When people hear I work part-time out of my home as a corporate management consultant and writer, and still am available to my two children, they usually say, "You're so lucky. You have the best of both worlds." But luck had little to do with it; it took careful planning years in advance.
Your situation may differ from mine, but no matter what approach you choose, preplanning's essential to ensure the outcome you want to achieve. For example, if you desire to be a stay-at-home mom, consider the following tips before you're faced with the challenge of balancing financial needs with the needs of your children:
1. Define what it means to stay at home. My children attended day care/preschool 12-15 hours a week from 3 months of age, but I considered myself a stay-at-home mother. Other "full-time" moms I know run their home business after their children go to bed, juggle schedules with their husband, or split their part-time hours between their home and an office. And some fit the traditional picture of a homemaker. What would be ideal for you?
2. Decide what you value as a couple. Our first child was born while my husband was employed by a company in financial trouble. Since his position was shaky, he felt I needed to work enough to at least stay networked in my career. That meant someone else watched our children 12 hours a week—a small compromise for peace of mind.
Some husbands are uncomfortable with the thought of being the sole breadwinner. Discuss these values and priorities with your spouse now.
3. Pick a career that honors parenthood. After becoming a mother, an attorney friend of mine was told by her male partners, "If we as fathers have to put in 60-hour weeks, so do you."
In contrast, one corporate trainer was allowed to pick her schedule and clients, working just a few hours a week after her child was born. Talk to people in different careers and companies to discover which will allow you either to put your career on hold or put your children first.
4. Be flexible. After my children were born, I was able to work as a consultant because of the advanced degree I'd obtained in night school. While attending classes on top of a 40-hour work week was tough, I sought the degree in hopes of gaining the type of flexibility I now have. If you hope to work part-time, consider if specialized training could increase your chances. Few moms have time for school once children arrive.
5. Live on one income. Children bring increased expenses, making it difficult to cut back on your lifestyle after they've arrived. Start now by living on one income and saving the earnings of the other spouse. My husband and I made this rule when we first married, and we can testify it isn't impossible if you keep this goal in mind as you buy your home, a car, or plan a vacation. Just remember what's important to you: keeping your family a priority.
6. Visit day-care facilities or check out other options now. First, decide if day care is something with which your family's comfortable. If you opt for day care, before your children are on the way, visit places that care for infants. Assess whether you'd be comfortable leaving your baby in their care. In my case, I found a wonderful day-care provider who employed four college students to assist her in caring for the children. While she was expensive, hers was the only facility I saw that gave the kind of care a mother would give. It's helpful to understand your feelings about the various options before you're under pressure to make a decision. Then, take a realistic look at the expense and how much you want to be away from your children.
7. Find a support network. Some of my friends continued to work despite their desire to be home because they were afraid of being isolated from other adults. Chat with other moms who've made the transition, and find out how they did it. This isn't 1960: In many neighborhoods, you could be the only stay-at-home mom. Who will be available for adult conversation? The security that comes from finding church groups or other networks before children are born can smooth the abrupt changes maternity leave brings.
8. Calculate what it costs to work. Take a moment to calculate the cost of wardrobe, transportation, day care, lunches out, cleaning services, and whatever else you might spend in the work force. Then calculate the after-tax pay you'll actually bring home. One of my sisters-in-law figured out that after these expenses, she'd be making around 50 cents an hour. For her, the choice to stay home was easy, even though her husband was a social worker who brought home a modest salary.
9. Define the role you want to play in your child's life. I avoided returning to an office environment once my children were in school because I wanted flexibility. Many women plan to return to the work force as soon as their youngest child reaches kindergarten, only to find their desire to be available to their children increases at this point. I hear comments such as, "We never would have bought this house if we'd known I'd want to stay home," or, "We thought I'd go back to work, so we used up our savings." Avoid digging yourself into these holes.
10. Find your self-worth in God. If you currently find great fulfillment in your career, don't wait until you're at home to have a ready answer to the inevitable question, "And what do you do?" Be able to tell yourself exactly why you made the choices you did. Before you leave the workplace, list why you're of value to God—not because of your job, but because you're his child! You can channel God's love to your children, be an example of selfless giving, and aid friends and neighbors in ways full-time working women can't. Enlist your spouse's help in reminding you the work you do at home is vitally important in a society starved for meaning and purpose.
If this all sounds complicated, it is. Is it worth it? You bet! Knowing my husband and I both valued my keeping one hand in the workplace allowed perspective when deadlines or sick children caused major collisions in our schedules. Still, I struggle with knowing how much time to devote to my children's school and how much to work. Women who wish to stay at home with their kids, however they define it, face some tough decisions. But with prayer and some pre-planning, you're on the way to healthy, happy stay-at-home motherhood.
Jane A. G. Kise, a part-time writer/consultant, lives in Minnesota.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.