Staying at Home Versus The Virtue of Busyness

I might work hard, but I’m simply not as busy as I would be if I worked outside the home. Admitting I’d prefer not to be busy comes with a dose of humility.

I’ve never worked as hard as when I’ve been a stay-at-home mom.
I need to start with that because I’m about to tell you one of the main reasons I stay-at-home: I might work hard, but I’m simply not as busy as I would be if I worked outside of the home. Admitting that I would prefer not to be busy comes with a dose of humility.
Researchers from the Columbia Business School have put out at a paper claiming that the new status symbol isn’t how much money we are spending – it’s how we are spending our time. And the busier, the better.
The researchers showed participants in the study pictures of a woman wearing a Bluetooth headset (symbolic of a busy lifestyle) and another wearing headphone (representing a more leisurely lifestyle). The participants who saw a picture of a woman wearing Bluetooth rated her as higher in social status, financial wealth, and income. Likewise, researcher participants rated Peapod, an online shopping service, as having a higher social status than shopping somewhere like Trader Joe’s.
It’s no surprise that working mothers, who still tend to pick up a greater share of the housework than working fathers, are also more likely to say they constantly feel rushed. Four in 10 working moms report always feeling rushed, compared to just one-in-four stay-at-home moms and working dads.
While the constant rush doesn’t translate into a lack of happiness for working moms, it’s not the lifestyle I wanted for my family. I didn’t arrive at this decision directly. It took me a few years of staying at home to come to that conclusion.
 
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I quit my job after my second child was born. My older child had just been diagnosed with multiple food allergies, and my second was born a month premature and was in physical therapy. At the time, I was working three days a week, but paying for full-time care. We had been on the waitlist at the only daycare that had part-time slots since before I found out I was pregnant with the second. Paying for full-time care for two children meant the vast majority of my salary would go to childcare.
So I made the difficult decision to quit my job, which I loved. I worked from home for a few more months, bouncing the baby in his seat while I typed. Eventually, we turned my office into his nursery, and I joined the ranks of stay-at-home moms.
When I worked, I found plenty of articles supporting my conviction that working outside of the home was not only not harmful to my family – it was actually beneficial. The daughters of working moms are more likely to work outside of the home and earn higher wages. The sons are more likely to partake in household chores.
I read how stay-at-home moms who take five years off to care for a child can lose over $700,000 over their lifetimes through lost wages, wage growth, and retirement savings. I knew the quality of time spent with children, not the quantity, mattered most. I felt confident in my decision to be a working mom. When my circumstances changed, I didn’t know what to think.
While society has long pressured women to keep the home fires burning, the reasons given were never that convincing to me. “You can see each precious first!” (My husband was home for both of the kids’ first steps.) “You can be there to kiss every boo-boo!” (I never minded if someone else kissed their boo-boos.) “There’s no one like mom!” (Tell that to my kids, who are perfectly content with Dad, Grandma, etc.)
I knew, in my heart, my children would turn out fine if I stayed-at-home or if I sent them to daycare. But after a year of being at home with them, I knew I wanted to keep up this arrangement, at least for the time being. While moments of peace and quiet were rare in a house of toddler boys, we could at least forego the rush.
There was no bustling to and from daycare. There was no coordinating our vacation days, or negotiating which parent had more important meetings on a day one of us needed to be home to take care of a sick child. There was no trying to figure out something quick to make for dinner at 6 p.m. (Okay fine, there was less trying to figure out something quick to make for dinner at 6 p.m.) Adding a second child to the mix sped up the pace of our life, but staying at home allowed me to slow it back down a bit.
With multiple food allergies in our family, I spend a good amount of my time in the kitchen accommodating our needs. This means we often have hot bread cooling or fresh yogurt brewing on the counter. The boys and I spend hours outside nearly every day, exploring the hiking trails in our community. I can take my children to visit grandparents without having to clear vacation time with anyone. On weekends, we can go fishing instead of playing a frantic game of catch-up.
Busyness has become a virtue, and in modern society’s eyes, staying-at-home might make me an unvirtuous woman. Maybe admitting that I find not working preferable for our family makes me sound lazy or unindustrious. I don’t believe that anyone who is the sole caretaker of children can be criticized for being lazy. But I will gladly admit that I enjoy having more free time.
Without a doubt, I know my children will be happy and well-adjusted whether I stay at home or go back to work. Despite the daycare costs, we might feel more financially comfortable if I had stayed in the game. But as a whole, my family is happier when we’re little less rushed and have a little more time to stop and examine every bug along the way.

I Didn’t Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom—Then I Got Fired

The week before the end of my maternity leave, my boss called to tell me that as of my return to work on Monday, my position would be eliminated.

The week before the end of my maternity leave, my boss called to tell me that as of my return to work on Monday, my position would be eliminated.

After the shock had subsided, my first reaction was relief. I had spent weeks stressing about my daycare plans, how I would fit pumping into my already jam-packed work day, how I would function while utterly sleep-deprived. Now all of that was gone. Play with my baby all day? Yes, please!

My husband and I decided I wouldn’t look for another full-time job right away so I could take more time to care for the baby without the stresses of balancing my new family responsibilities with work. I looked forward to this unplanned extension of my maternity leave.

