But whatever you do, be content with your circumstances and stop trying to figure out who’s right. I am truly tired of both men and women claiming to know what is “best” for children when it comes to whether or not a woman has a job outside the home. The studies that have been done over the past 35 years have been confusing at best–your kid might be more aggressive if he attends daycare, but he might also have a more advanced vocabulary and better social skills. So for the moment, let’s just pretend that we all agree that kids will thrive wherever they are and, instead, focus on you.
I hold degrees in economics and education so not only do I know the practical concerns moms have regarding working, I have also been trained to asses those problems. I once wrote an entire thesis concerning the wage disparity of women in the workforce, so if you tell me that your career will suffer because you stay out of the concrete jungle for 5 years, I absolutely believe you. But if you say you can’t possibly leave your kids while you go to work, I believe that, too.
The problem is that there are pros and cons to whatever you choose. I went back to work full time after my daughter was born. The next year I chose to work part time followed by two more years of full time work. This year I have been at home since the birth of my son last summer. Every option has had things I loved and things I wish were different. The one thing that I DO know–because it was true no matter what I chose professionally–is that if you are unhappy where you are, your kids will feel it. And that really can affect their development.
If you have a career that you’ve invested in and that gives you a personal sense of accomplishment, really take the time to enjoy those feelings. Pay attention to the money you bring in and how it makes you feel to be a financial contributor to your family’s team. If you’ve chosen to give up your job and keep the kids, hug them in the middle of the day and be grateful when you don’t have to schedule doctor’s appointments around conference calls and client visits.
And above all else, imagine what it is like for the women who haven’t chosen your path. If you work, take any stay-at-home moms you know out for coffee. They could use the adult conversation and you probably have an extra $2.50 to spare. If you stay at home, offer to keep your working friends’ kids when school is out for the day or help carpool for extracurriculars that begin before 6:30. We’re in this together, people. Let’s act like it.