Deciding whether or not to go back to work after my child was born has made me a less judgmental person

Guest post by Bea Barrow
By: Robert SheieCC BY 2.0

In the United States a woman who has a child can take up to 12 (unpaid) weeks off under FMLA. Today is the start of my 13th week. I was supposed to go back to work, but I stayed home.

We looked at our new budget, and visited several child care centers, and came to the realization that the cost of returning to work simply wasn’t worth it. My paycheck would have to cover child care, gas money, work clothes, and the “convenience cost” that comes when mommy has only had 12 hours of sleep in the past three days and cannot summon the energy to pack her own lunch, or cook dinner that takes more effort than programming the microwave. After all that, there would be precious little left. I simply decided it did not make sense for me to return to work.

It’s a difficult choice, and I think almost every woman who works and wants kids struggles when she finds herself at this point. And there is so much judgement that is either implied or explicit when we talk about ways that women can contribute to the workforce and to family life. I know I’ve read way too many headlines about “mommy wars.” Enough of that can make a girl feel judged and worried before she even sees that second blue line. I’ve worried what people would think of me for abandoning my career or my baby.

And I worried (still worry) about so many other things. Am I setting a good example for my daughter? Am I teaching her my career matters less than her father’s? Or that there are more important things than having more money? Am I jeopardizing my family’s financial security? Am I pulling my weight in this household? Am I doing this for the right reasons? What would the “right reasons” be anyway?

So many women, including my mother, were here before me; and so many women, likely including my daughter, will be here after. That’s one thing that helps quiet my worrying, knowing that so many have joined me here. Some of us have more choices than others, all of us have our own unique set of priorities, but we all pass through the same place of hope and doubt.

Working American mothers all have to make a choice about the thirteenth week. I made mine, but along with it, I’m reaffirming another choice I made in parenting: that I wouldn’t let my choices make me defensive or jealous of other moms. Maybe you work, maybe you stay home, maybe you do a combination of these things.The line in the media seems to be about “having it all,” but there’s no such thing. We all make choices that close us off from other ways of living. These choices can separate us, make us feel “other” and that leads to judgement. Instead, I’d like to focus on the fact that, regardless of where we go from here, we all were the same in the moment where we made a choice and followed our hearts.

Comments on Deciding whether or not to go back to work after my child was born has made me a less judgmental person

  1. I always assumed that I would eventually return to work after giving birth, but I figured I’d take a couple of years to just enjoy motherhood. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and it never occurred to me that careers were anything other than crucial. That said, I seriously loved having my mother around. She was (and still is) a good confidante.

    Honestly, I don’t know if it will be fiscally possible at this point for me to take much time off of work; I love my job, so it’s not hard to imagine returning to it, but child care is SO expensive where I live! I’ve had people offhandedly say things like, “Oh, just get a nanny.” Oh, OK. I’ll just call upon my vast financial resources to hire full-time help, eh?

    Boggles the mind!


    • Nanny’s certainly can be cheaper, especially if you know anyone who has a child about the same age who might split the cost with you. Most of the nanny’s I know charge about $10 hr. I think this is unreasonably cheap given what they do, but it’s a pretty consistent mean between the three I talked to. I realize that’s still $80 a workday, but its cheaper than a lot of daycare’s I’ve seen.

      Of course, if I were to pick up a part time job *I* wouldn’t expect to be making more than $10hr, which would make a nanny – rather pointless, profit wise.

      • Here in the Bay Area it’s $15 an hour. It was a no brainer for me to just stay home. Sometimes I miss working and being around adults, and quite honestly I think work would be a vacation compared to motherhood (not firing any shots in the mama war!). But for the most part it has been intensely gratifying.

    • I went to back to work two weeks after giving birth. BUT. I am working a contract position where I set my own hours and come in on off hours. It averages about 20 hours a week.

