Work or Stay at Home An Old and Ugly Debate

The age-old debate of whether to work or stay at home has reared its ugly head again thanks to American politics. Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, commented that Anne Romney, wife of a  GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney,  was not in a position to give her husband economic advice on the plight of women because she had “never worked a day in her life” as a stay-at-home-mum raising their five boys. It happened last week and there has been a bucket load of interviews, opinion pieces, talkback, twitter conversation. Rosen has apologised and rephrased the point she was trying to make.

Leaving aside the politics, and the debate over privilege versus poverty, the issue obviously remains a highly emotional one for many mothers.

I have been a SAHM, a WAHM, a full-time employee and a part-time employee and I’m here to tell you EVERY option is TOUGH.

As a SAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and at times very lonely. I remember walking outside my house in Brisbane to a deathly quiet suburban street where the rest of the world was obviously at work and wondering if the world had ended and I didn’t know because it hadn’t been announced on Playschool. There were many times when I resented the working mums who got a break from their children.

As a WAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed and worried I wasn’t doing either “job” effectively. My children will tell you I was often distracted, always on the phone or computer. Yet they will also tell you funny stories of things we did – and I was always careful to get photographic evidence of the finger painting, mud pie making, play dough activities just to prove to them in later life that sometimes I did put work aside and create fun times. There were many times when I resented SAHMs who had enough income they didn’t need to generate more, there were times I resented working mums who got their pay cheques each week regardless of the amount of effort they put in.

As a full-time employee I was exhausted, overwhelmed and juggling like crazy.  My daughters saw me come home in tears as I tried to readjust to life in the workforce. They also saw me get through that period and figure out a way to make it work. There were times I resented SAHMs who didn’t have to ask permission from the boss to go to their kid’s athletics carnival.

As a part-time employee I am exhausted, overwhelmed and guilt-ridden a lot of the time. I feel guilty that I’m not as involved in my youngest daughter’s activities as I was in her sister. I feel guilty that I don’t work full-time to relieve a bit of the financial pressure. I feel guilty … well you get the picture. I have given up resenting others because there is just no point and what little energy I’ve got left is better directed elsewhere.

Women everywhere go through the process of trying to make it all work. Some options prove manageable, others crash and burn.  There is no stock standard right option that will work for everyone.

I know the times when I felt I was closest to getting the balance right felt good. However those moments were fleeting.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight I think I would do some things differently.


I would just relax and enjoy it more. I would make more of an effort to connect with other mums. I would accept life is a series of chapters and this is just one in a series of stages of my life.


I would set strict business hours and uninterrupted family time.  I would focus more on the money. Time manage and priority set to be more clearly focused on income-producing activities.

As a full-time employee

I would negotiate more, get more flexibility, ensure I had time off for the important events.

As a part-time employee

I will ditch the guilt and use my day off for activities that benefit both myself and my family.

One day my idealistic self imagines this issue becoming not a “women’s problem” but one which everybody has a stake. Dad’s benefiting from time out with their kids. Flexible work arrangements that allow for everyone to better manage their life – childless employees allowed shorter weeks to pursue hobbies or care for elderly relatives – mums and dads sharing the caring responsibilities by each working four days a week.

However, we won’t get there until we stop judging each other. At the end of the day the kids are all right. Whatever option you go for children who know they are loved and cared for will thrive. While we as human beings are valuable in a variety of guises, and that value is not necessarily measured just in the monetary value of paid employment.

What’s been your experience? Do you feel you have the balance right?


18 thoughts on “Work or Stay at Home An Old and Ugly Debate

  1. To me, I think motherhood is the most important job in the world. For the actual stay at home mother, her work is cut out for her (and I’m not talking about Ann Romney … I suspect she’s had her share of nanny’s and maids to help her ‘get along’.). I’d have given anything to have been able to be a stay at home mom with an organized home. Instead, I was a single parent, working full time, with three sons. I look back now, and wonder how I ever made it. I’d try to spend Saturday doing something with the kids, and Sunday was laundry, ‘cook for the rest of the week’ day. My youth is the only answer I can come up with that allowed me to make it through that time in my life, because there is no way, I’d ever try to tackle that beast again. Had I been a stay at home Mom, I think things would have been a lot easier on the whole family. Sometimes there is no choice to be had, though. Obviously. I’m sure there are a lot of working women, that would prefer to be able to stay home with their families.

    • Well done, being a single mum, working full time with three kids would have been a massive challenge!!! You are right there is so often no choice to be had and I think that’s what helps breed the resentment between women.

  2. hello janine – i’m typing this again b/c wordpress had me locked out and i couldn’t remember my password. so – i stayed home until my youngest went to preschool, and then i went back to school. now i teach full-time and love it. what to eat for dinner is a challenge. i find the trick is to find a work you enjoy, and leave energy to enjoy your family, too. a work in progress. joy to you!

