Being a SAHM is ideal, but it's a privilege we can't afford.
There are some STRONG emotions on the internet surrounding the decision of whether a mother should go back to work or be a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) once she has babies. Being a mother is tough enough when isolated to the act of mothering (feeding, nurturing, bathing, playing, cleaning up messes, finding time to shower and cook and send photos to family...) without the added insult of judgement from strangers on the internet who feel that parenting should look and be a very specific way (note to self: don't linger on opinions of strangers on the internet). And while there is a large group of folks who feel that it's best that a mother stay home and raise her children, there are a growing number of people who feel that the latter group is patriarchal and oppressively conservative and that a woman should be a mother SECOND to her own career and ambition. The flaw in either argument, however, is the assumption that there is a choice in the matter. It is, in fact, quite a privilege to be able to choose how you would prefer to rear a child... and very naive to debate as if every mother or family will have the luxury of choice (and that an outsiders' opinion would influence this decision one way or another.)
Any mother who has ever had to leave her child with someone else in order to return to work can most probably describe the heartache that accompanies this daily task... and can likely tell you exactly how many hours a day that someone else is holding her baby.. watching her baby reach all kinds of new milestones for the first time... cooing and coddling her baby and rocking her baby to sleep whilst mama is busy daydreaming of her baby and counting the hours until she is reunited with her little one. And it's very likely, indeed, that mama's job seems more trivial than ever in light of the opportunity cost of what she is missing in order to bring home a paycheck.
For me, and many other countless women, the decision to continue working after a baby (or babies) is a financial necessity. My husband and I both have great jobs... but the fact of the matter is that it takes a GREAT AMOUNT OF MONEY to live in Northern Virginia and raise a family. While we live well below our means in terms of housing and we are quite conservative with spending in all other capacities, it simply requires 2 incomes to raise a family where we live. And while there might be a host of anecdotes to this so-called "problem" (which, believe me, have weighed quite heavily on my heart) such as "move someplace cheaper" or "adjust your standard of living so you can stay home" or "find a way to create passive income so you can be a full time mom", to each of these anecdotes there is a equally persuasive narrative going on in our lives. We can't move someplace cheaper... this is where our family is. And the importance of family nearby outweighs my desire to be a full-time mother. Yes, we can adjust our standard of living... we can pay off debt (and we are actively doing so), but we also aren't going to compromise quality of life by forgoing the ability to enjoy the things around us (that almost all cost something in one way or another). And yes... it is very much my plan to create a passive income so that I can concentrate on being a mother (as well as caring for my family and building a more self-sustaining lifestyle)... but anyone who has ever successfully completed this feat can attest that it's no overnight venture. There are YEARS invested in the accomplishment of all of these goals. (And let's be real... as a working mother, I can barely find time to shop for groceries).
To be perfectly honest, it's a very privileged way of looking at the world to even CONSIDER that the above lifestyle choices are choices at all for most families. But the honest-to-goodness-truth is that WE ARE VERY PRIVILEGED. But let's redefine privilege. My husband and I were born to a couple of hard-working, honest, middle-income families who showered us both in love and the belief that hard-work and consistency could eventually lead to almost any outcome you put your mind to, within reason. Neither one of us ever had to worry where our next meal was coming from... or our next shower... or whether or not there would be a roof over our head on a cold night. Neither one of us went through a single winter without a warm enough coat. And neither one of us grew up in an environment that made us feel genuinely unsafe or in danger of true physical harm or abuse. And I can translate the importance of this into the discussion of whether or not it's superior to be a stay at home mom or to return to work: it doesn't flipping matter. It's the wrong damn discussion. Babies grow into adults in all different ways. Some of them have mamas who stay home and some have mamas who bring them to work one day a year on "Bring your kid to work day" and some have mamas who waitress or clean houses or whatever the hell else they have to do to afford their babies the very thing they might forgo in order to provide for their children: PRIVILEGE.
I work so that my baby can enjoy a level of privilege that so many babies go without: enough to eat, warm enough clothes, a roof, a loving home, and the privilege of not having to go without hugs and kisses and snuggles and an abundance of affection. As mothers, and parents in general, we shouldn't expend energy debating whether or not it's better to be stay-at-home-mothers, let alone judge another human being for doing what they have to do to provide for their young ones.
We are all doing what we have to do to get by... we are all doing our best. Kudos to you, mama, for doing your best and providing a loving and safe home for your babies.
While I would love to stay home with my child be the first to see him walk on his own or say "mama" and mean it... that simply isn't the world we live in. Nonetheless, however, I work so that my child can experience life as he should: privileged. Privileged to be loved by many, fed, warm enough, and all the other basic things we overlook when we start listening to strangers on the internet. (Note to self: Don't linger on opinions of strangers on the internet. Seriously. For real this time.)
Until next time, be well, friends!