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Thoughts For Thursday: Lessons Learned From Working and Staying At Home

November 11, 2010 · 33 comments

in Parenting, Personal Finance, Thoughts For Thursday, Work

I have had one job my entire career, but have had different iterations of the same job.

I started out as a computer programmer in 1991 (which had nothing to do with my major).   I worked in an office full time for 3 years, and then I had my oldest son.  I then switched to working 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. I then had a daughter 2 years later and a son 20 months later. After my third child, I had no intention of going back to work, period. However, they struck a deal with me: 16 hours a week, exclusively from home.  Sounded good. However, those 16 hours grew into 24, and it was getting hard to balance working and being a mom with 3 small children at home.  So, after a year of that arrangement, I quit completely and we began to rely on just one income.

Are you bored yet?  Wait, there’s more!

Seven years later, they called back wanting help for a project.  I could work from home and part time.  That sounded like a good deal since all my kids were in school and I had quite a bit of time on my hands.   That lasted 3.5 years, in which the economy tanked, and I stopped working again.

Flash forward 9 months, and that is where we are at now . As some of you know, I returned to work last week, part time and from home.  So far so good. But what I want to share with you is not about my exciting work history.   It is more about what I have learned over this 19 year journey…

Throughout my career, I have been a full time working mom in an office, a full time mom working partially from home, a part time mom working from home and a completely stay at home mom. You could say I am an authority on being a mom who works and doesn’t work.  The following are snippets of what I have learned along the way:

  1. If you are a stay at home mom, do not for one second feel guilty about not bringing in an income.  My first few years I felt awful that I wasn’t contributing to the household income.   That is the last thing a SAHM should be worried about.  I handled all the finances, household repair appts, shopping, errands, doctor appointments, etc- not to mention raising the kids.  You cannot put a price tag on the value of performing those roles.  (Yes, I know studies have shown that stay at home moms really should make bazillions of dollars every year, blah blah blah.)
  2. If you are a working mom, don’t feel guilty about not being with the kids.  As long as you are providing a safe environment for them and giving them a lot of love and care when you are home, things will be fine.  My only warning is that I would be somewhat concerned if you are leaving teenagers home alone to their own devices day in and day out.  Encourage school sports or other activities that will keep them busy and hopefully out of trouble.
  3. If you work from home, remember to separate work and home.  I have a very hard time with this myself, and I am   really trying hard this time around to make sure the computer is closed at 3:00 pm, period.   (I do know there will be exceptions to this rule though, but hopefully they will be few and far between.)   Emails can wait, and helping the kids with their homework and spending time with the family is way more important to me.
  4. Remember, you will never be the perfect employee or the perfect parent, so don’t demand either out of yourself.  Do the best you can in the time allotted, and give yourself a break.

In the end, what I am trying to say is that we are all human.  It can be very hard to be a parent who works or does not work.  Both situations come with their own challenges.  I have learned so much going through so many transitions that I take a new approach each time that I either go back to work or stay home with the kids.  It has actually been quite healthy for me, as I have come to appreciate different sides from so many situations.  I am hoping that this time around with work I can really find a great balance of home and work, because last time, my balance was somewhat skewed at times.

Do you ever struggle with a work/home life balance?  Have you ever gained a new perspective from either staying at home or changing jobs?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole November 11, 2010 at 7:04 am

Oh man, mommy boards can get so intense on this topic, though invariably there’s mothers who have been in multiple situations (like yourself) who calm things down.

When my son was born I didn’t get any maternity leave. So my husband and I alternated days that we went into the university and worked from home the other days. What was really great about separating work and home while at home was having a college student (we got a pediatric nursing student, a woman who was the oldest of some huge number of siblings, etc.) take care of our son while we were at home. That was awesome because there was zero websurfing… 100% work as our son walked past on the fingers of whichever mother’s helper was there that day. Whenever he got hungry I could nurse right there (I had to pump at work though). If he ever got fussy then one of us could comfort him. And he didn’t get sick until he started daycare. With daycare he was sick almost continuously for an entire semester, but then had immunities of steel after.
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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Nicole, people can really get militant on mom-issues. (I once interacted with the most militant person from La Leche League!) Some people just don’t understand that works for them may not work for others.

I can’t imagine not having maternity leave. I was so exhausted, I would have done the cruddiest job had I been at work!

