Archive for September, 2011

From “Working” Mom to Stay-At-Home Mom

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Sara and her new co-workers

As a stay-at-home mom, I am always in awe of those moms who manage a full time job outside the home, along with all the demands of raising a family. How they do it – get their kids fed in the morning, off to school or daycare, then back home again for dinner and bed, all while working a full time job – seems like sprinting a marathon each day.

I am fascinated to hear working moms’ perspectives, and how they deal with the challenges of their situation.  So when I reconnected with a friend from college, it was interesting to hear that she had decided to stay at home with her young boys, after working full time.  A year and a half ago, she was juggling a corporate finance job and two small boys.  Now juggling preschool outings and her boys, she took some time to answer a series of questions about her decision and the adjustments she had to make to become a stay at home mom.

1.  Where did you work and how long did you work there?

I was a Finance executive at Accenture, a large global consulting firm.  I spent the better part of my waking hours there for 12 years and I really enjoyed working, so deciding to leave was a long, hard process for me.

2.  Why did you decide to stay at home?

It was a culmination of several things.  First, the thought that my young kids spent 10hrs a day at daycare always tugged at my heart.  Second, I felt like each day was a marathon of ‘divide and conquer’ that my husband and I endured rather than enjoyed.   There was no time to relax and enjoy our children or each other.

However, the final straw was a day I was working from home and my son (who just turned three) came home from daycare and ran through the house excited to tell me something about his day.  When he got to my desk and saw me still looking at my computer, a phone to me ear, and my finger over my mouth making the ‘SSHHHH’ sign to him – he got the most heartbroken look on his face and just said “grrrr, not again….” 

3.  What is the hardest of being a working mom?

I defer to all the regular clichés because they turned out to be so true!

Personally one of the hardest things was trying to accept that I could no longer be good at multiple things.  I tried hard to find ways to feel satisfied with being just ‘good enough’ but it never felt right, at least not with the big things.  I had to decide what it was I wanted to focus on being great at, work or motherhood?  For me the right answer was to focus on raising my kids.  (Though, I am still perfectly fine at being a ‘good enough’ cook.)

4.  What surprised you the most about staying at home?

I expected to feel more refreshed; less stressed and to have a large reserve of patience for my kids since they were now my only focus.  When I left my job my boys were two and three years old so I quickly learned trying to keep two young boys occupied, safe, fed and happy all day long is a whole different ballgame of stress and exhaustion – but way more fun.

5.  What is your favorite part of staying at home?

Getting to know my kids and all their quirks and interests has been quite a laugh! Who knew they were so funny??  I also really appreciate getting to be the person who teaches them new things, takes them on adventures to new places and the one who gets to comfort them when they need it.  And selfishly, I also love knowing that when they go to bed I don’t have to go back to the computer and put in a few more hours of work.  I can do whatever mindless activity I choose.

6.  What do you miss the most about working outside of the home?

I miss interacting with people who already know their ABCs, who don’t repeat the word ‘why?’ until you think your ears will bleed, and mostly I miss that at work I could go to the bathroom without someone standing at the door, jiggling the door knob saying “Why are you in there? Can I come in???”

7.  What do your kids think?

I was surprised at how much it affected them.  They went from being in daycare 50 hours a week to going to pre-school just eight hours a week.

For the first few months my kids told everyone they saw that they now “went to school a little-a-bit and stayed home a-lot-bit.”  My older son could not stop hugging me and asking me to tell him again and again that the reason I decided to stay home was because I missed them when I was working and wanted to play with them more.

Recently my son overheard me mention that I would like to eventually go back and he got so upset he turned to me and said “DON’T EVER NEVER say that again – it does not make me happy!!”

8.  Do you plan to go back to work?

After a year and a half at home I am really getting the itch to work again.  I miss the challenge of solving a problem, completing deliverables and, of course, the interaction with my coworkers.  I was always lucky to work with so many people I respected and liked personally. But my husband and I have decided that it would be best for our family if we try to stretch this out until my youngest is in kindergarten. After that, I’d love to go back part-time with a mom’s dream schedule: 9am-2pm four days a week.

9.  Financial Impact – how to make it work.

I can’t deny that I really miss my cleaning person!  Our household income dropped 50% when I quit my job so there have been lots of cutbacks.  The most dreaded one being that I am now the chief toilet scrubber.  With two boys both missing the ‘AIM’ gene, the job has been more than I bargained for.

It has also been much harder than I had anticipated trying to keep to a strict budget. I never looked at gas prices or grocery prices when I was working.  Most things were about convenience rather than price – going out to eat and picking up things we needed was just something we did.  Now I really have to think about purchases, even the small ones.  This is one area I continue to struggle with and keep trying to master….

