What If You Didn’t Have to Work?

by Love, Work 17 Comments

A very good friend of mine recently asked me whether I would work if I didn’t have to (you know, to make money and live and stuff).

To me, that question is sort of like “What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?” I know how to answer that one: I’d quit, have a mansion with servants (like that episode of Family Guy where Peter sings “This House Is Frickin’ Sweet”), travel the world and live a fabulous life of leisure. Oh, and create a foundation to help make the world a better place.

But back to my friend’s actual question. I think at this point in my life, I’d say yes, I’d still work–just not full-time. I’d dip my toe in the world of getting-paid-to-write just enough to keep things interesting, feel productive, and maintain my skills and network. That way, after the kids are older and more annoyed by me, I could go back to a fuller-time gig no problem.

After we talked about this issue, I offered my friend the chance to write a guest post for WMAG, which she accepted on the condition of anonymity. So here it is, my anonymous friend’s dilemma:

I’m going to keep this short and sweet because, well, I’m a new mom and don’t have time for anything else! I’m sure you understand.

I had my first child this summer. I am scheduled to return to work shortly. I am in the process of looking for child care for him, preferable in our home. A generous family member recently told me that I don’t “have” to work—that I would be taken care of if I didn’t. I did not hesitate when I said that I wanted to go back to work. That was at a time when the stresses of all-day child care seemed worse than the stresses at my job. I love my job.

But a couple of weeks have passed, and I have to give my decision a second thought. There was another reason for turning down the offer. I think a working mom is a good model for a son to grow up with. I don’t want him to see me as “just” a homemaker (something at which I don’t think I’m particularly good). I want him to respect his father and me as equals in every way, including as parents and as professionals. My job is very unique and it is unlikely that I could return to it after taking, say, a year off. It is now or never.

So my question to you WMAG readers is: Would you work if you didn’t “have” to financially? For moms with older children: Do you regret not staying home with your children when they were young? Do you feel that you missed out on precious time that you cannot recapture?

Susan Wenner Jackson

Susan Wenner Jackson is the cofounder and editor of Working Moms Against Guilt. She lives in her hometown of West Chester, Ohio, with her husband, two children, and their dog.

17 Comments

  1. As a stay-at-home mom who hasn’t worked outside of the home for the last four and a half years, I have never for one second regretted my decision. However, my former career as a middle school English teacher was never a dream job for me to begin with. Choosing between raising my children full time and raising other people’s children….well, not really a choice. But making the choice to stay home didn’t extinguish the inherent drive I’ve always had to succeed academically and professionally. I now find myself in the position of reinventing my career potential to match my role as a SAHM. Although this is a difficult journey I am on, I don’t regret for one second taking that off-ramp…at top speed. 🙂

  2. I try not to say that “I have to work”. Instead, I say “I have made life decisions that require more than just my husband’s income. And I am unwilling to compromise on those decisions.” While of course, there are single moms, and homes where life just wouldn’t move forward if there weren’t too incomes, but if many of us really looked hard at where we live, the houses we live in, the things we do… we could probably find room to make changes. I’m not talking about swapping a six bedroom home for a five bedroom home or some pie-in-the-sky lifestyle change, I’m talking about leaving metro boston and moving to rural NH, or in my case, leaving greater Philadelphia and moving to a small town in southern delaware. Or sending your kids to public school. Or moving into a smaller house, or somewhere you could walk more. Etc. etc. etc.

    I was pretty sure after having my second baby last year that I wanted to just consult enough to pay the bills and keep him home with me, but the reality of trying to juggle all of that hit me hard.

    I also saw how my four year old daughter had blossomed as a result of the wonderful daycare/preschool she’s attended since 5 months old, and I knew that I wanted that for him as well.

    I came to the realization that part of what was holding me back from reorganizing my life so that we only needed one income was that deep down inside I really loved my work and given the choice to stay home full time with kids- I don’t think I’d take it.

    I, personally, am a better mom when I have other things to focus on, when I have some small amount of time to myself to exercise and get things done, and when there is more wiggle room in the budget.

