I’m a stay at home mom with professional dreams and daycare guilt. Is it possible to strike a balance?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl,

I’m a Mormon woman in my early thirties with two young children. Right now I stay home with them (they aren’t yet school age) but I’ve been wanting to pursue a profession. It’s important to me that my kids see me taking myself seriously–pursuing education, goals, etc. The thing is, though, I have so much mother-guilt associated with all things daycare. I don’t know a lot of working Mormon moms. How do you find the balance between professional life and family life (and guilt for having a professional life in the first place)??

Thanks,

Aspiring

Oh, Aspiring, balance is what I feel in those rare midpoint moments as my life careens wildly back and forth between all of its competing responsibilities. Yes, there are some afternoons without meetings when I get to spend a few hours caterpillar-hunting with my daughters. And then there are nights when I find myself asleep face down in my keyboard at 12:30 a.m. with one hand tapping out answers to work emails and the other hand in a three-quarters empty box of Thin Mints I embezzled from my own Brownie Troop. There are days when my blood pressure goes bezerk because I’m searching for lost library books while my own writing deadlines hover. And then there are days I’m stuck in meetings listening to people with no regard for the hourly cost of childcare explore the sound of their own voices.

That marvelous feminist comedic genius Tina Fey recently wrote an article for the New Yorker entitled Confessions of a Juggler about the difficulties of working motherhood, and she wasn’t lying. The American workplace (including workfare) is almost criminally hostile to working-class families and single-parent families. But it can be pretty bad for middle-class and dual-parent families too, mothers and fathers alike. It’s reported that women give up about $1 million in earning power over the course of their lifetimes just for being mothers. But men may have it worse: how many have been programmed to believe that abandoning their own nurturing instincts (heck yeah, you do have them) and clocking in like zombies is the only way to prove their manhood? Sigh. (And a big shout-out to the men who feel manly enough to go at life another way!

Add to that the firmly enculturated pressures we Mormon women are raised to feel about the importance of staying home with the kids—note to the world: Mormon preschools would make a killing—and candidly we must admit, no, Aspiring, it ain’t easy.

I’ll always remember the pangs I felt when I was preparing to go back to work after the birth of my second and was about to send my first to three mornings a week at a precious hand-picked Jewish preschool. There I was, guilting aloud about sending my children to the most competent, loving place on earth—Jews do not screw around when it comes to early childhood education–and my husband (who is Jewish) looked at me blankly and said, “But school is what kids do.” Which gave me a window into another universe where another chosen people who seriously love their children do not beat themselves up for outsourcing a bit of childcare. Especially when you are sending kids to a place where everything is sized and designed for them! And what a revelation that was for me. May it touch your life as well.

Dear Aspiring, I think it’s marvelous tht you want your kids to see you taking yourself seriously, learning and growing, doing work you love, and shaping the world they will inherit. It doesn’t sound like you feel pressured to seek work out of economic need. If that’s the case, shout hallejullah. Then, set aside at least one hour a day now (after bedtime?) to start researching and journalling your future into shape. If economic need is not a pressing issue right now, you can afford to think strategically and expansively about how you want to impact this world. Consider all your options: from full-time paid work to part-time paid work to artistic careers to community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Think about the education you need and the institutions (nearby if necessary) that can help you achieve it. While there are lots of good reasons to prepare for a paid career—including building your own retirement savings, an area where women really fall behind—don’t buy into the myth that only work renumerated by the marketplace should count. Your community needs advocates and social entrepreneurs as savvy and ambitious as anyone on the corporate ladder. The hours may even be more flexible, and there may be more opportunities for involving your children in the work you do—a wonderful kind of example-setting. Perhaps that’s a path for you?

Next, start sharing your goals with the people around you. Talk to your husband and make him a partner in your planning. Expect him to take you seriously and to participate in a reasonable amount of give-and-take. Then, talk to other families—LDS and non-LDS—around you to gather ideas about how you can make it work, especially in the interim years until your kids hit school-age. In our family, for example, we’ve done neighborhood childcare coops, home-based babysitter sharing, and paid preschools; we’ve purposely chosen flex-time careers for both adult parents (even though that has impacted earning ability for each of us); and we’ve put in lots of after bedtime late nights to make it happen.