10.  What aspects of your old job do you bring to being a SAHM?

Excel!  The first few weeks of being home I didn’t have a plan for our days so I wandered around trying to decide what we should do and what to feed them.  This led to bored kids who whined and argued all day and ate way too many chicken nuggets.  Since most of my professional life in finance was spent working in Excel it felt natural to sit down and make some charts.  I made three that I hung up on the cabinet and stuck to as much as possible.  I had a chart that outlined activities for each morning and afternoon for the entire week, one that planned out daily meals and a final chart that laid out an attack plan for how I would manage all of the household and administration work since these were now solely my domain.  (Example:  Mondays I cleaned bathrooms and paid the bills).  While this may have been over the top, it really helped me feel prepared and that I had accomplished something at the end of the day.

11. What is easier now, after one year, than it was when you first quit your job?

I understand my children so much better now so communicating with them is not such a mystery. 

Shortly after being home I joined a Mom’s group that has opened my eyes to all the wonderful activities around town for young children.  The kids and I love trying out new things every week and they enjoy meeting new friends.  It also gave me the opportunity to join a playgroup and meet other women in similar situations.  Honestly, it was a just a relief to find out that other stay at home mothers went absolutely insane from boredom some days too.  It was normal and that didn’t make me a bad mom.

12. In hindsight, are you happy about your decision?

So happy!  While it has been a financial sacrifice and my cerebral cortex probably needs a good dusting, I could not imagine going back to the old schedule.  We have so much more quality family time and my husband and I actually talk to each other again instead of just passing each other in the hallway while trying to get everything done. Also, it’s such a relief not having to stress about what to do when one of our kids gets sick and can’t go to daycare but we both still have to work.  I never did figure out how to sound professional on a conference call when your child is throwing up on your shoulder.

What is the Ideal Spacing Between Children?

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Five months, or five years apart – is one interval better than the other?  Ask this question to Carousel Design’s technology team, and they feel the ideal spacing between children is two to three miles. :)  The answer of course, is, it depends. There are pros and cons to any situation, but if you do have the opportunity to influence the spacing of when your children are born, here are a few considerations to factor when making your decision:

Spacing them close together.

Pros

An obvious pro is that if people see you carting around 3 kids under four years old, you will immediately gain their respect, and possibly their pity.  Also, without this type of back-to-back mentality, the world may never have seen such great musical groups such as the Jacksons, the Osmonds, and more recently the Jonas brothers.

But beyond these benefits, having children close together can consolidate “baby mode” – when you are set up for diapers, baby-proofing and are already adjusted to “baby time.” For you Economics majors out there, think economies of scale, or work force specialization.  Furthermore, if children are close together, there’s less time required to adapt and adjust to the new family situation. My daughter doesn’t remember life as an only child without her slightly younger brother, and my son does remember being the baby of the family when our third arrived when he was 20 months old.

But best of all, in my opinion, is that children who are close in age may have similar interests and be natural playmates. Even though they could also fight over the same toys, the times when they play nicely together is both charming and a welcome break for mom and dad.

Cons

Having had three kids under four years old, I can tell you there is not much time for your body to recover.  There are some health implications to this, and according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, it makes good sense for a woman to let her body recover (at least 6 months) and replenish lost nutrients after having a baby.

It’s also hard for your body to recover when you feel like you’re in a constant state of near exhaustion.  Children in the first three years of life have relatively high needs for attention and care. Both baby and toddler stages require high levels of supervision and often entail round the clock responsibilities. If you have multiple children in these stages, there is likely to be a pretty constant, sometimes overwhelming need for adult care. Parents may feel they are missing the chance to really enjoy each child as an individual.

Spacing the children farther apart.

Pros

Even though you are probably still exhausted regardless of how old or how far apart your kids are, having them spaced farther apart may allow you more one on one time, and allow you to enjoy and get to know one child before the arrival of another.  Also, you get a little more “me” time, to get to rediscover and know yourself before you become absorbed in the care of a newborn.  And getting your body “back” before going through pregnancy again is a nice perk.

Also, don’t discount having a Little Helper in your older child who may be better able do some basic chores, grab the occasional diaper for you, or keep an eye on the baby while you take a shower (for much older siblings).  Your older children can also be a good playmate to the younger one, teaching them how to play some of the games or use the toys they experienced years earlier.  This can even help your older kids develop a sense of being a “nurturer” to someone younger.

Cons

With various ages, schedules can become harder to juggle, as your kids might attend different schools, have different activities, or different needs. A baby’s naptime can make it hard to get the older child to soccer practice. Your kids may also have differing interests, as the younger wants to watch Barney and play in the park while the older wants to watch Nickelodeon and play with their friends.

Older children may also have a hard time adjusting to the new family situation.  A child who has been an only child for years may like the way things are and may not be ready for the major adjustment of a new sibling.

Making the choice about spacing siblings in a family is a very personal decision. The beauty and the challenge of it is that, even if you take all the necessary factors into consideration, there are many things about the decision that you don’t get to control. Maybe because we are so adaptive, we find that the joy and satisfaction we experience with the arrival of another child totally eclipses any “cons.”  Despite any planning, or the weighing of one benefit over the other, the result – however it transpired – wound up being best for you.