      I would really consider temping. You still feel like a professional but the intermittent jobs would allow you to be a stay-at-home mom most of the time. All you would have to do is have someone you trust to cover a week or two.

      Or, you could get an off-shift part-time job.

  2. You know, I don’t think I will ever stop being shocked how little maternity leave American women get. I’m about to go back to work (in the UK) after 20 weeks full paid leave and a further 19 weeks on half pay. I accumulated all my holiday days while I’ve been off (28 days per yr).

    Anyway, that’s a side point. I think mothers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t work-wise. Good for you doing what makes most sense for your family.

        • The argument is ALWAYS that it is bad for business. Businesses can’t afford to make the payments themselves, and the government shouldn’t have to. The U.S. is definitely more friendly to corporations than to families – although small businesses (who usually aren’t forced to adhere to many federal laws mandating stuff like insurance or leave) can come together and lobby against stronger worker laws, as well. I’ve worked for companies that take away your health insurance for the 8 weeks of unpaid maternity leave that you get.

        • Most of the pushback I see about maternity leave is from other workers who think it’s unfair that they be expected to pick up the slack from the mothers who have temporarily left their jobs. They often also state that becoming a parent is a choice, and mothers should have accounted for all possible future economic issues brought about by parenting before making the decision to have a child. The most vociferous of that type of childfree people basically want there to be no evidence in their lives of their being children. They are the same kind of people who say that kids shouldn’t be allowed on airplanes or in any restaurant with chairs and an average bill over $10.

          note: I am talking about those who hold those opinions, not all childless/free people. Obviously there are many other childfree people who understand how necessary that time is for mother and baby (actually, howabout parents and baby) and support parents in whatever they need to do their job of raising their children.

          • I respectfully disagree that the lack of maternity leave is the result of opinions of “childfree” people. I am pretty sure it’s the result of decisions made (or, in this case, not made) by the nation’s politicians, the majority of whom do, in fact, have children … and are male.

          • but maternity leave creates jobs- for example in my office our new girl is on a mat leave contact. it’s her first job in the field and a fabulous foot into the industry for her! yes, we had to go through the interview process etc, but it’s better than the rest of the staff being overworked by doing someone else’s job on top of their own.

          • yes, those are just the opinions of people who dont have much responsibility for changing this, but politicians don’t vote for things that don’t have the support from people who dont directly benefit from it, and corporations wont change until either rules and regulations will change, or there is mass support from nonparents and parents alike.

          • I think the organizational benefits of longer maternity leaves should be shouted far and wide. As another poster mentioned, it creates holes for people to take on temporary assignments and try their hand at developing new skills, or better yet break into their industries. A longer maternity leave backfill accomplishes this in a way that a 12 week one simply can’t. I will get a year off because I live in Canada and my employer has excellent benefits in this regard. This means that my employer will replace me while I’m gone. If I was leaving for 12 weeks, it wouldn’t be worthwhile to post and train someone in the position so in that case, someone else would need to pick up the slack.

            Additionally, if I don’t come back to work for the same duration of time as I took off, I have to pay back my maternity leave allowance. I could take time above the 1 year unpaid and then return when I am ready, but the fact that I have to return to work at some point after dealing with an incredibly flexible and accommodating employer, means that they have someone quite loyal who will be returning for at least a year. It’s a great deal for me and I feel incredibly lucky to be in this situation, but my employer benefits markedly from this as well.

          • I’m in Aus too, but because my workplace hires less than 100 people they aren’t obligated to offer any paid maternity leave. As such, there is none. I can take a year unpaid and that’s it. Sucks big time

          • What I think would be even better than requiring and extending paid maternity leave would be allowing mothers to bring their children to work. Obviously this wouldn’t be practical everywhere, but in office settings, and even schools, I don’t see how it would be a problem. I’ve heard some large companies have internal day care facilities and I really think that should be more common. That would allow mothers to see and breastfeed their children throughout the day and still get their jobs done; and it would make it worth it for the mother to come back to work because her entire pay check would not have to go to outside childcare. Better for everyone, if you ask me.