    When I took the plunge back to full time work and put my son (9 months at the time) into childcare, I wished I had done it sooner. He just loved it and I was far more sane.

    I think that my story would be different if I didn’t have such wonderful, affordable childcare nearby. I have also worked hard to craft a career that allows me to work from home (although I do have to travel on occasion).

    While some folks give me a hard time and say that I am lucky… lucky to work from home, lucky to have done X, Y or Z, I think we all have the power to keep working towards creating an environment that balances work and family. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith, or going out on your own, or making some hard decisions, but really- what could possibly be more worth it than your family?

  3. I left my job in January. I now work from home now as a freelancer. We have three kids; one’s in preschool, one is second grade.
    What would I do if I didn’t have to work? Focus on being with my kids when they need me (for example, for helping with homework and doing fun, educational stuff after school)…instead of being glued to my computer, marketing myself and writing to the deadline.
    I would work on my own writing projects during the time that the kids are in school.
    I don’t regret leaving work; I’m busier than ever, have more flexibility…but I wish I didn’t have to chase getting the writing jobs as much as I do to make ends meet every month.
    But I’m glad I left, as well, even though I didn’t think I’d be great at home all the time. In the end, I’d rather have my kids remember me fondly, rather than them remember my job.

  4. Before getting married, I always wanted to be a stay at home mom. My husband and I had been married for seven years before having our daughter. I think we waited as long as we did to see if we ever could really get ahead financially and be able to make it on just one salary. And as time passed, I realized that I would rather have a child and have to return to work than never have a child at all.

    I returned to work when my daughter was 3 months old, and I simply wasn’t ready to go back. But financially I “had” to return to work. (Yes, we could have completely changed our lifestyle to afford one income, but we weren’t ready to sell the house and move to a smaller one, cut back to one vehicle, give up the pets, etc.).

    I worked with several strong women mentors who encouraged me through the transition back to work. There were moms who returned to work because they had to, and moms who returned to work because they wanted to – I was fortunate to get their return-to-work perspectives. It took several months of being back at work before I started to appreciate my time there and the contributions I was making to my team. I may not be doing what I love in terms of a career, but I am a successful, professional working mother. And I dream that my daughter will respect me for this one day.

    If I didn’t “have” to work financially, would I? Yes, but only part-time. This way I could get the best of both worlds. I would get to be home with my daughter more, but I would also get that “outlet” needed for my own sanity. And I’d still get to keep my foot in the door if I ever wanted to return to the workforce full-time. (My perfect scenario would be stay at home for a year or two after having a child, then return to work part-time.)

    If I won the lottery tomorrow, would I quite work all together? Absolutely! But I think as time passed, I would start up some adventure on my own (goodwill and all).

  5. I would quit in a heartbeat, if we could make it on one income alone. I have always wanted to be a stay at home mother and am sad that I have not had that opportunity.

    However, that isn’t to say that is what everyone *should* want. Working/staying home are very personal decisions that should take into account many things about you and your family.

    Weigh your options and see what is right for you. I truly wish that it was an option for me. Best of luck!

  6. I am the type of mother who is a better mother because I get time outside, in an adult world.

    That said, I was able to stay home with my first boy until he turned one. With my second, I returned to work after 13 weeks (I was able to push an additional unpaid week in, because my maternity leave was at the tail end of the year).

    I was stir crazy after a year. I was not prepared to return to the work world at 13 weeks. Neither was a perfect situation for me; both had benefits.

    I am lucky enough that I don’t “have” to work to meet our bare budget financial obligations. (To live in the manner to which all four of us have become accustomed, however, we need the extra income.) But I personnally do believe that *I* have to work to be the best mother that I can be. It helps that I now love my job, too.

  7. I found myself in this position last year when my husband and I paid off much of our debt and realized I could stay at home with our two little girls. We had to make a few sacrifices, but they were small, such as dining out less often. I LOVED the extra time with the girls, but sometimes felt torn because I missed the intellectual challenge of my job. The perfect solution for me was to write part-time from home (after the girls are in bed). It took a lot of work to set up, but I feel like I finally get the best of both worlds and our home life is a lot less stressful.

