Working Moms versus Stay-at -Home Moms: When it comes to who’s the better parent, the answer may be both.
To work or stay at home? This question has plagued mothers for years and has been a hot topic of highly contested debates nationwide. Where do we stand now? Are moms duking it out on the playground over who’s the better parent, or have we come to a comfortable acceptance all the way around? We talked to some local moms who have experience on both sides, and found that, at least for these moms, it isn’t an either/or situation. These women were honest and thoughtful in their comments and, whichever choice they made, were striving for balance and fulfillment. Their lives appeared to be evolving along with their changing needs and those of their families. This writer has experienced both worlds and while both can be rewarding, each definitely comes with its own price. M.F.
When Your Briefcase is a Diaper Bag
Life as a Stay at Home Mom
by Marnie Fernandez
Just short of two years ago, I walked away from a 15-year career in public relations (PR). I was at the top of my game, a vice president for a public relations firm and was considered a mover and shaker in the business community. Now my job consists of changing diapers, running carpool, endless loads of laundry and hoping to get a shower in every now and then. Sounds quite glamorous, doesn’t it?
At the time I quit my work away from home job, I had a 4-year-old son and was getting ready to inherit two stepchildren. I had been dealing with “mom-guilt” for years and, out of the blue, just up and quit my job. It surprised me just as much as anyone else because I never considered myself Stay–At-Home-Mom (SAHM) material.
And I’m still not sure that I am. Since I quit my job, I have also had a baby. It has been the most difficult, yet most rewarding, job I’ve had yet, bar none. I do feel in my heart I made the best decision for our family at this time. But it is not easy by a long shot. I miss my identity as a career woman and the lifestyle that came along with it. But I couldn’t deal with the guilt that came with not seeing my kids as much as I wanted to.
According to Melissa Stanton, author of The Stay At Home Survival Guide, “If there is one thing I hope women who stay at home realize, that it is okay to sometimes not love being a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM). Women often fear that admitting as much is tantamount to saying to the world that we regret not being part of the paid workforce.”
Stanton also says that regret from leaving our careers does not mean we do not love our children. Few people love their job every minute of the day, and the same goes for a SAHM.
Ashley Antle, a recent SAHM of 19-month-old twin boys said becoming a SAHM was a difficult decision for her.
“I had always worked and loved my job doing PR for the health care industry,” Antle said. “I thought I would do consultant work from home once the twins were born, but two babies took every minute of my day as well as my night, so work got put on the back burner.”
Antle says the most challenging thing about being a SAHM is the lack of challenge.
“I know that doesn’t make much sense, because raising children is a huge and exhausting challenge in many ways, but I’m referring to the mental challenges of work,” Antle said. “I enjoy sitting on the floor with a baby on each knee watching Mickey Mouse, but sometimes I crave more mental stimulation.”
In order to keep some of her business skills sharp, she volunteers for the Tulsa chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure as president of the board of directors.
“Not only do I get to join the fight against breast cancer, but I also get an opportunity to get out of the house, use my critical thinking skills and have conversations with adults. That is my advice to all SAHMs,” Antle said. “Take a break and do something you enjoy. You have to create some time for yourself, or you will not be the best mom you can be.”
Kristal Sack, another recent SAHM, also had some hesitation before making the switch from work to home.
“I quit my job one month after my son was born,” Sack said. “I loved my job, but decided I wanted to try being a full-time mom for awhile. However, it is a scary decision. I gave up a great career and often wonder if I made the right decision, then I have a lazy morning with my son, and watching him learn and grow more every day has made it worth it.”
Sack says her biggest challenge is finding time to get everything done. Being home with an infant doesn’t leave you the luxury of getting away from the baby to run errands, clean house, answer emails, or any number of things that must be done in the course of a day. Caring for a baby is a 24-hour-a-day job, and SAHMs often find that they are constantly being interrupted.
“But as long as Oliver [her son] is taken care of,” Sack said, “the laundry can wait!”
After a few months of staying at home, Sack decided to work part-time as a way to create balance in her life.
“I have a fun part-time job that allows me to get out and have more adult interaction,” she said. “I am very lucky to have a wonderful husband and a family that is willing to help so I get breaks that help my sanity.”
Oliver also is enrolled in a Mother’s Day Out Program.
“Mother’s Day Out is beneficial for both of us,” Sack said. “I get a break, and Oliver gets to interact with other children.”
In addition to Mother’s Day Out programs, moms’ groups are also prevalent in the Tulsa area and provide a way for moms to get plugged in to the SAHM community. Some of the groups include Mothers Of Preschoolers (MOPS); TTownMoms.com which offers monthly play dates; Momtourage which also offers “mom’s nights out” as a way to connect with other moms; MOMS Clubs in Tulsa and Owasso, a support group for local SAHMs, and many others. Most can be found listed in TulsaKids Magazine’s calendar, either in print or online at www.tulsakids.com.
Melissa Stanton also encourages SAHM moms to establish routines at home, which help provide structure and sanity for moms and children. Scheduling meal times, rest times, play dates and chores can make the day go faster and make life less stressful.
According to Stanton, a SAHM mom is a five-to-nine job, not a nine-to-five job.
I have to say, I whole-heartedly agree. Stay-At-Home motherhood is hard. It’s exhausting, draining and not for everyone. But listen to your heart and know your limitations so you can make the best choice for you and your family.
