For some stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), the decision to stay home with a child has always been clear. They’ve vividly imagined themselves with their children, available to care for them full-time. For many SAHMs, however, weighing the decision whether to stay at home—potentially leaving career or educational endeavors—is very tricky. Many factors play into this life-altering choice, not even counting the pressure they feel from their partners, friends, and employers. There are few controversies stronger for an expectant mom than how she’ll spend her time postpartum.
Almost invariably, as soon as a working woman shares with her employer that she’s pregnant, the conversation will go something like this:
“Congratulations! That’s wonderful!”
“When are you due?”
“How long do you think you’ll be out?”
“Will you come back to work?”
As if we haven’t just barely grasped the concept that a tiny growing human has taken up residence in our uterus, suddenly we’re expected to have all the answers. Goodness gracious! (Now is a good time to exhale. I won’t ask anything at all of you here.) If you have the financial ability and privilege to do so, the decision is yours to make—along with those who will be directly affected by the addition of the new family member (usually your spouse, partner, or co-parent).
When deciding whether to be a SAHM, it’s helpful to do some self-inquiry. Some of these questions are logical and practical; others address the heart. There’s no right or wrong answer to any of these. There is, of course, some science to guide you.
Should you stay at home? SAHM Questions to Consider.
Here are questions to consider when you decide whether being a SAHM is right for you.
Questions about being a SAHM for you and your co-parent:
- Are you and your co-parent on the same page when it comes to your “gut feeling” about being a SAHM?
- When you’re not working outside the home, how do you want to spend your free time?
- When you’re not working outside the home, when will you do the “other things” you need to accomplish?
- If you go back to work, can anyone chip in to lighten your load at home so you can spend more time with baby? Can you hire help or ask someone you know for support?
- What comes to mind when you picture a “good mom?”
- Will mom breastfeed or use formula? If you hope to breastfeed, how long is ideal for you? Will you breastfeed exclusively or introduce a bottle?
- Who will be responsible for feeding, diaper (nappy) changing, and other day-to-day caregiving tasks?
- Who will be responsible for nighttime care? What will that look like in action?
- Does whatever decision you make today need to be permanent? How easily can you change one way or the other after the fact?
- Do you plan to enroll your child in school or try homeschooling someday?
- What comes to mind when you think about stay at home mums? What are your stereotypes and what do you think reality would be for you?
Questions for you, the potential SAHM:
- What do you know about yourself as a person? What brings you joy?
- If you’re working outside the home, what can or will you be willing to do to form a secure attachment with your child when you’re together?
- Will you be more emotionally healthy at home with your child or at work?
- Would you be bored at home with a child?
- What’s best for your self-love and joy?
- What does your heart say is best for your child?
- If you have other kids, where are they during the day?
- How stressful is your non-parenting job? How do you manage that stress? Can you leave it behind when you’re with baby?
- If you don’t have other kids, do you hope to have more after this one? What do you envision for your family 5-10 years from now? What’s ideal for you? Paint that mental picture in the most joyful way you can.
- How will you feel if someone else gets the promotions, accolades, and invitations to the events that would conflict with childcare pick-up or baby bedtime?
- Are you an introvert or extrovert? Does this affect your decision in any way?
- How much involvement do you want in-laws, other family members, and friends to have with your baby?
- If you quit working outside the home, how will you feel about yourself?
- How would you feel 10, 20, or 30 years from now if you keep working and put your baby in childcare now?
- Where do you feel your child will fare better long-term? Where will he or she thrive? (Research says children generally do fine either way.)
- Do you live in an area where, if you choose to be a SAHM, your child will have ample opportunities to socialize with other children?
Financial and logistical questions:
- What kind of work schedule do you keep while you work outside the home? Is it sustainable with a baby?
- Would you be willing to give less than 100% of yourself at work, knowing that it’s impossible to add more than 24 hours to a day?
- Can others cover for you easily enough if your kids are sick or need you to be with them on occasion?