          • It’s truly amazing how our society has lost touch with human nature to such a grandiose degree that people are actually *fighting against* supporting mothers and children. If we can’t be human, what are we working and earning money for?

        • People will be happier and less stressed if there was better leave. We certainly don’t want any of that here!

          Sarcasm aside, I was thinking of how much my husband and I make the other day. If we had a baby now we certainly couldn’t afford any kind of child care in my area, but nor could we afford for either of us to stay home.

          • I can confirm this. At Microsoft, new mothers are eligible for 20 weeks off following childbirth, with 12 of those weeks paid at 100% of base salary.

            Parental Leave is available for new fathers and employees who care for a newly adopted child or newly placed foster child. Parental Leave may be taken for up to 12 weeks, with 4 weeks paid at 100% of base salary.

          • fuck i’m glad i live in canada! i don’t mean to be a downer but from up here the states (aka ‘the best place to live on earth’) seems to be verging on third world in some aspects. but just for the record im not one of those obnoxious canadians who are all ‘i hate americans!’ but one of the ones that is just really grateful to live where i live and hope for the best for the gigantic population to the south of me. i know its a really complicated issue but seems pretty simple that if a government values its people things are bound to be better! we’ve got a fucking moron in charge up here though who clearly wants to be the next george W so fingers crossed that we don’t have canadians complaining of the same issues soon…but i digress

          • My company pays for our disability insurance, so we get paid for the standard recovery time. Usually 6 or 8 weeks, then i used my vacation time for the rest. But it’s not maternity leave. It’s disability, then FMLA. It would be nice to have separate mat. leave so I didn’t have to use so much vacation, but I wasn’t too worried aobut it since my husband stays home anyway. It would be nice if he somehow got paid for it the first year!

          • I’m from the UK and echoing Annie’s response as well. The last week my mind has been blown.

            I don’t know if you guys have seen the #insurancepoll on Twitter started by Amanda Palmer -but there is a global poll going on asking people for what they pay for insurance and lots of stories from America going up that have amazed me no end. Like not giving health insurance to those who have recovered from cancer so they can’t afford to get a momogram.

            And now there is no paid pa/maternity leave? I’m realising how ignorant I am about a lot of this stuff. Glad that there are companies like Microsoft treating their employees well, but genuinely beginning to feel a wee bit proud of my country.

          • This isn’t actually true. California has Paid Family Leave for current employees who have worked more than 6 months for a job where you pay into state disability. You get 6 weeks at 55% for paternal or maternal leave (the same fund provides for 12 weeks of paid leave if you’re caring for an ill loved one, and that’s something you can take annually).

            I want to offer the standard, “It’s not much, but it’s something” (which is true if you compair to say, the UK or Canada, or anywhere with proper paid parental leave). But it’s actually way better than just ‘something’, if you ask me. It allows our whole family to be together for six weeks after the birth, not *just* mom and baby, and that’s a big damn deal here.


  3. This post could not be more timely for me–I am on week 8 of maternity leave, and I am already feeling the push and pull about going back to work. I want nothing more than to stay home with my beautiful baby girl, but the plain fact is that i need the income. I wish the choice were a bit easier–the idea of being away from my little one for so much time each week is a such a bummer.

    • BPort:
      That’s more or less how I felt. I hated the idea of leaving my daughter in daycare with someone I didn’t know, but we had come to rely, at least in part, on my income. I waited until my leave was almost over to make the choice, and I don’t really think I was 100% on my decision until the moment I handed my letter of resignation to my boss.

