So many people have asked me about being a stay-at-home Mom. I confess I am not willing to say much on the topic because I don’t want to alienate anybody. We live in a very complex age where roles are dynamic and life situations warrant special considerations. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for parenting. Whereas it was once unquestioned that mothers would stay home with their little children, now there are many factors weighing in on the decision and most moms actually return to work when their children are young. Some moms say that working makes them a better mom. Many of my own mom friends who are totally dedicated to their babies have found ways to work inside or outside the home, at least a little, and I think they have done a good job balancing the needs in their lives. I’m thankful for technology, in particular, which allows many moms to work remotely.
This said, I believe in staying at home with babies and little children, at least as much as possible. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. And most of my mom friends who work and have pre-K children do it from home or can be home early/often enough to work with their children’s daily schedules; they are not career moms. In general, babies and toddlers need 24-7 care, and they learn about life from this care. So if you aren’t going to do it, you have to consider very carefully who you want to do it. Children will not be neutral for long; they will soon learn the system that is taught to them. So if you want to work, you have to realize that this authority is really what you’re trading. If you put your toddler in regular daycare, you are not just relieving yourself of the mundane duties to teach shapes and potty-train. You are relieving yourself of the influence that you want to have over the way your child eats, sleeps, complains, desires, behaves, and expresses themselves. You are handing this authority or right to influence, to someone else (possibly a well-trained worker but also quite possibly the most obnoxious kid in their class!).
And you cannot dismiss this by saying that one day you will do this anyway when your child hits school age. First of all, I don’t think school-age children should be left out to dry either; otherwise they will soon turn to being raised by their peers and multimedia. But secondly, the young years are not the same as school-age years. They are the formative, impressionable time where the child gains a compass in all major areas of development: cognitive, linguistic, behavioral, moral, etc. Putting a five or six year old in a classroom will not have the same effect as putting your two-year old in one because the socialization and “parenting” hits home on a significantly deeper level; they are more “blank slate” so to speak. Nor can you avoid the similar effect of hiring a nanny, au pair, or babysitter (even Grandma!). Whoever you hire will essentially be their parent. The child will not only pick up that parent’s “system” or values, but they will be less bonded to you in order to pick up yours. Plenty of people with nannies will testify that this option is better than daycare, and it probably is. And plenty of nannies are excellent at what they do, but do not forget that they are essentially going to be the parent if you have a regular 9 to 5 job, and you are going to lose significant influence over your baby. I grew up in Britain where having a nanny is normative, and I confess that I do not even remember my mother until I was five years old. Kind of sad.
Thus, I believe it is good for mothers to be around their small children as much as possible. Take time out for yourself, and work if you must, but don’t escape your children by turning to the work world. This will not have the effect you desire. Take the time to realize the responsibility involved with parenting a baby and toddler, and believe in the long-term impact it will make. Spending one year home with your two-year old will change so much about them. But remember it is not the staying at home that is the magic; it is YOU. If you aren’t willing to engage, confront, and bond with that child when you’re home, then you’ll probably do better going to work and coping with the effects of daycare on the weekends. But if you can convince yourself that nothing on earth is more important than helping your child become the kind of child you want to live with (for their sakes, not yours), then you will be able to choose being home over work at least for a time.
This is especially true for the baby’s first year, for special needs children, or foster/adoptive children. They have their own sets of issues and have been given to you for a reason. Do them the service of at least considering them first and weighing their particular needs against the cultural and internal pressure you undoubtedly feel to get back into the swing of things and just let them be. They don’t need time, and they don’t need space; they need influence. And however much of a good influence someone else can be on your child, or however much better they can teach them something, YOU are the parent. YOU are the one who has to love and live with your child, so you have to figure out a way to help them relate to you and receive your influence. After all, their future depends on their mom, not their nanny.