- If you leave your current job and never go back, how does that affect your co-parent’s retirement and your collective ability to save money for it?
- Can you afford childcare?
- Can you afford the loss of your paycheck?
- Is working in a different capacity or for a different number of hours an option?
- Is extended maternity or paternity leave (paid or unpaid) an option?
- Do you maintain job security if you take additional unpaid time?
- Can anyone at work chip in so you can care for your kids directly more than you otherwise would? Is any sort of a buddy system possible, even if it’s not been done before?
- Would taking extended time with your kids hurt your career if you decide to stop being a SAHM in the future?
Questions about childcare:
- What would your childcare options be?
- Does your potential childcare allow you to pop in to visit or feed your baby during non-scheduled pickup or drop-off times?
- Is the location convenient enough that you can get there quickly and easily if need be?
- Can you make peace with missing some of your child’s firsts? Will photos or verbal anecdotes of all the things she’d be learning be enough for you?
- Are you comfortable with your child’s potential caregivers’ belief systems? Would they represent your views well, or at least respect them?
- How will potential caregivers handle discipline?
- How receptive will potential caregivers be to feedback and doing things “your way” versus theirs? Can you live with their way?
- How do potential caregivers view your preferred feeding method?
- How do they handle sleep?
- What do they do if baby’s crying?
- How much turnover does the staff have? Will my child “know” the people there with some stability?
- How much individualized attention would my child get from another caregiver?
- What’s the caregiver’s policy if a child is sick?
What does research say about stay-at-home moms?
We know that after a temporary decline from the 1970s to the late 1990s, many more women than in years past (29% in 2012, up from 23% in 1999) are now choosing to stay home with their kids (source).
The perceived value of being a SAHM, however, varies according to religion, ethnicity, and education. (Source)
Further, studies show that many children, both younger and older, benefit from having a stay-at-home mom (source). That said, “mom work” isn’t easy, to be sure: many moms who stay with their children full-time experience more depression, sadness, and anger than moms who are employed outside the home (source). Therefore, self-care and balance become critical for them. Some moms decide it’s not a match after they’ve tried it, and then choose to have someone else care for their kids. It’s not necessarily a permanent decision.
Perhaps most importantly as it relates to length of maternity leave, it’s the quality of the interaction with parents that matters most in a young child’s development:
“…The quality of parent–child interactions is central in the social and emotional development of the child (Bigelow et al. 2010; Gregory and Rimm-Kaufman 2008). Quality of interactions is typically defined by sensitivity, level of engagement, accuracy in reading each other’s cues, and synchrony (Gregory and Rimm-Kaufman 2008)…”
“…Feldman and colleagues (2004) compared a group of mothers who took maternity leaves longer than 12 weeks to a group of mothers who took maternity leaves shorter than 12 weeks. The authors found than women in the long leaves group had better understanding of child development, had higher levels of preoccupation with their infant, and reported that motherhood had a better impact on their self-esteem and their marriage. In addition, longer maternity leaves were related to better job adaptation…” (Source)
These findings alone, however, should not be the basis for this personal decision. Much more research is available on the specific topics at hand and it should be reviewed accordingly.
The decision to stay home is personal–and you won’t make the wrong choice.
Of course, these are many more questions with which many expectant parents grapple. Some of these questions have clear answers in science (indeed, as an example, mothers who work outside the home can have extremely secure attachments with their children).
Ultimately, though, the decision whether to be a SAHM is primarily one of the heart.
SAHM or not, moms will spend time with their kids; and you’ll be “mom” no matter where you spend your days (or nights). Although it’s easy for a mom to agonize over such a life-impacting decision, a wise person once said this: “Go ahead. Make a choice. Maybe it’s right; maybe it’s wrong. If you don’t like what you’ve chosen, you can probably change it. For now, just pick the one that feels best and go with it.” And that, as you’ll soon learn about parenting, is all you can ever really do with confidence.