  4. I can’t tell you how much I’ve struggled with this very issue, in fact just recently. I have a child in kindergarten and now a 6 month old, and I work 40+ hours per week. It was mainly during my leave at home with my youngest that I wavered on going back to work because it was SO close to not being worth it financially. For weeks I wrote “pros and cons” lists, had talks with my husband, and finally decided to return to work only because my job provides health insurance for us and what I make covers oh-so-slightly more than daycare and groceries. But barely. And still, I’ve struggled and probably still struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. The Mommy Wars? Definitely still exists and it’s divisive and ridiculous. Thanks for this post, the last paragraph wraps it up perfectly.

  5. In addition to wishing the US had more mandated maternity leave,* I also wish that this conversation was expanded to include all parents. Our dialogue always assumes that mothers need flexibility and have to make career decisions when in reality it’s parents that have to make those decisions together.

    * For the international readers: The US actually has ZERO mandated leave. Not all employees are eligible for FMLA. FMLA leave is also unpaid, and some employees are given no paid leave at all. Connecticut just recently became the first and so far only state to mandate that all employees are entitled to paid sick leave.

    • i’m one here in the US getting zero leave. in the state i currently work in, to be eligible for any leave (unpaid,) you have to be at your job for at least a year …

      i’m 23 weeks pregnant with our first and i have been at my current job for less than a year (and will have been for less than a year when the sprout is born) and i’m salaried, so the hourly FMLA requirement doesn’t work either.

      i will be using my 2 weeks of vacation time + my 1 week of sick leave and then i will be going back to work. i’m also a surgical fellow, so the culture there is a little different, but the point remains.

      fortunately for me, my husband 1) has been at his job for >1yr and our university employer grants “parental” leave for any new parent, regardless of gender and 2) has a job where he, if need be, can work mostly from home, so he’ll be doing the primary child care once i go back to work, 3-ish weeks postpartum. we got really lucky in that respect, that he can sort of stay home, or at least get leave, but we recognize this is unique among dual-income working couples.

      aaaaand it sucks. i can’t tell you how much i stress about the fact that i will be giving birth and going right back to work. but it is what it is, and i’ll do what i have to do, i guess.

      • Wow!! That is really too bad. At three weeks you are not usually even close to healed from birth physically. I feel for you, but I’m glad that your husband has flexibility to care for your baby.

      • Are you in a non-ACGME position? If it were an ACGME position, I would think you’d have better protection than that. I hope you have an easy birth! It wasn’t until about 4 weeks postpartum that I felt like I could gone back to my position as an anesthesia resident, and I had a pretty easy birth and a pretty easy baby.

    • I did not qualify because my employer has three branches, more than 50 miles apart. None of the branches are big enough to cause the company to qualify for FMLA. I was sent a termination notice, with absolutely no discussion/warning, at 8 weeks post partum.

    • OOOH, I wish this discussion were open to include all new parents, too! In honesty, when Future-Child is born, the hubs is gonna have to quit his job, because it won’t even cover the cost of daycare, let alone the mortgage. I’m the wage-earner and bread-winner, and it’s nearly inconceivable that our positions will flip-flop. But does that make it less hard for me to walk away from parenting full-time? Or even more, does that make it easier for hubs to leave his career, especially when the world will raise its eyebrows?

      • Oh boy! This is us right now and we are starting to feel it in my family. People constantly ask things like “can he pick up extra shifts int the evening?” or “Why doesn’t he get a real job?” He does have a real job! He has the most important job in my eyes! It’s very sexist. Babies and kids don’t really care about money, they just want to be with their family. He actually just quit his part time job, and it’s still a secret because he is afraid of judgement.

        • Oh, that rubs me wrong. I get all kinds of angrywife when people ask me why he doesn’t get “a real job.” We don’t have kids yet, but for reals? People used to ask me that when I was telemarketing. What an insult! Why doesn’t he get a real job? Well, lets see… He stays up half the night when he could be cuddling; he does mundane stupid things he hates; he feels obligated to continue doing it because of societal pressures; and he does it all so we can afford to go out to sushi or a cocktail once or twice a months, but mostly so we can scrape by with the bare necessities. If that’s not a “real job,” I don’t know what is.

