Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

The Breadwinner Mom Stays Home

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Jun 7, 2013 11:18 AM

"While working outside the home is now more the norm than the exception for mothers of young children, the public remains conflicted about this trend. In the new Pew Research poll, 51% of the adults surveyed said children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, while only 34% said children are just as well off if their mother works. An additional 13% of respondents volunteered that it “depends” on the circumstances....The public is not conflicted at all about whether fathers should work or stay home with their children. Fully 76% say children are just as well off if their father works..." ("Breadwinner Moms," Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends )

The recent flurry of information surrounding the Pew Research Center Study on Breadwinner Moms has gotten me thinking about how the work vs. home conundrum has played out in our home over the past sixteen years. I've written about this before on this blog; as a parent and former school counselor, it's obviously something I think about a lot, and as the Pew Study shows, there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

For most of my daughter's life, I was a working mom. She was a daycare kid, starting at a center on the day she turned three months old. Although I loved her daycare center, I hated the idea of daycare for my child. Hated that someone else was spending more time with her some days than I was. Hated that I wasn't the one feeding her, putting her down for a nap, watching her progress.

But we were lucky. Thanks to a triple threat -- a great idea from my dear friend Barb, The Family Medical Leave Act and the flexibility of my employer -- I was able to work three days a week from February to June, which meant I spent more days with my daughter than away from her. 

We truly had the best of both worlds. I got to be a working mom, doing a job I loved, three days a week, a stay-at-home mom two days a week and an equal parenting partner in the evenings and on the weekends, when my husband was home. My daughter, an only child, thrived at the center, surrounded by other children and by (mostly) incredible caregivers. We had a few rocky periods, but I look back on her time there with fondness and gratitude. My daughter learned lessons in cooperative play we couldn't provide for her at home, and she developed friendships that remain important to her a decade later. 

By the time my daughter entered kindergarten, she had a mom who worked full-time. I couldn't be a classroom volunteer or a library mom, and I couldn't pick her up as soon as her school day ended because my work day lasted fifteen minutes longer than her school day. By the time we factored in a short commute and the inevitable meetings and after school conversations that were part of doing my job well, it was clear that after-school care was unavoidable. Spoiled by a wonderful daycare experience, we found these programs to be less-than-satisfying, and by the middle of her fifth grade year, my daughter was a latchkey kid. She loved the freedom of this new decision; my husband and I were less enthusiastic.

When she entered middle school later that year, we got another best-of-both-worlds scenario. Her school was just around the corner from mine, so every morning, I dropped her off at school and every afternoon, she walked over to my school with a friend whose mother was a colleague of mine. A regular visitor at "mommy's school" since she was a toddler, she loved this arrangement and the connections she built with kids and staff in my building. But by the end of eighth grade, she was ready for a change -- a solo walk to and from the high school that is around the corner from our house.

But the change our family got was a bigger one. School district budgets were splattered with red ink, and our district, which had already outsourced its transportation was now outsourcing its food services and looking for new ways to save money. As a means of creating teacher attrition instead of imposing teacher furloughs, they offered a retirement incentive for staff with more than twenty years' experience.

I took it. 

September rolled around, and I was a stay-at-home mom. Finally. It had taken me fifteen years, but I was finally a stay-at-home mom.

Only I wasn't -- not really. A pension is a wonderful thing, but an early retirement pension looks very different from one earned after 35 years in education. Just over 50 years old and eight years shy of that magic 35 years in my field, I was ready to supplement that pension with a my dream job -- a combination of writing, teaching and speaking -- one that allows me to be available to my family in the ways I'd always wished I was, while still earning an income so that college costs aren't any more terrifying three years from now than they were three years ago when I was working full-time.

And so the irony of it all is that I'm still a working mom, which is apparently what I wanted to be all along -- I just wanted to do it on my terms. Fortunately, I'm smart enough to realize how blessed that makes me -- much more so than many of the women in the Pew Study. My decision has meant that we've tightened our belts somewhat -- that needs and wants have crystallized more clearly than before -- but I don't have to worry about whether or not we'll have the necessities.

I've gone from being a breadwinner mom who earned as much as her spouse -- sometimes more -- to being the secondary wage earner: The Stay-at-Home-Working Mom. 

And I couldn't be happier.

How about you? What's your dream combination?

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Comments: 1

  • claudzilla5 img 2013-07-11 09:24

    I can't believe you don't get more comments, Lisa! Your blog always makes me think!
    I work a standard 40 hour week, and can only help out at school once in a blue moon. Working part-time would be ideal for me, as I like the structure and interaction of a workplace, but would love more time with my littles. Our evenings seem so short, and when we throw in new activities like scouting and soccer, I know I will start to feel like I never get to talk to them.
    But we pack our weekends together with all kinds of fun stuff, or lazy days at home if that's what we want. They tell me I'm fun, and they trust me with their nightmares and regale me with their stories, so I guess we're doing okay with our imperfect world.

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