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Deciding to Stay at Home

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question:
How should a mother decide whether or not to stay home and care for her children rather than work outside the home? Money is not an issue as my salary adds little to our household income, and daycare costs cut into my income significantly. How does one decide?

Answer:
You are fortunate to have the luxury of choosing. But that doesn't necessarily make the choice easy. You don't say if you already have children or if you're just anticipating becoming a parent. Either way, you need to think carefully about what kind of parent you want to be and the conditions under which you are most likely to be that kind of parent. For example, some mothers find that caring for their children is all the job they need, particularly when their children are very young. In the early months and years of life, a child is learning to count on the love and availability of parents. That sense of security becomes the foundation upon which all other aspects of your child's development will build. For a parent, those first months are meant to be a time of falling in love with the baby, watching in amazement each new sign of growth and development. Many moms (and dads, for that matter) relish the opportunity to give themselves fully to building that close relationship with their child. Especially with a supportive spouse, a good network of friends, and opportunities to take occasional breaks for outside activities, being a full-time parent can be the most rewarding job in the world.

Some parents, however, are overwhelmed with caring for children full-time. They may feel cut off from their career, longing for other meaningful activities and more contact with adults. They may become irritable or depressed, which in turn undermines the care they give their children. They may determine that they can be much more engaged and emotionally available to their children if they balance their care giving time with a job outside the home. Then the challenge is to select a child care setting that will ensure sensitive nurturing and appropriate stimulation--to complement the good care the parents provide during their time with the children.

Whatever your feelings, keep in mind that the decision you make doesn't need to be all or nothing--nor do you need to make one decision and stick to it forever. Since money is not the issue, you may decide to stay home for a year or two, then return to work on a part-time, flexible schedule as your children get older. Or you might decide to work a couple of days a week while your children are young, but returnto full-time employment when they enter school. Pay attention to your own feelings and to the conditions that enable you to give your children the kind of top-notch care they deserve. And if you do decide to leave your out-of-home job and stay home with your children, don't think for a minute that you're settling for being "just a mom." There is no job more important

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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