Pros & Cons: Being a Stay at Home Parent
So far on this blog I think I’ve only written one article on being my child’s mother and there’s a reason for that. I’d hate to get pigeonholed into being just another “mommy blogger.” For the mommy bloggers out there who are hustling, good on you! That’s so cool and admirable. For me, the reason I started this blog was to remind myself twice a week that I’m my own person apart from being my son’s mom. It’s my little creative outlet that has helped keep me sane sometimes! I love my son. Caring for him isn’t all that I am or my only role in this world.
That being said, I’ve had a lot of questions lately about what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom. Some of my friends are eager to try it out and some find this choice totally anachronistic and bizarre.
For the record, stay-at-home mom is a fraught term. Check out this TED Talk about that job title. It’s a pretty funny waste of a few minutes. I prefer full time homemaker or just homemaker as a job title myself. It doesn’t describe where I do what I do or qualify my role. It’s an actual occupation. Whichever term you use is your choice though!
As a full time homemaker, I’ve had a few friends who have little ones ask me about the pros and cons and what’s the real scoop about my lifestyle. I’m happy being very frank about this because I think it’s a societal good to keep thing authentic. I also want to help people see what they might be getting into. It’s not always the easiest path.
I thought this week I would do a mini blog series on the homemaking life. Today I’d like to cover the pros and cons and on Thursday I’d like to cover ways to avoid common pitfalls in this career as well as some suggestions for making the most of it. These are my own pros and cons and suggestions. Everyone might have different ones.
That being said, take this info for what it’s worth. I don’t really believe in the “mommy wars” and have yet to experience a negative reaction to my child’s feeding choices, sleep choices, my occupation, or my parenting style. Honestly. In person, women tend to be more curious or just chill about things with me. I appreciate that. I like to give other people the freedom to do their thing too. I’m not always successful at that… My views on homemaking are fully my own and really personal to me. If they ring true for you, I’m glad I took the time!
+ cons of the homemaker life
few trackable or recognized accomplishments and successes
In my late 20s, I took a break from the workforce and became a full time homemaker/stay-at-home person for a few years. There were a lot of reasons for that, but it was a fruitful decision for my family. I spent my days volunteering, taking care of our dog, making a home, entertaining. I consider it a tough, but rewarding use of a few years.
Over that time, I saw that my status out of the workforce made some pretty awkward conversation with strangers at best and some serious judgment and harsh words at worse. It was pretty funny that my biggest critic over those years was a stoner pizza guy, but… moving on! The most difficult thing with my position in our society was losing track of accomplishments and successes and recognition for those things. People are so used to tracking their progress in life by school and work and professional accomplishments. It’s endemic in our culture without a lot of people realizing it. It was something I internalized too.
As a full time homemaker, you’re not going to have the typical accomplishments that are well recognized and rewarded. That’s ok! It takes setting your own goals and appreciating your own wins. It does take a certain moral fortitude and independence, though, which can be very challenging.
The isolation of a homemaker’s life is real. I’m not going to lie. I’ve come up with a bunch of solutions for that, but it took seeking those out and making it a priority. I think we place a lot of importance on homeschooling children socializing with the bigger community, but a lot of time we forget that mom and dads who stay at home need socialization just as much.
A million years ago when there was a large community of homemakers in neighborhoods all over the US, I can imagine it was easier. Each neighborhood had kids running around, riding bikes, and moms could get together during the day for, I don’t know, Tupperware parties or something. I don’t dwell on the nostalgia much, but it seems like that might have been easier to combat the loneliness and isolation.
If you recognize the very real pitfall of isolation, there are so many positive ways to combat it and lots of different communities to plug into: church, volunteering, neighborhood activities, workout classes. It just takes work.
self esteem taking a real hit
This sort of goes along with having accomplishments rarely recognized. If you are anything like me, you set at least some of your self esteem on how useful you are to society. I loved the feeling of accomplishment I received from school and work. When that dropped out of my life, I felt like I wasn’t always useful and productive and wow did that make me feel bad. I found that I needed to do stuff to make myself proud of myself, but it is a pitfall.
few professional advancement opportunities
With careers in the workforce, there are lots of ways to get better at your job and find professional advancement opportunities. In some professions like teaching, there are a lot of options for inservice classes, higher degree levels, professional workshops, etc. There aren’t a ton of those options for the full time homemaker. I can’t exactly find a program to get better at entertaining or get a certificate for vacuuming! Organization, time management, household budgets, meal planning… those are all things to learn about and improve upon. It takes a lot creativity to find ways to advance with your skills in this career field.