          The question should be, why doesn’t he get a dream job? Why don’t I, for that matter?

      • This was my parents. My dad was in the Navy and the bread winner while my mom did some freelance graphic design on the side. She was the stay-at-home parent….until she started writing a newsletter. When that took off, HE retired and became a stay at home dad to six kids. He may have gotten some sexist backlash, but for the most part I think people understood what was going on.

        • We are almost the exact family! My husband is in the Navy, I am a SAHM/freelance graphic design person, and we are expecting our 4th child. I think because we have chosen the roles that we have in this relationship/family (him breadwinner, me at-home child-rearing parent) it would be hard (and truthfully, I can’t even IMAGINE our roles flip-flopping) for that to change drastically. With that said, I think it is fantastic that your family made it work!

      • I grew up in that household. Mom worked, dad left his job when I was little. The “joke” in my family is that my mom had me on a Friday and went back to work on Monday–I’m not even sure if this is untrue! I know she only took two weeks with my older brother. And she was a nurse, on her feet for 12 hours at a time, 4-5 days week! But my dad was a welder and didn’t have a career to speak of (especially not a long-term one), and ultimately it was just easier for him to stay home and raise me and my brother while my mom worked her career. I don’t even think I thought anything of it being weird that Dad was the stay-at-home parent until I was in middle school when he went back to work and it must have come up in conversation somehow that moms usually do the staying home. I was just like yeah well, mom had a career that gave us fantastic health insurance, I’m glad she kept working. And that was that. I asked her once if it ever bothered her that she went back to work, and she said that since nursing is such a female dominated field it’s actually pretty common for the women to just go back to work, and seems to be common enough for there to be stay-at-home or part-time-working dads. But she said she didn’t regret it, because she had a fulfilling career.

        I do remember being in elementary school and my mom sitting me and my brother down to say that he schedule was up for a change (I found out years later she’d gotten promoted) and she wanted to know whether we wanted her home during the week for homework and school projects and join the PTA, or if we wanted her home for the weekends. I just kinda looked at her funny and told her I didn’t care, but I think I pointed out that half of our weekend was church and she didn’t go with us so she might as well be working and sleeping. I do know she joined the PTA that year and was home during the week so I guess that’s what she chose. She said she sometimes regretted missing out on things because she was working midnights and sleeping during the days, maybe it would have been different if she worked a 9-5, but my childhood was structured and reliable and even if the days she worked weren’t constant, how we switched between “mommy’s sleeping” and “mommy has the day off” was just routine for us. I know I definitely felt more capable going into a male-dominated field, knowing I had a mom who was a professional and I could go to for career-type advice about gender roles and how they affect careers.

        And yet I won’t hesitate to stay home with my kids. For my situation, it will just make more sense for me to stay home or my partner and I both to be half-time. And I’m glad I got the opportunity to know that whatever I choose for my family is fine, regardless of how it’s usually done.

  6. I just want to point out that not everyone gets 12 weeks under FMLA. At least where I was (a large hospital with 2,000 employees) they only approved me for 4 weeks. Luckily due to other factors, we moved right after my baby was born and I was able to be home 6 weeks before starting my new job. It hurt my heart the day that I opened the letter approving me for only 4 weeks but welcoming me to use my paid time off to account for any other time off I wanted. I had used up all but 1 day of paid time off for all my prenatal doctor appointments because my job would not give me off for them (I worked 4 ten hour days and they would not schedule me off for the day I needed even though I gave them several weeks advance notice). Sufficient maternity leave is not currently an American belief, and it makes me so sad:(

  7. Thank you for posting this. I’m currently struggling with this as well. I’ve been back at work for about five weeks now, and it’s been hard. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, and so does my husband, so we made the choice to keep our son at home with us to see how it would work, because I’m VERY reluctant to put him in daycare this young.

