That is the question you may be grappling with. Perhaps you just had a baby and are getting ready to go back to work, but weighing your options and mulling over whether it’s worth it or not. Perhaps you are expecting and not really sure what to think yet. Perhaps you are a working parent and are finding it hard to breath and wondering to yourself if there is a better way. Perhaps you love your working self and don’t want to change a thing.
Perhaps you are looking into your child’s eyes and trying to understand what they want from you.
These are challenges and internal struggles every parent faces at some point, when you have to determine how you will provide for your family financially and emotionally, and physically.
As a woman who always thought she was dead set on having both her career and her family, my whole being was turned upside down a little when I made a decision to take a pause. I had been a working mother for the past four years. While I struggled with not wanting to give up my career, I also struggled with the pain of regret. Regret for missing moments. Regret for disciplinary issues coming to light. Regret for not fully being present.
I share this post not to tell anyone what to do. Every family is different. Every financial scenario is different. Every parent is different. To each his own.
I also recognize that not every parent has the option to stay home. I can’t even imagine how hard it is to be a single parent, for example, and I feel for those moms and dads.
I share this in the small chance that another parent reading–who may be in a similar situation and grappling with this life changing decision–may find some comfort in my story and having someone else’s perspective. If you are contemplating whether to have a stay-at-home parent for your family, I hope my experience can help you in your decision. Ultimately, you have to evaluate your situation and choose what works for you.
These are the four things things I evaluated and used as a tool for making the decision to leave the workforce:
1: On the surface, the money looked great, but it wasn’t really that great.
This is one of the biggest reasons I left, so I’ll spend a little more time on this one. The hubs and I had talked about all of the emotional reasons to leave. But, we needed to look at the numbers. So we turned it a numbers game.
My salary looked great on paper. But, what was I really taking home? It was time for a spreadsheet. Once all of the data was in there, what we saw was shocking. When you looked at everything we were spending to pay for a full-time nanny, a night nanny for when I traveled, the high tax rate my paycheck was taxed at, and things like social security and unemployment taxes for the nanny, taxes, taxes, taxes, blah, blah blah…when you added all of that together and subtracted it from my pay, the remaining number sucked. Bad. And, sending two kids to a full-time preschool wasn’t going to cost any less.
I just wasn’t bringing home the bacon in the way I thought.
After all that, I made $15,000 a year. That was what I took home to “pay the bills”.
After all the late nights and early mornings catching up on email, the stress, the guilt, the marathon days of back-to-back meetings, and everything it takes to climb and succeed on the corporate ladder, I made $15,000 a year.
And on top of that, because neither the hubs nor I ever had time to do anything for ourselves, we decided to pay up for premium services. Things like dinner were becoming very expensive because we picked up takeout five nights a week or went to Central Market and got all the fancy prepped foods. We paid someone to do our laundry for a while. Seriously. We did. She would come over a couple of days a week and just do our laundry.
We paid for everything.
It was all sort of stupid, really, and we still weren’t truly happy. We were fake happy.
I decided that the stress wasn’t worth it. To me, fake happy wasn’t worth it, so I chose to give up the premier laundry service along with the regret. I knew we’d have a lot less to spend on babysitters and going out, and some of those finer things in life, but it would be worth a shot to find our real happy.
Tip: If you, too, are contemplating a shift from full-time work to full-time parenthood, crunch the numbers. In business, my clients and I always talked about how we needed to look at the data to help drive our decision. It’s no different here. You should look at your data. After all the childcare expenses are said and done, is what you have left worth it?
2: Structure and focus.
I’ve mentioned structure in another post and will reiterate. Mary Poppins is a movie and Super Nanny is a TV show. I don’t think there is any one nanny or mother (or father) out there who can be either of these characters 100% of the time. And, no matter how awesome a childcare provider is, they aren’t mom or dad. No one except for mom and dad has skin in the game in the same way. Therefore, no one will give the same level of focus as mom and dad.
When kids spend their day being shifted back and forth between mom to nanny to preschool worker to babysitter and back to mom (and dad), there are many opportunities for confusion introduced. All of this shifting causes more opportunities for parents and caretakers to not be on the same page, and therefore, I believe it causes a lack of focus. The child may be told not to do something by one person and that it is alright to do that same thing by another adult.
When kids are confused, they behave badly. (And, I don’t wish that upon anyone.)
When I took a step back and really took a good look at how my little people were reacting to their environment, it wasn’t good. They wanted so badly to be with me, that they acted out a lot to get my attention. I let them get away with things out of guilt and ultimately they were running amok.
They really weren’t well behaved at all. And, they weren’t even happy in their muckiness. I could tell. They were telling me with their eyes. They needed me. They needed to have that one person to set the ground rules and have the time and energy to actually stick to those rules. They needed a parent. They needed focus.
They were craving it.
3: The corporate world will be there when I’m ready again
I think all of this crap that we women feed ourselves and feed each other about how difficult it will be to go back to work is just that. It’s crap. Are you good at your job? Are you going to work hard and own it when you go back? Perfect. You’ll be good when you’re ready to go back. If you are confident in what you do, I do not think you will have a problem.
I was great at my job. And, I’ll be great when I’m ready to go back.
I’m not going to get mom brain. I’m not going to become an idiot over the course of this two to three year pause. In fact, maybe I’ll even become better and stronger as an individual. I mean, kids are not exactly a walk in the park. I finally told myself that all of the hogwash about losing my “it” factor at work was just hogwash and I needed to let that way of thinking go.
4: I can’t buy my children’s happiness.
Small kids don’t care about money. They have no concept of money. It doesn’t matter to them.
Buying them the best new toy doesn’t matter if I’m not there to play with them. They don’t care if someone else is doing the laundry.
They don’t care about my perfectly manicured feet. They care about spending time with me.
Time. Kids care about time, not money. So, I decided to give them my time. I decided to give them my focus.
I decided to get them to our real happy.