For many, many families, living on one income just isn’t practical. It’s tough because there aren’t really tax breaks or credits or bonuses for the full time homemaker. There are a ton of side hustles, but that takes a lot of work and has its own set of pitfalls. Those “businesses” can sometimes work toward undermining the family bottom line instead of helping it. And balancing childcare with a part time job for a little extra cash is hard to do. Our country doesn’t make homemaking the easiest career financially.
challenging re-entry into the workforce
Trying to return to the workforce after a stint of full time homemaking is very, very hard. I’ve worked around that and found a lot of solutions, but employers aren’t always interested in a large gap in income-based positions. There are some exceptions to that rule, but employers can be wary. Especially if you are at the tail end of homemaking. Re-entering the workforce at 40 or 50 is a real challenge.
losing your identity
This goes along with the potential of tanking self-esteem. Yes, you can lose a sense of yourself if you don’t make concrete plans for something that’s just about you, not about you solely as a mom or dad. Who you were before children can be a lot different than who you are after, and it takes dedication and self-advocacy to remember the things that made you, you before. Not impossible by any means, but a true challenge for any parent.
potential for problematic socialization
This is where working parents have a clear advantage, i think. By more equitably splitting up childcare duties, the kiddos of these parents are used to different caretakers and non-home environments. Working parents often have children who are ready to jump into school and extra curricular activities if they’re used to teachers, childcare workers, and other kids in their daily life. I’ve found a lot of ways around this, but it’s an uphill battle. It can also be problematic if I slip into the role of playmate with undivided attention toward my son. He needs to understand boundaries, limits, and respect the fact that we live in a society that you he isn’t necessarily the center of. It’s tempting to be confused about how much attention to give our children and how much outside interaction they need.
reinforcement of traditional gender roles
I’m generally speaking to female homemakers in this list because the percentage of male full-time homemakers is statistically low. I think traditional gender roles can be an uphill battle to combat for each gender though. For male homemakers, you’re really fighting the good fight! Way to go. I’m sure you have daily reminders that you aren’t the traditional “bread winner” of the family. This can be a huge, huge challenge that many full time male homemakers confront in their lives. For women, one of the biggest pitfalls is reinforcing to your children and society traditional gender roles that aren’t always helpful. I’ve been trying to find creative ways to show my son that drudgery work (yeah, some of it is) like scrubbing the floors isn’t “mommy work.” Because in reality, we are all responsible for our little spot on this planet, male and female alike. Even if you embrace traditional gender roles in your marriage, it’s possible to face criticism about that choice.
thinking my way is better
This is a personal pitfall that I’m working on. It’s easy when you love what you do to criticize people who don’t make the same choices in life. I try to dial it back and love and appreciate my friends’ choices. I’ve seen people crash and burn at homemaking and find their real joy and passion in the workforce. That’s amazing! Some days I get kinda judge-y though and it’s not good for my character or a happy, healthy social life. It’s also pretty unfair. So it’s not a constant con, just one that I have to keep in mind. I don’t want to contribute to one-upmanship and competition in the world. I don’t want to see the world as “us vs. them.” That sucks. But it’s tempting if your life choice is seemingly very different than the ones your community makes.
+ pros of the homemaker life
Ok, on to the good stuff! I think there’s a lot.
being there every step of the way
This is probably my biggest plus on this list and something I think a lot of parents in the workforce envy about my lifestyle. It’s pretty cool to be there for all the first steps, first words, funny moments, lots of smiles and laughs. I get a lot of upsides that my husband does not. Sure we could go to the zoo and the park on weekends, but he has a very, very busy work life and it’s hard to make the time. Plus, all those fun activities are so hectic on holidays and weekends. I have the ease to take my little guy pretty much anywhere pretty much any time I want. It’s very special and something I’m proud to partake in. As he gets older, I get to be there more for his schooling and sports and activities. Not to say that my husband gets or wants a pass (couldn’t be further from the truth), but he has to make more compromises than I do about that side of parenting. It find this pro a super cool job perk.
a larger degree of control on child-rearing
A friend recently told me I was a total control freak, which is so funny because it’s something I didn’t like about my own parenting growing up. I gave it some thought, and she’s pretty accurate there (thank God for honest friends!). When I am under stress or elevated anxiety, it can spin into an unhealthy place, but for the most part that character trait helps me stay organized, peaceful, and allows me a feeling of accomplishment and self-esteem. I’m working on the pitfalls of that though… What I love about being a homemaker, though, is that it’s all kind of on me. I might have disagreements with friends and family about child-rearing, but in my own home, I get to corner the market on my activities and implementations. It’s kind of cool. If I want a totally peaceful home with few toys and lots of organic food and little to no screen time, I’m in total control of that. No undermining my authority with Kool-Aid and iPads (running grandparent joke in my family…). I like the role that others have in our life and appreciate how everyone interacts with my son differently. I just like to steer the ship at home.
