essential savings goal you're trying to meet by a certain date that would be affected by your leaving your job? If you answered yes to any of those, being a working parent will be ideal for you. If you're willing to eat lots of peanut butter and ramen noodles, budget accordingly and stick with it, you can pull this off. Many stay at home parents are now working part time FROM the home, too...so be sure to see if that's a possibility, too.

But what about my career?
If you need to ask that question, take a LOT of time to make your choice. Having a family means much of YOU will be lost in the shuffle. Though this isn't the case for everyone...many parents manage to find time for themselves and want to continue to live the same life they had before adding a child to the mix. Others prefer to make a new life at this point. It all depends on how you feel, and whether or not you think you'll regret the choice later on down the line. Do you think you'll be sorry you stuck with your career and feel as if you missed out on your child's baby years? Or, is it important to you to instill such a work ethic in your child? Not that staying home isn't work, as mentioned above. It's just a different kind of work. And if you can't imagine leaving your little one in someone else's hands to work any job, staying home will BECOME your career.

It's a shame the topic even comes up in modern society...we should all feel free to make our choice and do what we think is best for our child. If a parent doesn't wish to stay home, then it's obviously better for the child that they don't do so...will the parent who gives up everything when they don't desire to do so do a poor job? Maybe so, or maybe not...but they sure may think about the 'what if' every day. And if a parent works because they feel society expects them to, will they regret not staying home and following their dream? Sure they will. Every parent is different, and we need to remember that. As to your choice, it's a matter of personal preference, and you do what you feel in your heart. Isn't that always the best choice for any child?

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