    • Thanks Noreen – I have a designer working on a new blog for me as we speak – so shortly will move to self-hosted and then will be able to select a better commenting system. Many thanks for battling on with the current one.

  3. I wish I could afford to be a SAHM – we can’t… It’s not a choice for the great majority of working women – it’s a necessity. I lost my job in February 2011 and being unemployed makes you the worst SAHM! Overwhelming, distracting, frustrating – and I was mostly scared – was not the best mom, believe me. Now I am a PTWM – I’d like to be able to continue part time – it allows me to be home when my kids arrive from school and take them to their extra activities or pick them up at the after school activities such as athletics, band, etc. But I know we can’t and I desperately need a well paying full time job… What upsets me about Mrs. Romney’s response is that, with her financial status, not only she could stay home and have five children, but she also, most likely, did it with the help of nannies, and maids, and all the perks her lush life affords. So, Mrs. Romney, don’t go saying it was a difficult choice, because, in your case, you didn’t have to consider your budget, your retirement, your kids’ college funds when you made that choice – you simply stayed because you could!

    • Financial stress is a huge issue – and I know despite our best efforts it can certainly cut into being great parents and creating a fun life – I hope you can find a job that will ease the money situation.

  4. I agree Janine, parenting will be hard whichever road you take. Even harder I think if you are forced into a situation – such as having to stay at home when really you’d like to work a bit, or working when you’d rather stay at home. Actually the hardest situation I am sure is that of Orples who commented above, who is a single mum, and also mums whose partners are not loving or supportive. Bringing up kids and balancing work can test the best relationships.

  5. My children are now teenagers, but I was a full time working mum in a high powered career throughout theor fomative years. It was the right decision for me at that time. However, middle age came and a deep yearning came over me to enjoy these years with my boys. I am now a SAHM (at least for a little while) and am loving the change. It has changed our family dynamic considerably and for the better. The decision though is not totally without inner conflict, given that I have always been a joint bread winner to this point.

    • Someone told me once kids need you more as teenagers than they do as babies. An interesting thought. I can imagine there would be some adjustment to go from being financially equal for all those years to being a SAHM. But it’s good to hear you are enjoying the change.

  6. Women are so good at feeling guilty, no matter what they do. If we stay at home, we should be out working. If we work, we should be home with the kids. When it comes to motherhood there’s no end to the ways we can pile on the guilt. We need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect. There’s no joy in trying to attain an impossible goal.

  7. Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving.

    I’m so weird. I don’t feel guilty about much, unless I know I’ve done something wrong, but the ever-present, nebulous “guilt” feeling is one that I don’t have. I’m a SAHM who’s trying to be a WAHM and I’m fine with that. I’ve never felt judged… but that could be because I didn’t notice… I’d have to zone in more often (blissful is the life of a day-dreamer). I don’t judge the choices that other women make either, because, what is the point. I have other things to do than worry about how the mom’s I know spend their days. When I heard Ms. Rosen’s comment I thought ” Gee, I sure feel like I work” and that was the end of it. I did think is was funny how the Republicans took it and ran with it. The Dems are having fun with Ted Nugent’s endorsement of Romney so everyone has something scandalous to rant about. Oh the fun. Anyway, if you love your kids and you’re trying to do the best you can by them, then things seem to turn out fine. We can all improve in some areas and we all have the things we’re good at, so I think it balances out. Awesome, thought-provoking article! Oh, and stop feeling guilty Janine! You’re a great mom!

  8. Agree with Diane above, that we know how to pile on the guilt! I had no choice but to be a SAHM till my daughter was in her teens because we lived on a tea plantation with not many opportunities. Loved the perks of that life but yearned for more! The remote location also meant we had to send our daughter to boarding school for a few years and that made me feel guilty! When we moved to the city I was so glad to have her with us again, but I now kept crazy schedules, sometimes from 9 am up to the middle of the night, just before handing over a project! More guilt! I took off from work for a whole year when she got engaged to be able to spend more time with her and to assuage the guilt a bit. I didn’t absolutely need to work to put food on our table but the extra income helped, a lot! I guess we do what we have to do and somehow cope with the guilt. Looking at my daughter now, I know I did mostly right 🙂

  9. Pingback: Confessions of a Stay-at-home Dad

  10. “The curtain Raiser’s” post had a great line about inner conflict.II feel that this debate is all about inner conflict and how well each woman deals with it. For me the inner conflict was soothed when my youngest went to school. I was no longer torn between working and being a mum. I reasoned that everyone else in the household was somewhere (School or work) so I should be to. The guilt’s still raise their heads, however, my kids understand that I get to what I can, hubbysayno will also get to events, so between us we make an appearance. I still get confused when grade parent events are organised in the middle of the day and I often wonder who attends these..I guess that will just remain a mystery to me.

  11. Pingback: Juggling two jobs at once « 365 Completed Tasks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s