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101 Centavos November 11, 2010 at 7:32 am

My wife has been a SAHM by choice throughout our married life. We long ago decided that if that’s what was best for us, then we’d stick to it. If she wanted or had to go back into the workplac or work part time, that would be OK too. We each have our specialized division of labor, or sometimes as with me and installing door locks, division of incompetence. So far, it’s worked out fine.
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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I like Division of Incompetence. I tried removing a door handle and couldn’t do it to save my life. I ended up mangling the poor thing. (I don’t think my husband had a very easy job removing it either.)

Glad things have worked out so well for you guys. I feel fortunate that I have been able to be home with the kiddos, but I know it is not for everyone.

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Andrew @ 101 Centavos November 12, 2010 at 7:09 am

It’s not like I can’t do things or I’m not handy, it’s just that there’s something weird about me and door locks. I’ve installed them backwards, misplaced the new keys, chiseled the wrong hole, cut myself on the clamshell package (and bled lavishly on my favorite T-shirt), dropped and lost screws and other parts, and splintered door jambs.

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Lola November 11, 2010 at 10:22 am

Great summary! Congratulations on achieving such a good perspective and balance for you and your family.

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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Lola- thank you for your kindness. I didn’t know if I was boring people to tears or not!

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Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom November 11, 2010 at 10:25 am

In the past, I’ve wished I could find a good SAHD. I wouldn’t have had any qualms about them not “pulling their weight” financially (whatever that means) if it meant that I could have focused on the career that I loved and known someone was there being a great parent to our kids and freeing me up from chores a bit and being able to really be there for more of the fun stuff and less of the drudge.

This last year has been the first time since I started working that I’ve ever really had a balance between work and home. Even in University, I was working part-time and pushing to get on the Dean’s list. Reading that GRS article on making more money the other day, I had a little pang of guilt that I “should” be making more money right now (and not just putting in 6 hour days) but knowing I’m happy, feel balanced and have “Enough” quelled the guilt pretty quickly. :-)

I’m glad you are looking back and learning the lessons of what didn’t work as well as what works. I love introspection for that. :-P

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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:12 pm

The one good thing about change is it does give you a chance to think back and learn. Even good change is an adjustment!

I read that GRS article too. Don’t feel guilty. You have a lot on your plate, and being in a good ‘place’ is just as important as just about anything. If you have balance, then you are ahead of most of the world.

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Joe Plemon November 11, 2010 at 10:31 am

Like 101 Centavos, my wife and I agreed that she would be a SAHM. She went through years of feeling like she was some sort of sub-standard woman because she wasn’t “working”. However, she eventually realized that being a homemaker was her calling in life and she embraced that role ever since. Over the years, as we raised four children, people would sometimes as if she was a “housewife”, to which she would silently bristle and reply with a bit of an edge, “No. I am a homemaker”.

I love your point 4. Especially this sentence, “Do the best you can in the time allotted, and give yourself a break.” Words to live by.
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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Thanks Joe! I remember when I stopped working and I had to fill out an application for something, I think it was for our house alarm. It asked my occupation and I said ‘homemaker’. It sounded so odd at first, probably because of the negative connotation our society seems to have place on ‘homemaking’. I don’t care though. If I made our house a home, then that is an accomplishment in itself.

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Suba @ Wealth Informatics November 11, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I don’t have kids yet, but we are planning to start a family and I know I will struggle with this one. I work at home part time and rest of the time in office. I either have to quit my job and stay at home or take a job that I won’t like near my home (there are no jobs that are relevant to my field of work within 150 miles of my home). I feel guilty to work and if I quit I feel guilty for that too. Me and my husband have been having back and forth discussion about this for a few months now. I already get “talks” from my friends that I am spoiling my chances of getting pregnant by working in a high stress/challenging job. God help me stay sane after I have a kid…
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Nicole November 11, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Is moving not an option? I would die with that commute, even part-time.

Good luck with the ttc!
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Kris November 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Suba, you will never win the guilt war. You feel guilty if you work, you feel guilty if you aren’t making money. I have lived through all of that and I am telling you that it is a waste of time and energy. You cannot satisfy every wish in this regard. So, you have to think about what makes you happy, and what is reasonable. Can you really afford to stay home? If not, then you have to focus on finding a job closer to home. Can you afford to quit? Do you want to quit? If so, then embrace that and enjoy. The reduction in stress from you being home with the baby and taking care of the house cannot be quantified, but is incredibly valuable.

