To Work or Not to Work: What Will You Do After Baby Comes?
Parenthood brings endless choices. How to navigate your career may be one of toughest.
How do you decide between going back to work and staying at home after the baby is born? Jamie Principe, a 38-year-old mother of two who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., has done both. When her girls, now 4 and 5, were younger, she worked outside the home as an architect. Then, she made the surprisingly smooth and easy transition of becoming a stay-at-home mom.
"I left my job not with the commitment to be a stay-at-home mom," Principe says. "I left because the nature of my job had changed and was no longer beneficial to me professionally. At the same time, my long-time nanny's breast cancer had come back. The thought of searching for new childcare and hunting for a job both while still working and trying to be a mother to my kids was more than I could handle. So since my family could manage financially with one income, I decided to make the break."
And she loved it. "I was surprised at how much I loved being home," Principe says. "Having more time to myself. Enjoying mundane tasks. Catching up with friends. But most of all, being there for my kids." She had found it nice in some ways to "outsource" the laborious and often dull routine of caring for small children. "But now that the kids are older," she says, "I feel my presence at home when their school or camp day is over is much more meaningful and important to both me and them."
Still, Principe misses the professional interaction and stimulation she once knew.
The New-Mom Dilemma
To work or not to work outside the home is a dilemma many new moms face. And like Principe, many are surprised at how they feel.
Family psychoanalyst Jenny Stuart says, "You have to leave as many options open as possible through pregnancy and the first year of a first child's life." Stuart says it's difficult to know how you will feel when you become a mother. "Some women who expect to love it are bored and angry and want to work," she says. "Others are utterly taken by surprise by how much they want to stay home."
Stuart advises moms-to-be to not make any major decisions while they are expecting. She also says it's important to remember there is no right answer. "The decision depends very much on the psychology of the woman making it," she says, "and on what types of support networks she has."
Young children do need steady contact with predictable caregivers. "I think they need as much contact as possible with their own parents," Stuart says. "But a very good day care can be a good complement to what a mother or pair of parents can do on their own. So it's not the case that mothers of young children must not work. But they do have to keep in mind the child's actual needs."