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To work or not? A dilemma for many moms

Many mothers are torn between their jobs and staying home with the children. Dr. Gail Saltz has advice on making a decision.
/ Source: TODAY

Q: I’m toying with the idea of quitting my job and becoming a stay-at-home mom. How do I decide?

A: This is a decision very few women — or men, for that matter — are comfortable making. Adding to their confusion, there’s no lack of “experts” to tell them which is better. (In addition, of course, many parents, for financial reasons, have no choice but to work.)

In the final analysis, it’s an individual choice. It should be based on what’s best for you and your family.

A couple or three guidelines before getting to some more nitty-gritty issues:

  • A mother feeling obligated to stay home “for the sake of the children” won’t be an ideal parental presence. (Conversely, a mother tortured over spending the workday away from her children won’t be a great employee.)
  • When things get rocky, stay-at-home mothers sometimes feel like failures, while mothers in the office feel guilty. Parenthood is not a smooth ride, no matter what you do or don’t do.
  • You can change your mind later — and revise it as your children grow. Women should not feel locked into their decisions but rather should view their roles in life as changing and evolving. This could, of course, involve doing part-time work.

Here are some practical factors to consider.

Job importanceHow much of your identity comes from your job? How much satisfaction do you get from it? How would you feel if you relinquished that? Some women dislike their jobs, so quitting is hardly a sacrifice. Some have already achieved their goals and wish to move to a new chapter. Some feel aimless and inconsequential without a career.

Childhood memories:
You may have fond memories of your mother greeting you at home every day, or you might have been a latchkey kid who was miserable returning to an empty house. On the other hand, especially as you grew up, you could have felt smothered by a hovering maternal presence — or been glad to function independently. How do your feelings influence what you want for your children?

Spousal support: Does your husband support your staying home? Does he feel strongly one way or the other?

Finances:Can you afford to forgo your income? Or, with the lack of costs for child care, commuting and such, will you break even or come out ahead? Will your husband be overwhelmed by assuming the family’s full financial burden? Is his income secure?

Cabin fever:Feelings of isolation, and a lack of adults to talk to, constitute a big problem for stay-at-home mothers. Will you be able to cope, maybe by volunteering, working part-time or joining a mother’s group?

Time off:
Oddly, mothers sometimes have more time for themselves on the job than at home. They can take breaks, zone out and organize their own time. At home, there are constant demands and no escape. Full-time mothering is as tough as any other full-time job — sometimes even tougher.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line:Make your decision on the basis of what’s right for you and your family. No matter what you choose, be prepared to doubt it — and remember that your decision is not irrevocable.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” For more information, you can visit her Web site, Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” is to be published in May 2004.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.