In synopsis, decide what is possible first and then decide what would make you and the family happiest. Once you have made your decision, do not look back unless circumstances change.

Regarding stress, I know a couple people that could not conceive when they had stressful jobs. Then they quit their job, or quit worrying about trying to conceive and then all the sudden they were pregnant. Who knows for sure what the catalyst is/was, but stress may play a role.

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Car Negotiation Coach November 12, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Kris, Great set of tips on working from home, not working, etc.

I’ve worked from home a lot over the years and there are many challenges associated with that. These days I love it because I don’t think I’d see my baby girl if I didn’t (she’s asleep by 6), but it’s definitely hard to find a balance….especially when you throw blogging into the mix!
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work at home November 13, 2010 at 5:33 am

I wish more people that wants to work from home will take seriously whats written here and work hard to achieve and then they may work at home with success.

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Len Penzo November 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Great post, Kris!

When I was still dating, I eliminated any woman who was not willing to be a stay-at-home mom. I don’t mean that to be a judgmental statement on mom’s who work, by the way. For me, it was just important that our kids grow up with a mom who was always there for them when they left for school in the morning and got home in the afternoon. Again, that’s just my preference, working moms!

Anyway, I try to let the Honeybee know everyday that I appreciate her being a terrific housewife and homemaker. If I tried to total up all that she does and quantify it in terms of what she should be paid, she’d probably be making six figures.

Best,

Len
Len Penzo dot Com

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Kris November 13, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Thanks a lot Len. I have so loved staying home with the kids. Even when I did work, I was still at home (except the first few years).

I know the family appreciates me. It is society that says stupid things. As I got older and more mature though, I just tuned them out!

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First Gen American November 14, 2010 at 6:42 am

It’s funny Len, but I did the opposite. My college BF wanted a SAHM for a wife and I knew I didn’t want that choice made for me..especially since I was spending $100K and a lot of sleepless nights to get an engineering degree. It would have been a lot cheaper to get my MRS. degree at the local community college next door.

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Kris November 14, 2010 at 8:50 am

I got my MRS at a Big Ten University! :)

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youngandthrifty November 13, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience, Kris- as a non-mommy but hopefully soon-to-be mommy in the next five years, I completely admire working moms and stay at home moms- I don’t know how they do it.

Of the three, which one would you say was your favourite? (I know there are many factors that come to play…) :)

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Kris November 13, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Young and Thrifty- by far, hands down, my favorite was just being a stay at home mom. I didn’t go back to work part time until the kids were all in school anyway, so I was done working (usually) by the time they were home. In the summer, I just got up extra early to try and get work out of the way. It worked out, but nothing beats the freedom of waking up and just going to a museum or doing whatever you want with the kids. The house was pretty stress free without me working, even part time, and I loved it.

Remember, when you do start a family, do what works best for you and forget everyone else’s opinions (outside of the house). Good luck!!

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First Gen American November 14, 2010 at 6:48 am

This is such a great article. I find that #4 is especially true for us type A workaholics. You realize that you can’t be a workaholic anymore, or you have to completely ignore your family.

Before I had kids, I was always shocked and surprised by the type of women who decided to stay home. Often they were the fast track high performers. But now, it makes complete sense. Of course, those would be the same people who would want to be a super mom greeting the kids when they got home from school and having a plate of cookies on the counter when the kids got home.

You really can’t do everything. Thanks for the advice.
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Kris November 14, 2010 at 8:50 am

Sandy, I am guilty of the cookie baking… (But I do love to bake, and I do love cookies!)

It is funny how our society has transitioned over the decades. Years ago, it was the working mom that raised eyebrows. Now, it is the stay at home mom. People used to ask me why I would waste my education by staying home. Well, it isn’t like my diplomas combusted when I quit, they will always be there. Not to mention all the ‘pros’ of being home with the kiddos.

As I said, you can never win. There will always be someone out there to judge.

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Financial Success for Young Adults June 8, 2011 at 10:11 am

I will keep this in mind for when I have kids. My mother stayed at home with us and I have great childhood memories. There’s nothing better than coming home from school and seeing rice krispie treats on the stove. And I still remember the smell!
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Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:29 pm

That does sound like a very nice memory. I need to whip up some cookies now that I think about it. It is funny what memories pop up from childhood and what brings us comfort.

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Angur September 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

This is a good article. Most of my friends are a single mom so i know exactly what you talking about. Income is very important, when it come to living on your own and raise a child.

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