If you're a mother trying to decide whether to stay home, work full time, or work part time, here are six things to consider:
- Money. Your family's financial picture is obviously important as basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and health care costs need to be covered. Beyond the essentials, household needs vary, and it is up to you and your family to decide whether staying at home, working part time, or working full time will work best. If you decide to stay home, consider what the loss of income will mean for the family and for your own spending. Make sure to discuss this with your significant other, and if you both need help, consult with a financial planner, advises Karen S. Yasgoor, PhD, an organizational psychologist in private practice in La Jolla, Calif., and owner of the Center for Work Life Assessment.
- Personal preference. It is crucial to determine your own feelings about working and staying home, because it can make a difference in your child's life. Experts say a mother's level of fulfillment and the quality (versus quantity) of time she spends with her child are the biggest components to his intellectual and emotional development and to his ability to succeed in the world. "If mom is a happier person, then she is going to have a more fulfilling and therefore healthier relationship with her kids," says Gardenswartz.
- Your significant other. Your partner's support of your decision is critical; otherwise there could be many difficulties. If the person that you're living with is unsupportive, he or she may not help you with finances, child rearing, or household chores. Resentments could build up on both sides. If you and your significant other disagree over whether you should stay home or work, Yasgoor recommends a six-month trial period followed by an evaluation to see how one option works for the family. Also, whatever course of action you take, make sure to run by potential issues with your partner. If you decide to work, for example, it's important to figure out details such as how long maternity and paternity leave will be, who will pick up kids from day care  or school, or who will care for them when they're sick, says Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Mommy Wars.
- Social network. Wherever you are, make sure you have a group of people who will support you. If you stay at home, look for other moms in the neighborhood who are dealing with the same issues. At work, connect with other mothers either informally, or through structured women's groups. "You need to be able to go out there and be able to socialize with like people," says Yasgoor. She says stay-at-home moms need to have adult interaction, and all moms can benefit from being around other women who face the same issues.
- Career and Workplace. How family friendly your employer is can play a huge role in how difficult it will be to stay home or continue working. Even before you have a baby, look for a job that will be respectful of your family's values. "If your employer is not flexible of working parents ... then it's going to make working that much harder," says Morgan Steiner. If you decide to stay home, determine how likely it will be for you to return to your job or career. To help keep competitive while at home, Jacqueline Plumez, PhD, a psychologist and career counselor in Larchmont, N.Y., proposes keeping current in your profession by taking classes, working part time, or volunteering in projects related to your career. Yasgoor also recommends joining professional associations or attending networking events.
- Culture. Expectations of mothers in families and society can make it difficult for women who have different ideas. If the family tradition involves staying at home to take care of children, for example, working moms may end up feeling guilty about leaving their kid(s) in day care. At the same time, a growing culture of intensive parenting  - where the mother and child bond are emphasized - may pressure some women to stay home. All of the family and cultural demands can make a woman feel guilty and resentful. To shed negative feelings, Yasgoor advises tapping into and writing down your own needs, goals, and objectives. "Remember," she says, "if the mother isn't happy, no one is happy."
Whether you choose to stay at home, work full time, or work or part time, keep in mind that there's no such thing as perfect motherhood.
"You can read 25 books by child care experts, and it's still not as valuable as getting in touch with what kind of mom you want to be and need to be to take care of your children," says Morgan Steiner.
You may end up making a choice that could prove to be difficult for the household. For instance, if you choose to stay home or work part time, finances could be stretched thin. In such cases, experts advise being strong within yourself, remembering why your choice is the best for you and your family. Then think about how you can cope with the situation.
On tight budgets, Morgan Steiner says families have sacrificed things like expensive extracurricular activities, camps, vacations, cars, and places to live. Some people choose to move to neighborhoods with good public schools so they don't have to pay for private education. Others forgo the iPods, Xboxes, Game Boys, and other popular gadgets.
When you make your choice, remember to also be flexible.
"Motherhood - we don't have it figured out and then lock into it," says Morgan Steiner. "Every few months, everything changes, and you've got to just roll with it."