  8. I was able to not work for about a year after our youngest child was born and then went back part-time (about 10 hours/week, spread over 3 days) until she started school. This was great for me. My child was able to benefit from me being home and I loved being there with her most of the time. That much work gave me plenty of adult time and stimulation.

  9. I am a single mom who works full-time outside the home as a Project Manager for a small software company.

    If I won the lottery today, I would quit my job. My kids would still go to school and maybe some daycare would be necessary to accommodate my schedule doing volunteer work. My theory is if I don’t need the money then why continue to take money for my time. There are many worthy causes that I would love to be more involved with if only I had the time and money.

  10. I don’t have to work. But I do.

    I went to grad school to become an expert in my field. It’s a very specialized thing. I am one of around 20 people in the world who can do what I do. I get paid very well. My husband also makes a lot of money. We could survive on either of our incomes alone. We actually do survive on only one income. We make a point to live off of the lower of our two incomes, and the other income goes directly to savings. We believe ourselves to be incredibly fortunate and blessed.

    I was raised by a single mom who barely scraped by on a secretary’s salary. She always regretted that she quit college to be a stay at home mom. When my dad left her high and dry, she had no skills and no career and no money. She drilled into us from an early age that we should go to college, have a career, and never rely on a *man* to support us. While I know that my husband will never leave me, it has somehow become ingrained into my head that I should work.

    Having in-laws overseas, I’ve come to realize that “satying home with your kids” is somewhat of an American notion. In most other industrialized countries, the women work outside the home. The difference is that in these countries, there is much greater support for maternity leave. The mothers (and sometimes the fathers) get up to a year of paid leave at 50-80% of their original salary. The 6-week, sometimes unpaid, maternity leave we get here in the States is laughable. No one is ready to go back to work at 6 weeks! I really think that 6 months is ideal. 12 months is a nice luxury.

    I am a great mom who works outside the house – even though I don’t have to. We have been incredibly fortunate to be able to find nannies and day care situations that are wonderful. I really do believe that our caretakers do a better job with the kids than I would do staying at home myself. But, I am still “mommy”. I am still the one who makes sure they are eating healthy lunches, get their checkups, and brush their teeth at night. I am still the one who is up with them at night when they are sick. I am still the one they call for when they skin their knee.

    It’s a tough balance, but very rewarding when you get it right. Are there days when I feel pulled in too many directions? Yes. Are there days when my job is drudgery and I feel like I made the wrong choice? Hell yes! But most days it feels right.

  11. I grew up in a house where my mom was always there (she did real estate, too, but it allowed her to make her own schedule). As an adult I have so much respect for her because she did what she had to do to make our family work. The stress is on family, but that is what made her most happy. As far as being “equals,” I always knew that my dad was the breadwinner, but it didn’t make me think less of my mom. She taught me and siblings so much, especially in her example, that I never doubted that she was a strong, intelligent, determined woman, and I hope that I have made her proud in the decisions I have made. On the other side, my dad helped out with us and around the house a lot, that I never thought of defined “roles” for my parents. I left my job after I had my first child and have never had a desire to go back. I did not come to this decision until about half-way through the pregnancy. I always thought that I could do both–my career that I thought I was “called” to do, and be a mother. I am so ridiculously happy in my decision now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have rough days. But it sounds like you sincerely like your job. It is important for your kids to see you happy, just as it is important for you to be involved in their lives. There isn’t one path to take to reach this.

  12. Wow, I’m surprised that there was only one poster who chose to work under all circumstances. I thought there would be more.

    I choose to work outside the home because there is more to my person than just my daughter. I’m an engineer, was before she came and will still be after she moves out. It’s as much a part of me as anything else. (and no, I’m not a single mom. We could survive on only my husband’s salary.)