But as the day passed when I would have gone back to work, I realized a big part of my identity was also gone. I was no longer a magazine editor in the glamorous world of publishing. What was I now, besides a mom? I certainly wasn’t a “housewife.” I had little energy for housework or cooking, and I started to feel guilty when my husband came home each day. Shouldn’t I be greeting him with a martini as dinner wafted from the kitchen, and shouldn’t I be wearing lipstick and heels instead of yoga pants?

OK, so maybe my idea of a stay-at-home-mom came more from stereotypes of 1950’s homemakers than modern reality, but the question persisted, for me and presumably my husband, of what exactly I spent my time doing. Everything and nothing, it seemed.

I was feeding, changing, bathing, clothing, entertaining, educating, consoling and loving my son. I was not dusting, vacuuming, cleaning toilets, tidying or making gourmet dinners. I certainly wasn’t being what I had always thought I was: a career girl. That part of my life seemed to be over.

I joined a moms’ group, but we only seemed to be together in our isolation. We talked about being lonely, about being solitary in our homes all day, but still found it hard to get together more than once a week. Just getting out of the house with a baby was a project, and could be so stressful that it defeated the purpose of seeking solace with others.

Eager to find a new purpose—well, besides the all-important purpose of raising my child —I decided to start writing again, hoping to find a new path working from home. But every time I started working, my son would wake up from his nap, or stop playing contentedly by himself and cry for my attention.

As I struggled to type one last paragraph while he screamed, I realized I wasn’t being a very good writer or a very good mom. Trying to squeeze things in while taking care of my son wasn’t working because taking care of him was a job in and of itself. I found myself getting frustrated at him—my baby, the little being I had tried so hard to create and who now needed me more than anyone else. How could I not be content just being his mom?

Before I had kids, I once made a comment to my sister about how she had it easy because she didn’t work, except to take care of her toddler. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had!” she retorted. I scoffed at the time, but now, I finally get what stay-at-home moms have been saying for years: They do work, just not in the same way.

But what was I to do about my career? I still felt the pull to work, a little twinge of jealousy when I saw Facebook posts from my former coworkers about the fabulous events they were attending or heard about the cool new writing assignment they got.

But now I try to remind myself that my son will only be a baby for a couple of short years. Yes, I may feel like a slob most days, unshowered and covered in unspecified substances. But I made a choice to stay home with him, something that many working moms would be envious of as well. I am leaning out, and I am trying to embrace that. Staying home has changed how I view myself. But whether you work or not, becoming a mom does that to you.

3 Things I Learned by Transitioning from SAHM to Working Mom

Recently I’ve made the monumental shift from stay at home mom to full time career lady. My first kid was born nine years ago, and while I worked for a small boutique in the years after his birth, I left the job and never went back after having my second. For the last three years, I’ve been knee deep in library story hours, music times, and wiping things. Wiping so.many.things.

A little over a year ago, I needed an outlet. Something that required me to use my brain for something other than making snacks and reading Good Night Moon over and over again. Like tens of thousands of women before me, I started a blog. But I made a promise to myself and anyone that would be so gracious as to take time reading, I wasn’t going to subject anyone to another crafty, recipe laden aren’t-kids-just-the-most-magical-creatures-fake-fest. I set out to be honest. Often, life with kids is awesome. Occasionally it blows chunks. (Literally.)

For a few hours each week, I would sneak off to a coffee shop and hunker down to peck out 600-1000 words on something that had me thinking. I harassed my friends to read it and they were kind enough to share it with theirs. The universe conspired to parlay those efforts into what you are reading right now.

These are a few things I’ve come to realize in this change.

1. I truly enjoy being around adults.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent the first years of my youngest’s life at her beck and call. Yet as much as I made a concerted effort to get out of the house and socialize both of us, I’d still find myself engaging everyone from cashiers to the mailman in inane conversation just because they spoke actual words. On more than a few occasions, I accusingly asked my husband if he washed his hands upon exiting the bathroom. When you’re with kids all day, it comes with the territory.

Personally, I love kiddos. Even ones that aren’t mine. They are startlingly honest, delightfully irreverent, and often easy to please. Plus, they’ll clear their schedule at the drop of a hat for an ice cream date. (Adults could really stand to learn a few things.) However, they’re terrible at discussing the intricacies of Breaking Bad, they sneeze directly into your mouth, and some days they rapidly fire questions that would make Albert Einstein feel like taking a nap in traffic.

Spending large stretches of the day creating something with intelligent, forward thinking people who don’t wear diapers (so far as I know, though this is totally unconfirmed) is fantastic.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Allegedly, that phrase was penned around 1839 by Thomas Haynes Bayly, but that’s a really strange name for a working mom. I’m going to have to credit Tina Fey instead, as that suits my needs better.

In any event, I am going to go on record and say that there’s no better feeling than a small person who thinks you’re cooler than Gwen Stefani (spoiler alert, children who may need glasses:this is not possible) launches like a flying squirrel into your arms before you can even take off your coat. That never happens when you’re nose to nose day in and day out.

3. I’m a better parent when I feel more financially secure.

There’s no debating that raising kids is expensive. There’s also no doubt that worrying about paying your bills can permeate every moment of your day. At its worst, it boils over and you cry because your kid spilled an entire carton of milk all over the counter when you have $7 dollars left in your account until next week. (I acknowledge that this is in no way the worst for some families. I am only speaking from my own experience.) On the better days, it’s just the way you hold your breath as you wait between punching in your pin and being handed your receipt at the grocery store.

Our needs are few. But knowing they can be met quiets that voice that can yell louder than two kids banging pots and pans while tap dancing.