I remember hearing our great Mormon feminist historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich speak at an academic conference about her route to stardom: a mother of five, she went back for her MA degree when she was in her 30s, obtained her Ph.D. at the university where her husband taught, started teaching as a part-timer, finally landed a tenure-track job, then wrote Pulitzer Prize winning books about taking the everyday lives and labor of women seriously—something her own life as a mother certainly taught her–and got snapped up by Harvard. There’s a role model for you, from one of our celebrated own.

So, aspiring, as we say in the land of Ask Mormon Girl, gird up your loins! Get in touch with that pioneer spirit—after all, every pioneer woman with kids was a working mother, right?–and get out there. Trust that voice inside you that’s urging you on. This world needs more capable and ambitious Mormon women working in the biggest venues they can command. Why not you?

What do you say, readers? Have you found a balance? Do you have words of advice for Aspiring? Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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17 Comments

Filed under Women, working mothers

17 responses to “I’m a stay at home mom with professional dreams and daycare guilt. Is it possible to strike a balance?

  1. Gi

    Aspiring, in my opinion, I understand your wish to work and study, but please, don´t put it at the first in your life…. the best example you can give your sons is that you´ve chosen what is most important, a mom at home.

    • An

      First, don’t listen to Gi. That’s some serious judgment in the form of advice.

      Maybe the best advice here is from the Lord, not from other mormons. You have the power to ask for your own council, and it will be different for EVERYONE, which is one of the many reasons we are granted that gift & power. Use it – and don’t worry about the opinion of your peers. He knows you, your children, and will have the best possible answer. Make a firm decision and then ask if it’s right. Pray for the ability to use what you’ve been given wisely – in whatever way that may be. If this is something you desire to do, there may very well be a reason. It’s not up to your peers. It’s between you, your family, and Heavenly Father.

      • ml30

        Aspiring, might I suggest changing your question from whether you should work or not to which choice will enable you to best nurture your children. I have found that the choice requiring the most rationalization is often the poorer choice.

  2. mofembot

    Dear Aspiring,

    Ask Mormon Girl (hi Joanna!) is absolutely right when she says (and I paraphrase) that among industrialized nations, America is the least family-friendly (indeed, punitive) in its policies and practices. I’m not holding my breath that things will change for the better anytime soon.

    The bottom line is, however, if mom is happy, then the odds are very good your kids will be happy, too. If you are frustrated and thwarted by and resentful of your life’s circumstances, it will affect your happiness and your parenting. Hopefully you will be able to find an activity or profession that will allow you to feel fulfilled both as a person and on the home front as well. As for those people and influences who would seek to make you feel guilty for whatever your choices may be, shame on them for exercising unrighteous judgment and making life emotionally and psychologically tougher than it ought to be.

  3. birch

    As the child of a career stay-at-home mom, I disagree with Gi. I wish my mother had tackled her non-kid dreams, because I grew up and now feel like she can only relate to small children, not the adult that I’ve become. Frankly, I’ll know her as an adult for longer than the time she cared for me as a child, and I’d really like to be able to enjoy that relationship. For now it’s mediocre.

    I remember talking to an attorney once about having kids and working full-time. She responded that she asked her son, then a teenager, whether he felt he had missed out by her not being home all the time. His response: “I’m pretty sure it saved our relationship, Mom.” To which she laughed and threw any lingering guilt to the wind.

    Your kids will be okay no matter what. Take care of yourself too!

  4. mellifera

    Aspiring,

    Kudos to you for wanting your kids to see you accomplish something and get some satisfaction of your own out of life. As a daughter and as a mother of a daughter, I wish my mom had felt more free to do something that was meaningful to her (and no, staying home all the time like she was supposed to did NOT make her a better mom); and I hope my daughter does other things in addition to having a family. We all know our kids need a lot of our time- but they don’t need every. single. hour.

    This is a little unorthodox for our generation, but my solution to the work/life balance issue is to make a career out of organic farming. (If you happen to like gardening, it’s worth considering– otherwise ignore me!) It’s a good opportunity to control your own hours, have your kids work alongside you sometimes, and be able to work on your own at other times. There’s a ripe market for organic produce right now, which means you don’t have to go crazy with machines & pesticides to have a good part-time business.

  5. Gi

    Hi everyone… please, my opinion is just what I takefor good and real. I completely understand ehat Aspiring feels, but to me it is still better a mom at home… I never said that she should not work, I said that she must put her family at girst place of her priorities, which means that even she works, her family will still have her.
    Liste, I´m a workrt and student at night… When I get home, all I wanna do is sleep (for 6 hours only), to wake up in the next morning and goes on with life. I´m single, i´m 27 but I sincerely don´t know how long I´ll take it, I´m so tired, so tired I hardly can explain. And so, my family, miss me.
    I know it´s a diferent kind of work, but I want you to know that if you´re involved in a work that takes away your strenght that you must have with your family, maybe you have tochoice what is better… but if your work won´t do it, just do what you think it´s better to you.

