Making the decision: To stay home or not to stay home

Of those women who were unsure of their decision before becoming pregnant, 15.7 percent decided to stay home at some time during their pregnancy. A former editor said that before becoming pregnant she had only "a vague notion that I wanted to stay home. But during pregnancy, I began to realize how attached I was (literally and figuratively) to my unborn child. I knew then I wouldn't go back full-time.”

Many women who initially expect to rush back to work are surprised by the depth of their attachment to--and the incredible needs of--their newborn baby. Of the women we surveyed, 11.7 percent made the decision to stay home during their maternity leave, even though they had previously made arrangements to go back to work.

Another 11.7 percent of the women we surveyed did return to full-time work, but struggled with inflexible work schedules and long separations from their baby. Attempts to comply with the traditional male work ethic--which requires long hours and assumes that family life is unimportant or being taken care of by someone else--can be especially frustrating. One mother recalls how both her work life and her home life suffered:

 

"I was frustrated at work because I could no longer work those 60-hour weeks. I was frustrated at home because I was missing the opportunity to watch my baby grow. My weekends were being spent working, and I had little time to spend with my husband and even less for myself. No one at work realized I felt I was giving up an irreplaceable experience by working, let alone cared. It seemed to me that while the time I spent at work meant relatively little to the company, it could mean the world to my little girl.”

Employed mothers' level of frustration often rises dramatically when a second or third child comes along. 9.6 percent of the women in our survey who were able to balance home and work life with one child found themselves out of balance once their family grew.

No matter which approach seems to fit your journey, it is the rare woman who does not experience some anxiety and conflict over so radical a change in her and her family's life. One woman described her entire pregnancy as "filled with conflict about the future." Unwilling to relinquish her position and the program she managed to anyone else, she knew she could not relinquish her baby to anyone else, either. She decided to stay home--at least for the time being.

One thing to remember about your decision: It’s not the last one you’ll ever make. The choices you make before your baby is born may be very different from the ones you will make after you and your husband are parents. The decision you make when you have only one child may be drastically different from the one you will make as a mother of two or three children. Motherhood is a growth career that constantly changes as the family develops. Just like anyone else, mothers have a right to change their job descriptions.

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