I was in a Christian bookstore the other day checking out the books in their career section. I'm not sure why I torture myself in this way - I think I do it just to remind myself that there is definitely a need for the book about spirituality and work that I have rattling around in my head. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy going to the Christian book store and find many helpful and encouraging resources there, but I do wonder about a lot of the career advice I see in this particular venue.
Anyway, I was looking at books written for working moms when the banner across the front of a "book that shall remain unnamed" caught my eye - in bold letters it proclaimed "75% of working moms wish they could stay home with their children!!" I laughed out loud. Why? Because I bet 75% of working dads wish the same thing! But books advising women on how to "get back home" very often miss the point that this is an impossible goal without a meal ticket (i.e., a well-employed husband) funding the way.
As I said in a previous posting about working moms:
When one parent stays home to take care of the domestic duties, unless a trust fund is involved, it usually necessarily implies that another parent is working harder and longer. The net result for children is reduced relationship with the working parent and a one-sided view of how life is organized. This can hardly be considered ideal for children.
I have no problem with the choices that couples make together regarding how they will run their family. But I do have a problem with career advice that implies that if women just give up pedicures and lattes, they can ditch their career with the only result being a more blissful, less-stressed life. There are many, many repercussions to giving up a career to stay home with children, not the least of which is the extra pressure placed on a spouse to bring in 100% of the income, benefits, and future retirement for the family.
My point is this - over the 18+ years that a couple may spend raising children, the decisions they will make about who stays home, for how long, when to use daycare, etc. are complex, nuanced, and will change over time. A headline that screams "75% of working moms wish they could stay home with their children!!" is not encouraging or instructive. It is sensational and even inflammatory - I'm not convinced it will lead to wise discourse on successful family management.
If you are a young couple thinking about or recently starting your family and trying to figure out the whole work-family thing, I encourage you spend time thinking about the following questions:
- As a couple, what is our philosophical perspective on work? Is it a means to an end (i.e., a paycheck)? Is it an expression of our God-given talents? Is it a way to contribute to a better world?
- What messages will our choices about working/staying home send to our children?
- What do we think is the "best" way to raise children. How did we come to this view?
- What is our view of daycare? How did we come to this viewpoint?
- How much of our desire to stay home/keep working is driven by personal goals and how much is driven by what we feel is best for our family? How will our personal desires/goals impact each spouse/the children?
- Who are some successful families I know and admire? What are the different types of work/family situations they have created? (If you think about it, you probably know people who use daycare full-time and have successful families, and you probably know people who have a parent at home full-time and have successful families - you likely know people in both situations who have unsuccessful families as well).
- How do we think our desires and goals regarding work and family might change over time and how do we propose to manage that metamorphosis?
You've probably already guessed that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. And this list of questions to ponder is by no means exhaustive. I pose them here simply to illustrate that the discussion of work/stay-home deserves more complexity and nuance than it is often given.