  6. Guilt is no good! Unplug yourself from expectations of others. Find out what is right for you and your family and do it with your head held high.

    If you are considering something besides your current situation, educate yourself on what options are out there. What sort of childcare is available for your kids? Are you comfortable with it? Will it be a good experience for them? What sort of professional life are you looking for? How flexible can it be? Can your husband change his work schedule to allow him to be home with the kids while you work, at least part of the time? Exploring your options and knowing what is out there will be invaluable as you make decisions. It may take some time to find the best option for your family. It took me about a year to find (and work out) the optimal situation for all of us, me, my husband, and my kids.

    Good luck in your search and decisions!

  7. I’m in my mid-thirties, have four kids, a masters degree, and work full-time as a middle school English teacher. I have had to make some adjustments: I limit how much help I offer to the church, have had to train the kids to do a lot of cooking and cleaning, my husband does the laundry and gets the kids off to school, and I have accepted the fact that I will not be the perfect mormon woman. But there are some things I just miss and there is no way around the loss–like lunch-groups with the ward ladies or regular lunches with my mom and sister.

    My mind, though, has become a pretty fabulous place to live. This year I taught Carpe Diem, Helen Keller, Utopias/Dystopias, and Romeo and Juliet, all of which have inspired my life, mind, and writing. I come home with the craziest stories every day which is the result of interacting with nearly 200 ninth graders every day. My children love to hear the stories of my day, and respect me immensely for what I do.

    I’d say start with your education–you don’t have to know exactly what you are doing or how. In my experience, every inch of education seems to pays off later in your career. I spent my college years grabbing degree after degree, all the while taking every creative writing class I could because I loved them. These have made me seem more accomplished to administrators and have been so very useful in my job.

    Let go of the feeling that there is a right or wrong way to motherhood and life–if your desires and talents are begging for some attention–give it to them.

  8. One is always free in taking decisions about themselves. The decisions taken with advice from others always do not matter. So if you want to work and have kids then do their admission in preschools which is the best alternative.

  9. I have three children (ages 8, 11, and 14). The youngest was 3 months old when I started working on my Ph.D. I am a professor, which I’m guessing works better than some other jobs because I have more control over my schedule than other people do. I love my job and have never regretted getting my Ph.D. or working full-time.

    In a moment of guilt a while back (after missing something or picking her up late, I can’t remember), I asked my oldest whether she ever thought about what her life would be like if she had a stay-at-home-mom. She shrugged her shoulders and said: “Nah, ’cause that just wouldn’t be you.”

    Find a way to pursue your dreams–at least some of them. Becoming a mother doesn’t mean you lose yourself completely.

  10. Wendy

    I have two children, one in college and one in Kindergarten. I have done it all.. worked full-time with sitters, no sitters, stayed at home for years, part-time and graveyards. Through all of this, I felt guilty, but it was necessary when I did work to supplement our income. I now stay at home, and have realized that my kids are happy and well-adjusted through it all. I also realized that I am a MUCH better mother when I am happy and achieving my goals . I also realized that my kids received love and affection from their caregivers, and learned how to get along with others while in care. The caregivers also had energy and love to give them at times when I was too tired or cranky. Kids adjust and learn. They absorb it all. Don’t feel guilty for being a better you! Remember the bucket theory…your bucket has to be full in order to give some to others. :)

  11. Big Daddy

    First, thanks to Joanna for tossing a prop to the Dads who embrace that nurturing side. (SAHDad for 1.5 yrs, 2 yrs coaching baseball, 6 years since being on someone else’s payroll. Never thought that life could get this good.) It was natural for me as I was raised by my Dad after my parents divorced.

    To Aspiring, my only thought is that it is your life, create out of it what you will. Create it on your terms, based on your priorities which are obviously heavily influenced by your beliefs.

    My wife & I run a business together. It wouldn’t work for every couple, and there are days where the she wants to fire me (or I want to fire her). In this process, I’ve had to strip away so many of the preconceived notions about gender roles that exist in our faith regarding working, parenting, mothering that aren’t necessarily based on anything but tradition. For what it’s worth, my wife struggles somedays with spending time at the business, which needs her skill set, rather than baking fresh bread every day. I remind her that our work is based on serving and compassion. Not that it does a lot of good as she comes from a very traditional family, but that’s a different thread.

