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Returning to Work vs. Becoming a “Stay at Home Mom”

I knew early on that I wanted to take a break from teaching and spend some time at home with my baby once I became a mom. I’d spent nearly a decade pouring my energy and love into other people’s children. Now it was time to experience that with my own little one!

My husband and I weren’t sure we’d be able to live off of one income, especially living in the D.C. area with its notoriously high cost of living. However, we came up with a plan that would make it feasible, which involved a very close look at our budget. We crunched some numbers and determined that if I continued to teach, I would basically be working to pay for childcare, so in addition to the fact that I wanted to be at home with our son, it made sense financially.

The timing of Levi’s birth worked out well for us, as he arrived a few days after school let out for the summer in late June. It was nice to finish out the school year with my students and have a natural exit point. My husband was fortunate enough to have several weeks of family leave from his job, so we really soaked up that newborn phase with our son, welcoming family to come visit, and learning how to be parents together.

(Photo credit Nick Ellis - Skyward Creative)

Although we now had a baby to take care of, the summer seemed relatively normal for me, since I didn’t normally teach then anyway, just a bit slower paced. We fell into a good rhythm with our son and took turns caring for him so we could each still have some much needed alone time.

Once September rolled around, it felt a bit weird scrolling through posts on social media from my former coworkers as they prepared their classrooms for their students. I, however, breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to worry about getting bulletin board boarders perfectly aligned or writing my students’ names on dozens of supplies (not to mention the added challenges of teaching during a pandemic).

For many moms, it can be challenging deciding whether to stay home with their baby or return to work. For some, there is no option. They might get a few weeks of maternity leave from their jobs (or even unpaid leave in some cases), then they must return, or risk losing their jobs altogether. (I could write many, many more pages about the reforms that are still desperately needed in our country in order to support new families in this manner). I feel very fortunate that I had a choice and got to do what felt right for our family.

For moms who desire to -- or must-- return to work, leaving their little ones in someone else’s care, whether it’s a grandparent, a nanny, or at daycare, is undeniably tough. Working moms must balance the responsibilities at their jobs with the needs of their baby and the rest of their family. Former colleagues of mine who’d babies often expressed their constant sense of being tugged in two directions at once, and never feeling like they were doing enough or being fully present either for their baby or their job. Their situation left them feeling as if they were failing in both departments. Now, certainly this is not the case for all working moms, but it does seem to be a common sentiment.

Even when we make our decision, sometimes we change our minds! Some women initially plan to stay at home with their babies, thinking they will love it, and end up feeling trapped and isolated only a few months in, so they decide to return to work. Conversely, some women who think they want to continue advancing their careers and couldn’t fathom staying at home also change their minds after living through their decision. It’s hard to anticipate what will make us happy before experiencing it.

Moms make difficult decisions every day, one of the most challenging being whether to stay at home or return to work. Each mother is doing what she believes is best for her family. We need to encourage and support one another as fellow moms in these decisions, whatever they are.

Are you a full-time stay at home mom? Do you work part time? Do you work full time while your baby is in someone else’s care? Whatever your situation, I applaud you. Keep up the good work and try not to take too personally the judgements or comments of others who aren’t in your shoes. They don’t know what it’s like to be you.

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