Is Staying Home With Your Kids a Choice or a Necessity?

In the motherhood debate circle, perhaps no topic gets more heated than that of the working mother vs. the stay-at-home mother. 

Heck, there are even acronyms for these sorts of things, with abbreviations like WAHM, SAHM, or WOHM cropping up to describe our “statuses” as mothers who work—or don't. 

It's almost ridiculous when you think about it—our need to label and identify ourselves as a certain “type” of mother, as if we can assure ourselves and our children just exactly what kind of mother we are.

I'm the good kind, of course, we think to ourselves. Those other mothers don't have it hard as I do. 

{ MORE: Can You Afford to Stay at Home? }

I'm guilty of it myself, surely, and I've run the gamut of working-mother employment, from working outside the home to being at home with young children, to periods where it felt like I was mostly just trying to keep my children clothed and alive. I've felt sorry for myself, misunderstood, lonely, and wondered if what any of what I was doing was even worth it.

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Image via Flickr/ tanya_little

And I can see now how silly it all is to wonder and obsess and judge other mothers and to waste so much time and energy on the “choice” of staying at home vs. working, when in many cases, it's not even a choice at all.

In many cases, the mothers who get the most attention in the media about choosing to become a stay-at-home mom or continue down the path of paid employment are the mothers who can afford a real choice about the matter in the first place. Many articles are centered around the mommy guilt, or the desire to be with their children more, or the fact that there is no more important job on earth—all very real concerns, but not necessarily a very real picture of the “choice” that the majority of mothers face.

The truth is, new data shows that the women who can truly afford to make a choice about staying at home are a very elite proportion of mothers—only about 5%—and the rest of us are struggling to just get by. 

Instead of a simple “should I stay or should I go?” question about working vs. staying at home, the truth is is that the primary deciding factor is that which much of the world centers around: money

More and more women are staying home—up to 29% of mothers—but those women also have different backgrounds than you might initially think. Most of the women stated that they are home with their kids because they can't find a job, can't afford daycare, and the overwhelming majority (a whopping 51%) of the mothers had less than a high school degree. 

{ MORE: Attention! Never Say This to a Working Mom! }

With crazy daycare prices, limited opportunities in the job market, and the struggle of maintaining family and going back to school, it's no wonder that many women feel forced to stay home with their kids, and it's easy to see how that cycle can breed stereotypes, resentment, and low confidence in women. Staying home with your kids might not be as much of a choice as we make it out to be. 

So the next time we want to judge another mother on her “choice” of staying home or working, let's remember that there's often a little more than meets the eye, shall we?

Was your decision to work or stay home based on finances? 

What do you think?

Is Staying Home With Your Kids a Choice or a Necessity?

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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15 comments

  1. Profile photo of monica monica says:

    I’m a stay at home mom for 3 years now, have a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old by choice, thanks to God first then my husband since he doesn’t want anybody else taking care of our kids. Would love to be a work at home mom, been looking for a job that doesn’t require selling or that requires a fee to start working. But love being able to take care of my kids myself, but would also like the extra income.

  2. Profile photo of sarah sarah says:

    For me, it’s a necessity. I have a 7 year old and a 3 month old, someone needs to teach the little one shapes, colors, how to eat, etc. And there’s also the issue of someone taking the older one to/from school and helping with homework. We have no car, and my husband makes minimum wage, so there’s no way we could afford childcare; there’s also a serious lack of after school programs here.

  3. Profile photo of Jessica Jessica says:

    I like to think I have the best of both worlds. I want to be a sahm but I love my job. So I work part-time, about 8 hours a week. Gives me my time and gives daddy some alone time with baby.

  4. Profile photo of Laura Laura says:

    Yes my choice is based on finances. This is my first child and I want to be a stay at home mom but am not fortunate to make that choice. It feels unfair to me. At least I have a wonderful Mother- in- law that stays with us and she will be caring for the baby. I won’t need to pay for childcare and is someone I can trust.