It’s also helpful for religious families who don’t have the kind of religious instruction they would like in their childrens’ classrooms or communities. I’m able to add lots of faith practices in little ways throughout the day. In the Catholic faith there’s this idea of the “domestic church.” It’s the philosophy that the church in your home is nearly as important as going to the church sanctuary because so much of the foundation of your faith is transmitted in daily life. I’ve heard “faith is not taught, it’s caught,” and that is easier to do if I can infuse my faith into everything we do every day. Mormon families like to incorporate “Family Home Evening” one night a week with religious lessons, study, activities, and fun. It’s great to have a little extra time to focus on the religious aspect of your family’s life and make it a priority. Not that it can’t be done with working parents. It’s just a bit more challenging.
One thing I love is having a ton of creative freedom in my job. If I want to do arts and crafts all day or try out some unique reward system with my son, I can do that. I can creative problem solve things like eating schedules and sleeping schedules. I have the mental space to work through solutions that mesh with my husband and my parenting styles. I like independent creative projects and problem solving professionally, so this is a facet I particularly enjoy. I like thinking of new and exciting things we can do in a day, and sometimes making toys and crafts. It doesn’t have to be all arts and crafts. We love music around here, so that’s something I emphasize in my home over lots of reading. That nice things is that I can try it out and see how it works for me and for us. Lots of experiments didn’t work well, but I can think around those and really examine ways to adapt to my parenting style and household environment to fit my child.
taking a step back to evaluate your professional life
Do you know why educators sometimes get to take a sabbatical? Because it’s really important to step back, take a break, and explore your academic and professional interests without the pressure of the daily grind. The same thing can be said for being a full time homemaker. Before I made that choice, I was in a series of jobs as a legal secretary and executive assistant. They had their joys and interests, but neither was something I felt particularly called to.
When I took a step back and did some volunteering in line with my interests, I could clearly see that I love education and enjoy teaching and working with a lot of diverse learners. That time away clarified my professional passions and helped make some time to research careers and educational opportunities.
Living on one income also makes those experiments easier economically when the kiddos go to school. I found I could take greater risks on a lower income, and had the freedom to do so. I’ve never been fairly compensated for my level of education and experience in teaching, but that wasn’t such a big deal when I was used to a single income model. I was able to reap professional rewards like a directorship and piloting a new program without a worry that we couldn’t pay our bills. If you’re so inclined, it also makes not-for-profit and service positions within better reach of your family’s abilities.
cheaper than you might think
When I started doing the math, my desire to be a full time homemaker was more within our reach than I had thought. If you add up full time childcare, commuting expenses, eating out, professional development courses, professional wardrobe, and services you may have to pay for because you don’t have the time (cleaning people, professional laundry service, landscaping – if you’re lucky enough to afford those things!), car upkeep and gasoline… it seriously adds up!
Did I take a really big pay cut? Yes, but it required just a little bit less sacrifice and creativity than I had initially thought.
My professional wardrobe of jeans, leggings, sweaters, and a few cute dresses is much, much cheaper than having two wardrobes – casual stuff and work blazers, shift dresses, heels, etc for work. I also walk. A lot. So I’m able to avoid using my car and filling it up for longer lengths of time. I cook all of our own meals, and we pretty much only eat out once a week. Wow does that save money! It’s really worth doing the math if you’re so inclined.
quiet, laid back life
Ok, having kids, especially more than one, can get a little crazy and loud and rambunctious, but I have learned to set the tone of my days to include quiet, lots of time in nature, family rhythms and routines, and a generally peaceful life. I don’t have to rush to the next thing, task, or meeting. The other day I was able to just sit on the grass with my little guy while he played with a twig and some leaves for like thirty minutes. That’s not every day, but I have more of that than my husband does and some of my workforce parent friends do. I feel like I have a little more time and leeway to enjoy the simple things in life.
Ok, I’m gonna be honest here, managing healthcare for my family is a b*tch. Really and truly. Who has time to fight with insurance companies, work out copays, go to appointments in the middle of the day, and schedule all this stuff? Sure, a working parent can make it work, but it is so, so much easier for me. Showing up for my appointments can be a challenge, but I can get a babysitter or phone a friend if I have to. During nap time, I can argue with insurance companies and work on payment plans for my delivery and hospital stay. For some, this isn’t that big of a deal. For me, I like the feeling of addressing things right away and not having that lingering worry in my head about how to make it all work.