    I’m stressed out a lot of the time because I feel like I’m being pulled in two directions. It’s hard to concentrate or even care about my work, and I feel like I’m falling behind on other obligations: things like keeping up with dishes and laundry.

    I’ve been punching and pulling and twisting at our budget to try to find a way for me to be able to resign and be a full-time mom, but my husband is not on board with the idea at all. He feels it would put too much strain on us financially and he worries about the possibility of going into debt.

    I feel like right now nobody is really being well served: not my son, my employer, or me. But I can’t make the leap without my husband’s consent. It wouldn’t be fair to him.

    Er, sorry. Didn’t mean to publish a book. Just a little frustration venting there. 🙂

    • As a stay at home – it’s totally understandle that you feel as if you are falling behind on laundry and dishes – I certainly have at times and I’m not doing any paid employment.

  8. Thank god I am Greek! In Greece, there is a 6 months Full paid leave for new mothers, if you are an employee in a company, and 12 months full-paid mother-leave if you are a civil-servant (working for government , local authorities, policewomen, teachers in non-private schools, etc)!!! Also, if you can prove your pregnancy is in danger, you can have a full- paid , 9 months pregnancy leave! And your employer cannot dismiss you until after one year of birth. Both husband and wife can get a paid 3 days leave, when married! Of course, there is the 30 days per year for anyone, plus 30 days leave after doctor’s advise, when sick, all of them fully paid!!! No wonder why Greece has gone bankrupt!!!
    But, apart from that, what about breast feeding? The WHO advices mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least two years!how can you do that if you have to go back to work on week No 9??How, on earth, can you leave your newborn, only a few weeks’old, to someone other than their mother? I think that’s awful, especially for those little souls….

    • It’s more or less the same in Bulgaria 🙂 One year of maternity leave paid on 90% of the salary and up to two additional years on minimum wage… I am starting to feel really grateful about it after reading all of the comments re the situation in other countries.

    • I still breastfeed my 22 month old and work full time. I went back to work 1/2 days at 10 weeks and full time at 12 weeks. The law in my state gives me the right to pump breastmilk during the the work day if it doesn’t interfere with my job. It’s very normal to do this at least in my cirlce of freinds/relatives. Maybe breast pumps aren’t very commonly used where you are from, but almost evey mom I know has one.

      My husband stopped working during the week, so he could take care of our son. I don’t think I would have gotten pregnant if both of us had to work. That’s just my feeling, and I don’t really have an opinion about what other families do. it’s so personal.

      • I , too, used breast pump for my daughter ‘s first 6 months, so that she wouldn’t have any formula, cause I, too, had to go back to my private ( dental) office , and I did all I could so that she would have to be fed by bottle with my milk only once every day! Luckily, I could fix my appointments so that my husband or one of her grandmas could take care of her!! And I still have regrets and ‘guilty’ thoughts about leaving her when she was just 2 or 3 months’ old, even only for a few hours every day. Ideally, newborns should always be with their mother for the first months of their life, for it’ s she that can provide them with the feeling of security! I don’t underestimate the role of the father, but , at least in Europe, pediatricians emphasize on the most important role of mother!!!
        My judgment was in concern of the laws that apply in the US, which FORCE families to make decisions they wouldn’t make otherwise! I didn’t mean to critisize on any mother/ family doing what they think best for their kids! I just think that such laws on working conditions and maternity leave are inhuman!!!!

    • It is very possible to go back to work so early and breastfeed exclusively. I went back when she was eight weeks and I’m still pumping every day to leave enough milk for her at 20 months. And she has never had a drop of formula. My wife works full time as well. It’s hard work to do, but very do-able.