    • Profile photo of Gema Gema says:

      Me too! I am so thankful for my mother-in-law. The first time around she went into surgery and the next night, I went into labor! Probably induced by walking around the whole hospital! So while I was on maternity leave we helped each other with, well recovering and taking care of the baby. My husband unfortunately got fired for missing that whole week of work! But can you blame him for being there for us? It was unfair and he presented proof that he was with us but they decided not to accept the proof. So we couldn’t pay my mother-in-law the first time around when I went back to work but we were busy paying my medical bills, her medical bills and all of the new expenses! So she didn’t mind.
      This time around, I am struggling to stay at work because everyday it’s hard to detach myself from my son to come to work. I trust my mom with him and I trust my mother-in-law with him but I want to be there with him all day! And with a second child I think it will be even harder to leave but luckily this time around, we are a bit more financially stable and can pay my mother-in-law because she would do it for free but she deserves it! Even if it’s only a little for her to buy random things she just wants and will never buy herself! And I have more time off this time around so I can take a day off if I just can’t bare leaving them on any given day and we’ll go out and do something fun! Just to give me a little break. But unfortunately for now, I have to keep coming to work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But I love my children so much more. I work in a school district and am lucky to be year-round but am thinking that maybe I can work just during the school year in a few years when my oldest starts school and then I will always get vacation when they do and it will make it a little easier on me 🙂

  5. Profile photo of Kiersten Kiersten says:

    Definitely a choice. I have a 4 yr. degree and quit a great job. My husband and I cut down on extras and have a very tight budget (like most people we know). We didn’t think twice and luckily were on the same page, agreeing that raising our own kids is more important than having cable, two cars, ect… We consider ourselves blessed that I can stay home and definitely see how our choice positively affects our 2yr old.

  6. Profile photo of Veronica Veronica says:

    I have a Master of Architecture degree, but the job market was still terrible in that field when I graduated (my oldest was 3 months old on graduation day). So, I worked and spent half of my paycheck on daycare. When I found out I was pregnant with baby number two, I looked for a higher paying job, but couldn’t find one so I had to stay home with the boys for the next year…however, it was blast spending so much time with them. We did everything that we could do for free like library story times, community Purposeful Playgroups, got free passes to museums and the zoo at the library, and went to the park daily. It was heavenly even though money was very tight.

  7. Profile photo of Ami Ami says:

    I’m glad someone finally said these things, I feel a little bit vindicated.

  8. Profile photo of Stacey Stacey says:

    I kinda have a combo situation. I wanted to stay home for at least 6 mo -1 yr, but once we determined we couldn’t afford daycare anyways (basically a wash on my salary) my husband and I decided it was best for me to become a stay at home mom.

  9. Profile photo of Leah Leah says:

    When I first found out I was preg I planned to work until the baby was born and then leave, take 9-12 months off and start grad school, but I had a terrible preg and rather than go on fmla on and off the remainder of the preg I left, and then surprisingly found out I was preg when our oldest was 12 months. so now I am still home, and hope to start grad school in a year. But it has been our choice, I wanted to be home when they were little, at lease during the first year when everything, first word, smile, steps, happens. I am happy to be home, some people are not cut out for it, my husband could not stay home, he would go crazy, he needs different things. But I know that I am fortunate that I can stay home and that I want to stay home right now

  10. Profile photo of Danielle Danielle says:

    I am lucky enough to be a mom that “chose” to stay home. I may return to work when my babies are a little older, like school aged. I love being home with my kids. I can’t imagine having to work and come home and try to be in a good mood for the few hours I would get with my kids. I am not strong enough. And to those who judge another parent for whatever the choice he/she made, you are idiots!

  11. Profile photo of Darby Darby says:

    I have been a sahm for the past 6 years because when my 2nd child was 15 months old I was laid off (up until then I was allowed to take her to work with me, but I became too expensive for the company). A week after being laid off, I found out I was pregnant again and when he was 9 months old, I was pregnant again. So after 6 years and having a 15 year old, 7 year old, 5 year old, and a 4 year old, I am slowly getting myself back to work. Right now I work part time as an admin assistant for my church during the hours my son is in preschool (a whopping 2-1/2 hours) and am fortunate to have a sister-in-law willing to take my 4 year old for those couple of hours. Once my youngest is in school full time in a year and a half, I will then be looking for more hours and a more stable paycheck. I will still be home when the kids get home, but I will be able to help more financially again, as I was able to in the past.

  12. Profile photo of Aubrey Aubrey says:

    I’ve been a sahm, and I’ve worked. It’s never been a choice, but a necessity. When I had to work, I had to work and I made daycare or family care arrangements for my kids. When I stayed at home, either I couldn’t afford daycare or (now) we are stable enough that I don’t have to work. I’ve also worked at home as well (not as easy as many think) The mommy community needs to quit tearing each other down. It’s hard enough to raise kids without having to question ever decision you make. Bottle or breast, cloth or disposable, sah or go to work, ENOUGH already! Women need to build each other up. rant over

  13. Profile photo of mommy nhoj mommy nhoj says:

    It’s a choice for us and I am glad I can look after my baby closely. We are talking about finding a good daycare next year. Hope we can find one

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