    I’ve tried to build our family’s “life” around those gospel principles of compassion, service, charity and kindness. It’s a struggle, because what we do isn’t “normal,” but the pieces gradually fall into place to create a great life for us all. Maybe not a “filthy rich” life, but a great life. And yes, it makes some people at church uncomfortable that I don’t have a “job.”

    I pity the father who feels the need to work 70+ hour weeks to keep moving up the ladder in order to keep his kids in the right school and his wife in the right clothes, driving the right car. And in the end his children don’t even know him. It’s shocking and tragic how common this is in our faith. We should know better.

    For me, the work/life balance concept is a myth, if not a lie. I’ve chosen to create a life for myself that is with my family. You can too. Every response to that statement will be “I can’t do that in my field.” I didn’t think so either until I asked myself, “how can I do this in my field?” That will take some real searching. Good luck.

  12. bink

    Aspiring:

    First off, feel lucky you do have the choice. That in and of itself is a great blessing. I’m a single mom and have worked full time since my son was two months old. It’s tough some days to not be able to just be home and enjoying my sons company, but daycare has been a huge blessing for me, and my son has turned out great so far. Besides, sometimes it’s great to get that adult interaction that comes with working.

    That being said. My mom has been an in-home child care provider my entire life. I grew up in a daycare. Joanna had a great point about daycare’s being built for kids. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn social skills and enjoy just being a kid in a kid shaped world. They love it and will prosper just fine. Although there can be about a two week adjustment period that may be difficult, (they might cry when you drop them off, but stop pretty much just as soon as you walk out the door) it is normal, every daycare family goes through it, no worries, and don’t let it discourage you.

    If it helps any, my mom has said sometimes mothers are better mothers because they work. She has found this to be true in her almost 30 years of doing childcare. Don’t feel guilty at all. There’s always the option of waiting til your youngest is in kindergarten before you enter the workforce. That works for some people.

    Suggestions in finding a childcare: check out in home daycare’s as well as centers. In my experience (by the way my best friend owns a daycare center, as well as my mom owing a home based daycare) generally infants and toddlers do better in a home daycare, preschoolers can go either way, and school age do better in centers.

    Interview and tour different places. Meet the teachers your children would be with, see the classrooms, learn about the cirriculum and activities they offer. I would also suggest looking for a state licensed venue. Often a bit more expensive, but they are regulated in their sanitation, food service, cirriculum, class size and more. With technology ever blooming some centers even offer web cams.

    Do what you can to still have family time and spend time with your kids (quality time is important here, not just quantity time).

    Most importantly do what’s best for you and your family. Don’t let others opinions slow you down.

    Best wishes, and good luck!

  13. Erika

    I’m so glad I found this post. I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old and I’m desperate to go back to school and work. I love working. I’ve stayed home since my oldest was born, although I did work weekends for about 6 months after my youngest was born. I hated only working weekends and missing family time… but I loved working!! I felt so great. Now my youngest is almost 3 1/2 and she loves going to speech once a week, we call it “school” and she wants to go everyday. I am going to be putting her in daycare this fall so I can work while everyone else is out of the house too… I’ve had major guilt issues with this because I was raised to believe daycare is evil and ALL I should ever be, or want to be is a stay at home mom…. this made me feel so much better. So while I don’t have any great advice, I do say “thanks you” to everyone supporting a mormon woman wanting something extra….

  14. Q

    I’ve recently started reading this blog and happened upon this now-old posting, but I thought I should chime in with my experience. After some time off “between degrees”, my wife started a PhD program when our younger child was 2. I think we both felt guilt about putting our kids in anything that could be considered “daycare”, so we started with in-home babysitting initially. As one of them started kindergarten, he childcare situation became progressively more complicated and expensive, and then we discovered a local preschool that offered all-day preschool for our younger child and after-school care for our older child. It simplified our lives enormously, we spent more time with our children and less time driving them between things, and I think ultimately the environment provided by professionals who genuinely care about our kids was better than our initial arrangements. Looking back, it would have probably been better for us to get over the “daycare” label at the beginning. Our kids are now 8 and 6, and still go to the after-school daycare, where they seem to enjoy playing with their friends. Eventually they will be able to come straight home from school, but we’re not to that point yet.

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