Additionally, my son had to have a benign hemangioma removed from his face when he was about five months old. There were SO many doctor appointments, specialist visits, trips to a=the children’s hospital, bills, and finally a removal procedure. I was able to manage all that without taking time away from workforce work. That is a tiny, tiny example that turned out really well. I can’t imagine if my son had a chronic illness or my husband or I had ongoing, serious health issues. Same goes with family. My parents have had a few surgeries in the past few years, and I was able to help out without worrying about vacation time or working on my laptop in busy waiting rooms. I’m grateful this is something I can do with the flexibility of my work schedule.
having something in common with previous generations of women
I spent six years volunteering at an assisted living facility with women in their 80s and 90s. I had so much in common with them and made true friends! They lived in an age where my profession was a bit more common, and I got to bridge the age gap by sharing my life with them. I loved listening to their tips and tricks too! They lived such full lives as homemakers, so it was easy to be inspired by their example.
For me, intergenerational friendships are so important to my life and in the oral history of our culture. Obviously, things weren’t all roses and rainbows in their time, but I was able to bond in a totally unique way that many in our generation can’t. I can also bond with my mom who was out of the workforce for a few years and my grandma. How cool is that?
appreciating the enormous impact of mothers throughout history
Going along with that, I’m able to see in real time how absolutely huge of an impact generations of homemakers have had on history. As an historian (college, volunteering, and teaching), it’s easy to focus on the “big history” like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Japanese Meiji Revolution. You know, lots of revolutions.
Those accomplishments and dates and statistics really leave out the impact of those not in positions of power or influence. This could be a pet pro of mine in this list, but I believe it should be a bit higher in everyone’s list. D-Day would not have been successful had it not been for women taking over for the guys in factories, running charitable drives, working on victory gardens, and mobilizing bandage and scrap metal collections.
As an historian, I will be honest that there were some major pitfalls of the patriarchy in the past. I like to spend time appreciating and giving respect and honor to the “little guys” in history to attempt to counteract all the downfalls. A balanced view of history on both the battlefield and the homefront is essential to our understanding of our country and its rich legacy. And that goes for pretty much all cultures and ethnic groups. Here’s to the silent heroes!
lots more time for healthy living
This has been something I’m embracing a lot more lately. When I was in the workforce, I didn’t have much time or mental fortitude to pursue a lot of healthy living. Working out when I had to teach at 7:55? Doable, but I wasn’t super motivated. I love my sleep! Cooking a healthy dinner? Doable, but pretty challenging when I was still thinking about work and answering emails at 11:30 at night. Ok, maybe I didn’t have a good work-life balance, but still! Huge challenge to be healthy.
It’s great now that I can have some freedom during nap time, early in the morning, and once my husband gets home to work on my health and my family’s health. There are gyms with daycares, YMCA’s with kids activities during gym times, place to walk in my neighborhood, and kid friendly grocery shopping times (it’s seriously empty at Target at like 11am on a Tuesday…). These all make it easier to make health a priority.
Last but certainly not least, I love my little guy! That’s the biggest upside to my career. He’s funny and interesting and curious and independent and joyful. He’s been a pretty cool addition to my family. I love hanging out with him! He’s my little buddy now and we get to have all kinds of adventures together.
I’m looking forward to exploring his interests as he grows up and seeing his joys and successes. I get to also be there for his challenges and failures. Hugs and cuddles make every day better for both of us in the midst of all that.
Parents in the workforce absolutely bond with their children in cool ways I can’t. Sometimes I think they can be better role models in ways in which I’m unable. That being said, I’m my son’s mom, and I’m exactly the mom he needs regardless of my professional status. He was born with DNA that makes this particular path a good one for us, and he’s been adapting to our life really well. It’s wonderful to see that I’m so suited to his needs and he’s so suited to mine. He’s a pretty cool guy. I think I’ll keep him around for awhile…
There you have it! My very honest, very personal list of pros and cons to being a professional homemaker. Every parents] is SO different. These are just the things I share with friends who are thinking of making the switch. They’re absolutely not gospel and something I practice more than preach. When I added up my two columns of pros and cons, mine squarely landed in the “yes to homemaking” camp. Yours could look differently.
I am very interested in how every parents makes their lifestyle work. There are ways to make it all work and find joy in every home environment. That makes me happy to think about!
Through this list, I was able to really examine and reflect on my own choices and affirm my choice for my family a little better. I encourage everyone to take stock of their choices whether informally or on paper to see if your values line up with your actions. If they do, good for you! If not, I get it. I see your effort. Keep going. Keep trying. And I’m rooting for you!