The Working Life
by Holly Wall
For most women, the decision to return to work after the birth of a child isn’t one that is made lightly. They feel torn between their careers and their maternal instinct. They wonder if they can have it all — a rewarding career and a happy home life. They wonder if going back to work will make them bad mothers, if their kids or spouses will resent their decision, if they’ll miss out on important milestones in their children’s lives.
Yes, if there’s anything working moms have in common, it’s guilt.
But guilt aside, many moms — 71 percent, according to a 2008 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey — return to the workforce, be it part-time or full. Most cite financial necessity as their reason for doing so, but many also say they do it because they want to. They enjoy working.
A very unscientific poll of this writer’s Facebook friends found that, even if money weren’t an issue, many moms would still choose to work part-time. A 2007 Pew Research Center report offered similar — and much more substantial — findings.
According to the report, 60 percent of working mothers with minor children said part-time work is ideal for them. Twenty-one percent said working full time is ideal, and 19 percent said not working at all is ideal.
Denise Reid works full-time for the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce as director of talent strategies and recruitment.
“Basically for me, I just knew (working) was something I needed to have to keep me grounded,” she said.
She and her husband, Jeff, have one child: a 4-year-old boy named Jackson.
She said working full-time isn’t necessary for her family, but it does make them more comfortable.
“We’re able to maintain the same quality of life that we had prior to Jackson being born,” she said.
Reid said she’s made sacrifices both at work and at home in order to equally maintain a career and motherhood.
“I don’t know that I necessarily balance the two,” she said. “I think I pick my battles. I think my husband and I are a great team. We really do that 50/50 share, which I think creates a more equitable balance for me.”
The Pew study found that working moms give themselves lower parenting marks than SAHMs. Twenty-eight percent of moms who are employed full time ranked themselves, based on a parenting scale of one to 10, at a nine or 10, while 65 percent gave themselves sevens and eights.
Of SAHMs, 43 percent ranked themselves at nine or 10 and 49 percent at seven or eight. In both categories, seven percent gave themselves a ranking of six or below.
“I struggle with being the mom my friends are being,” Reid said. “They’re cooking dinner every night and organizing play dates. My work life is so complicated; if my home life was that complicated, it would probably create more stress.”
Kelli Bruer, director of communications and public relations for EMSA, said she tried staying at home for two years after her now 13-year-old son, Austin, was born.
By the time he turned 3, she was ready to go back to work.
“I had just lost my sense of myself at that point,” Bruer said. “I didn’t have a sense of accomplishment anymore. It was rough on my marriage, too.”
Bruer said both her self-esteem and her marriage improved after she went back to work. A couple of years later, after closing the family business, Bruer’s husband, Rodney, decided to stay home with their son.
“The best thing about working, probably for any parent — and I hope dads go through this, too — is I’m bringing different things to the table,” Bruer said. “Why wouldn’t I still be a good role model? (Austin’s) going to be a working adult one day. He sees me be successful, but he also sees me work at it every day. I’m a good role model.”
Reid said she applauds and admires SAHMs, but it’s not a decision she would make.
“It’s a personal choice and one of those things I don’t judge anyone about,” she said. “It takes all sorts to make up this great melting pot.
“I know I’m a better person being a working mom,” Reid said. “I just know I need to have that balance between having something that ties to who I’ve always been growing up, working and who I am now as a mom. Right or wrong, my personal esteem is tied to what I do.”
Mandy Vavrinak, owner of Crossroads Communications LLC, has been a working mom, a stay-at-home mom and the sole breadwinner for her family.
While pregnant with her second child, Laura, Vavrinak made a compromise with her husband, Robert. She wanted to go back to work, and he wanted her to stay home, so together they decided she’d take a three-month maternity leave before returning to work.
But when Laura was born with two holes in her heart — one between the top two chambers and one between the bottom two — Laura’s medical needs forced Vavrinak to be a SAHM.
But she couldn’t sit still. As Laura’s health improved, Vavrinak began taking on contract communications work, and, one day, she looked at her husband and said, “I want to start my own business.”
“My goal was to have enough money for shoes and to go out to eat on occasion,” Vavrinak said. “We didn’t have any of these things. We went from two incomes and one kid to one income and two kids, one with special needs. When Laura turned two, I got pregnant with Robert, and the second hole closed (in her heart) and all of a sudden she was healthy.”
Before too long, Vavrinak was juggling a home business and three kids.
“I’d work three hours in the morning before the kids woke up; I’d work during naptime; I’d work at night,” Vavrinak said. “It was insane. It was year three for the business and we had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and I looked at my husband and said, ‘Every day you go to work, it costs us money. I think we’d make more money if you stay home and watch kids and I can work full time.”
Robert agreed, and, though he has a stake in and contributes to Crossroads Communications, his primary duty is to stay home with the kids while Vavrinak works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in her home office.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How do you do it?’” Vavrinak, who now has four children, said. “Half the time I just fake it. Having it all is a myth in the sense that there are things in my career that I could have done or achieved, or am not going to get to do or do as quickly, because I’m on my own. It’s harder when you’re by yourself than when you’re with 30- or 40- or 50-member team.
“Having it all is relative,” she said. “I’m not home with my kids, but I don’t miss the events in their lives because I don’t have to ask anybody if I can take off that day.”