    Yes, I love being a mom, yes, I love my daughter, but I’m not the kind of person who can fully commit to day after day after day of playing with toys and reading books and cleaning up messes. My job gives me opportunities to help other people and improve their lives a bit. Her daycare arrangement gives her time with other people and children, interaction that she really needs as an only child.

    I wouldn’t have it any other way. (I doubt, though, that I’d feel this strongly about a typical office job.)

  13. Here’s my advice for the guest poster:

    If you really do love your job, then hang in there. Believe it or not NOW is a great time to keep your career going while your son is baby. I know its hard to leave him and you may feel guilty that you’re missing out on his baby years. But, you might consider waiting until he is older or when you have a second child to leave your job.

    Back when my son was 3-months old and went back to work fulltime, I remember wishing I could just stay home. Then someone I worked with who had tween-age children told me that the “baby years” were probably the easiest years to work outside the home. It was when her kids started getting older–going to school, involved in activities, nightly homework–is when she really found it hard to work fulltime.

    Now that my son is in kindergarten and I have a daughter in preschool, I totally know what she means. I stayed working full-time for about 3 years, then knocked it back to part-time, then eventually started freelancing on my own. Now I have more time to spend with them and manage our crazy schedules–filled with soccer, dance, school, and more. I’m not a SAHM, so balancing this with freelance work can be tricky some days. But at least now I have the flexibility to make it work.

    Just something to consider. Follow your heart. If you’re still unsure of what you want to do, just wait a little bit and see how it goes. Part-time seems to be ideal for a lot of moms. Maybe you can propose a part-time schedule to your employer?

  14. My kids are older (10 and 6) and I work full-time (sometimes more than). Since my oldest son was born I’ve done it all…SAHM which I really SUCKED at, part-time which was okay, and work at home part time which was okay. When my youngest son was 2 I decided that I really liked who I was when I was a working Mom. It just works for me and for my family. I still find time to be involved in the kid’s school, and ALL their (mostly sports) activities. I grew up in a crazy house with a working Mom and 5 brothers. I love that kind of life. And amazingly, I have friends in all sorts of working (or not) situations and that never seems to be an issue with our friendship.

  15. Nope. I would donate all my time to my kids and helping with nonprofits and then working part time for fun like at a cool coffee/book store.
    I will always work full time, I don’t love my job, but I like were I work. but I would leave if we had the option.

  16. Wow – the guest writer I say this:

    I don’t see my self as “just a homemaker” as you call it. I am raising two sons I do not worry about them seeing my husband and I not as equals just because my husband works out side of the home. I chose to leave my job to raise my children myself. I am not “just a homemaker”. I am a mother, an artist, a strong women, and someone who my boys do look up to. And to all the other posters who say they can’t stay home because they wouldn’t be able to play and read to their kids all day – what a sad world we live in now that we have kids so we can be the weekend parents and play with them at our convenience. I have no issues with people who want to work but to say that you want to work because you can’t stand playing with your kids all day makes me sick. Sure it is hard. Sure I sometimes miss having lunch by myself, going to the bathroom alone, having any sort of break at all during the day. Yes it is hard but you know what? Freakin’ tough. Having kids is hard work. Get over it. Do you really think they will grow up to say “wow mom I have so much respect for you for working while I was little.” and not “thanks mom for sticking my in daycare for 8+ hours a day every single freakin’ day of my life. Thanks for being there for me mom.”

  17. I currently work full time. I went back to work when my daughter was 4 months old. My husband and I are in the process of working out our financials so I can stay home. I would stay home in a heart beat if I could. I didn’t have this child to give her to someone else to raise. She was God’s gift to me and my husband and we were given the charge of caring for her. Work is never easy, in or out of the home. I personally, would revel in the challenge of staying home, playing with my daughter and teaching her and loving on her all day. There isn’t a dis connect of respect between me and my husband because he wants to work outside the home and I don’t. He can be respected for what he does and I am respected for what I desire to do. There are plenty of things to get involved in through the community and church where your child is involved, even as an infant – to stay “sharp” and have adult involvement.

    When did satying at home besome a second rate job?

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