Thursday, July 10, 2008

The unexpected decision to stay at home

I have several friends who worked before they had kids and decided before they had their children that they would continue to work because they just loved their jobs. Several are attorneys since that is what I am and I shockingly tend to keep attorney friends. I don't know why since most attorneys are purely mean, but there are some out there who are great people and luckily, I work at a firm full of them. I digress. Most moms take their time off, whether that be six weeks or three months or longer, and then those of us that return to work have to face the agony of leaving our most prized possessions (not that children are possessions, but you know what I mean) in the arms of a virtual stranger. Now, I know the caregivers are great and do this kind of stuff every day, but still I know that they don't know my baby the way I do. They don't know how she likes to be held, that she likes it when you swaddler her really tight or that he likes to kick his feet out of the covers while he naps. They don't know that the best way to burp him is to lay him on his tummy and gently pat and alternate with a rub. They don't know that she really hates sitting in her bumbo for more than five minutes. And they don't love and worship this child they way I do since no one could possibly come close to loving this child more than me. But, if you're going back to work, you still have to leave the baby. Have no fear though, you'll have a constant reminder on your shoulder as you sport a lovely spit up stain that baby managed to land on you just before you leave her behind at daycare.

There are many moms who, though dedicated to their profession, find that they are unable to leave their child in the hands of a virtual stranger because of many reasons. Some people can't stand all the issues that are listed above. Some people never get past the fact that the person taking care of their baby is a stranger. Some think the baby will grow more attached to the caregiver than to its mother. Others just plain miss their babies. Other babies get sick too often (I've personally experienced this, but had no option but to continue to power through). Still other moms become instantly attached to their little angels so that they never even get to the point of considering going back to work because they can't imagine doing anything other than staying at home with the new baby.

The problem with this is the stigma that is attached to mothers who change their minds. I know there is a stigma attached to mothers who work too, but my experience is the stigma that the workforce attaches to a mother who decides, for one reason or another, not to come back to work. The problem with this is that we, as women, cannot judge one another about how we react to our children. I happen to be one of those mothers who is fine being away from my perfect children all day long - this is actually what I attribute their perfection to. If I was at home with them all day long, I don't think I'd be so enamored of them. Other mothers, however, miss their children desparately every minute they are away and this sometimes comes as a great shock to the mother who fully planned to return to work right away.

Before I had children, I found myself disappointed with the mothers who left the workforce in masses to stay at home with their children after they had worked so hard to achieve success in their education and in their careers. In my field, a woman must spend seven years in undergrad and law school combined before entering the work force. Then you have to spend another seven to ten years working endless hours in order to achieve partner. So, women work for three years, have a child and then give up all the hard work they've put in so they can stay at home. It is incredible the pull that a child can have, because a woman (or a man - I must be fair to the opposite sex since I know a male lawyer who has also chosen the stay at home dad route) gives up so much in their long-term career to stay at home with a child. You lose time - valuable time and experience - when you stay at home. You have to go back to being a three year lawyer when you've been out of school for ten years, but you spent the last seven at home. How do you keep up with your Continuing Legal Education (CLE - which is required to remain licensed)? How do you climb the ranks at a law firm again? How do you justify that you should be paid a third or fourth year salary when you've lost the edge on all the experience you had when you left? How do you start again and feel okay about the fact that the people you graduated lawschool with are now partners making big bucks while you struggle up the ladder to bill the required hours and collect three and half times your salary? Now, I'm not saying it isn't possible but it makes the decision all the more difficult.

With that said, it speaks volumes that the decision isn't all that difficult for most moms (and dads) who decide to stay at home. Even if they love their jobs, they love that child even more. And honestly, I don't see why this should garner such a negative stigma since you are putting a priority on the most important thing in your life. I mean, hell, you can screw up a job and that is fine, but can you really afford to screw up your kid? You can find another job, but you never have a second chance at raising a child and you never have a second chance to watch him/her grow up. So, seriously corporate america, give parents a break and congratulate the parents that decide to sacrifice their careers so that they can do what they think is the very best for their children. Encourage parents to feel good about their decision, because trust me, they definitely have a long road ahead of them if they ever decide to enter the work force again.

1 comment:

roxy said...

i was expecting you to end that with telling us that you have decided to stay at home...is that were you were going? I am totally one of the people you were talking about. I fully expected to work at least 30 hours and then after just 4 short months with Alex at daycare, I could not do it anymore. I cried every day that I picked him up, and I felt that with all of his illnesses that I had no other choice but to stay home and take care of him. My company was almost PROUD of my decision, I had no one treat me bad because of this...I work for a very old fashioned private steel processing company. Now they really work with me, I could not be any more blessed with this company, my boss and our CEO. Your blog was actually somthing that I don't see around here..of course my new "co workers" are all SAHMs who obviously support staying home. I really see things turning around in this culture, going back to the view points of before the womens lib movement. I think a lot of people see that their young years go by so fast, and there will be work after they are older, but you can't get those years back. I used to 2nd guess my decision to work every day that I worked, but I have not once 2nd guessed my decision to stay home, so I know that I made the right decision for myself.