Stay-at-home mothers find challenge, reward in raising their children

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Annelie Pettersson watches some TV with her two kids Alva and Gustav and their dog in their Salt Lake home.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

When she turned in a job application, Nichole Whiting always knew what the job entailed. The exception is her current position: Stay-at-home mom, which many feel isn't work at all. It has been, she said, the most rewarding and challenging of positions.

The New York City woman has come to view being a mom as a profession. She looks at her day and its productivity and output, what she accomplished and what her goals are, both short-term and long-term. Like any job she's ever thrived in, it requires networking, sharpening all her skills, doing research. And her college degree and previous jobs all help her in her efforts to be the best mom she can and to help her children mature and thrive.

In 2010, 5 million women stayed home to raise their offspring in the United States, down from 5.6 million in 2008 and nearly half the number from 1969, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, there were also 154,000 stay-at-home dads. They are the minority. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said in late April that 70.6 percent of all mothers with children under age 18 were working or looking for work in 2011. That overall percentage includes the nearly 64 percent of women with a child under 6 and the 76 percent of working moms whose youngest child was at least 7. The bureau said there are nearly 778,000 day care providers that serve those families.

Who the stay-at-home moms are is a question with renewed interest after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen took a snipe at Ann Romney, wife of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, saying she "never worked a day in her life." She later apologized. But the implication that staying home is solely the prerogative of those wealthy enough to afford the "luxury" is not the demographic truth. Most stay-at-home moms are actually younger, less-educated women with lower incomes than in the past. Census data shows 44 percent of them are younger than 35, compared to 38 percent of working moms; 65 percent of those who stay home with kids under 18 are in households earning less than $75,000 a year. More are also likely to be Hispanic than in the past. The bureau said 19 percent of stay-at-home moms have not completed high school, while only 7 percent of those in the workforce are drop outs.

Since jobs are sometimes valued solely for their monetary yield, it's no surprise the dollar value of running a household and raising a family full-time is debated. The calculation can be disparaging or romanticized, depending on who does the math. This year, when Salary.com looked at all the jobs that moms do and what each would cost in the work world if you hired someone, it said a stay-at-home mom's work is worth $112,962 a year, down from the $138,094 of five years ago. The recession has brought pay cuts in some of the jobs moms do: driver, cook, babysitter, janitor, housekeeper, etc. Salary.com also estimated she works about 94 hours a week.

Meeting some stay-at-home moms

Women choose to work outside or stay home with the kids for many reasons. Sometimes, it's pure economics: Women who have low education attainment may not land jobs that pay enough to cover the costs of working, such as day care, transportation and clothing. Business Insider magazine recently noted day care in some states is more expensive than college tuition and board. In some families, there's no financial way mom could stay home, even if she wanted to; the family needs her paycheck. Other families may make financial sacrifice as moms give up earnings because they believe that staying home with the kids is right for their families. The Deseret News interviewed numerous stay-at-home moms to learn what drove their decision and the challenges and rewards they found.

"There are a hundred — maybe even a thousand — good ways to raise a family. It's how you grew up, your aspirations, your finances. If you have the option to work or not to work, it boils down" to what you believe your family needs, said LaDawn Stone, mom of four sons.

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