Outside employment offers some structure at-home moms must invent. Gray had to figure out a schedule and how to get everything done. In exchange, she has more time with her children. "It's interesting how few people really understand this choice is a full-time job, even though it is in my home."
A different view
A Pew Research Center study found nearly three-fourths of Americans believe having women in the workforce has been a good thing. But when the effect on children is factored in, it drops to 21 percent who think having the mothers of young children working is a good thing, compared to 37 percent who said it isn't.
Jill Makechnie always hoped she'd be able to stay home when she and husband Brendaen had kids. When the Needham, Mass., mom got pregnant with Hailey, now 12, she turned down a new position to stay home. As new babies came along — Chloe, now 10, Ella, 7, and Grace, 3 — she has never felt negatively judged for her decisions. "Wherever I've lived, I've felt supported and accepted," she said.
Not everyone feels that way. Whiting said at social gatherings with professionals she has encountered an "awkward silence" when she answered the question, "What do you do?" She knows, though, that staying home with London, 11, McAllister, 9, and Daisy, 6, is right for her family. As for the Rosen-Romney flap, "Who's still having this argument? Stay-at-home moms and working moms come in so many different forms. And you can even work at home and bring in an income. Why does anyone dare dust off that argument? We all need each other's support."
Still, people say things that rankle. A friend told her, "I could not stay at home; I have to do more with my life."
"Nice," said Whiting. "Like I'm just having pedicures."
A side-by-side journey
Makechnie believes being home has helped her better travel with her children through their ups and downs, "learning how to help them grow and develop." She loves hugging the older ones when they come home from school, helping with homework, readying nutritious meals. Staying home, she said, "is not easier or harder. It's different." Her home is a lab, she noted, not a museum. But laughter and hugs flow freely.
She'd planned to go back to work full-time when her children were old enough to be more independent. But she's come to side with those who, like Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, believe teens need their moms home as much as preschoolers do. "It is my belief that the teenage years often generate more pressure and make greater demands on parents than when their kids are small," he wrote in "Home with a Heart." "Besides the common rebellion of those years, there's the chauffeuring, the supervising, the cooking and cleaning, the noise and chaos that surround an ambitious teenager. Someone in the family must be available to respond to these challenges and the other stresses associated with adolescence...."
Pettersson thinks being home as her children negotiate their teens is probably more important. When they graduate, she'd love to go back to work. "I think perhaps it will be difficult for me to get a job," she said, fearful that time out of the marketplace and lack of a college degree may limit her options. She will be in her 50s then and wonders if that will make finding a job harder, too.
A toe in the pool
W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said when you survey women who work and those who stay home with the kids, you find most on both sides would prefer to work part-time. Stay-at-home moms want to keep a toe in the pool, while working moms would like to be less submerged. Some women, like Makechnie, work a few hours here and there as freelance opportunities arise. And like many other stay-at-home moms, she volunteers for her children's schools and other activities.
Whiting had arranged to work at home part-time after her baby was born. But when daughter London was 2 months old, Whiting realized she wanted to stay with her full time. "Knowing my personality, I had to do one or the other," she said. Her husband Jason returned to school for his MBA, studying nights and on weekends while working full time. They initially sacrificed time together.
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