  9. My employer mandates that you have to use up all your paid vacation and sick time first, before FMLA kicks in. This means when you come back off your 12 weeks unpaid leave (where I also have to pay my own insurance premiums, since I have no paycheck to take them out of), then I have tapped out all my paid sick time…so any sick children or doctor’s appointments mean further pay cuts. And yet people are totally baffled by the news that the US birth rate has been steadily dropping??
    A few of my co-workers are currently pregnant, and one of them is trying to go down to part-time, simply because it would be more expensive for her child to be in daycare five days a week, than she would make coming to work five days a week. And it’s not just the immediate financial issues; I work in a field in which taking off a few years to raise a kid would pretty much kill your shot of getting back into the workforce. She’s staying on part-time so she can eventually still have a career.

    • “And it’s not just the immediate financial issues”

      There are a lot of long-term issues involved in this kind of choice, but you hit the nail on the head, leaving work is not just the loss of a paycheck, it can be devastating to certain careers to be away for any significant amount of time.

  10. Wow. Having just organised my leave from work yesterday, this post is making me realise how lucky I am. I get 16 weeks full pay leave from work (which I will take at half-pay for tax reasons, so that will last me 32 weeks), then I can claim 18 weeks government paid parental leave, and then I can get my annual leave from work paid (again at half pay). All in all it looks like I will continue to be paid for 50 weeks, at which point the 52 weeks leave I get from work will almost be over, and I can decide if I will go back or if I will apply for another 52 weeks(unpaid) leave.

    • Totally feeling the same Kate! Almost identical situation, except my employer gives me 14 weeks, not 16. I’m taking it at half pay (so 28 weeks), then going on to the 18 weeks at minimum wage (which I realised recently is now slightly more than my half pay – yay!). I had to have been employed for 12 months to be entitled to to paid leave, and had my little girl after working there for 14 months. I finished work 4 weeks before my due date, mostly because I was unbearably huge and constantly exhausted. Even with a full 52 weeks leave booked in, and the option of a further 52 weeks I still feel sad knowing that I will probably have to go back to work. I cannot fathom being forced to leave my little girl so early on in her life, with no choice due to financial reasons. Australia is hardly a world leader in this area, but we have it so amazing good compared to America. Hugs to all the Mamas in crappy situations.

  11. The whole “mommy wars” thing brings back memories of being in high school. When I was a senior, I told my therapist and my guidance counselor that I was really just interested in being a stay at home mom and a foster parent, and I didn’t have any career “plans” – just whatever paid the bills until I wanted to have kids would work. Both of them told me that there was something seriously wrong with me because I didn’t want to have a career, something that all women are supposed to want in this day and age.

    I will say, though, it’s interesting to look at all these situations and compare them to my own, since my fiancee is a woman. The plan thus far is to mix adoption and sperm donorship, and she would be the one carrying the kids, but I would be the one staying at home with them. I’d be curious to see how (or if) the mommy wars affect us.

    • It looks like my husband (who earns more than enough) and I won’t be able to adopt, because I stay at home (and bake cakes for people, do foster care, a bit of webdesign as well as all the cooking & cleaning, money management, etc). They think I can’t work with others and must sit on the couch all day alone and must be terribly unfulfilled in my life. Our social worker and her manager are offended that I don’t have a career I prioritise over everything else clearly feel I’m single handedly destroying everything feminists have ever fought for. It drives me crazy that people can’t respect that women have more choices now – not a responsibility to try to live their lives like the most powerful men in their universe. The choices are a privilege but all of them are as valid as each other.

      • The very rich irony here is that it wasn’t too long ago that women who had careers were, in some circles, considered unfit to be adoptive mothers. I’m sorry that you have to deal with this situation, Sass!

        • Yep, it’s ridiculous. We’re also being told I’m ‘too young’ and lack life experience (that apparently can only be gained through paid employment) at 28 – the average age in this state for adoptive mothers is 44. And here I thought it was supposed to be about a couple’s ability to care for a child.

          • That’s kinda messed up. 28 is too young to love a child? And exactly what kind of work experience makes you a better parent? (besides some bosses I’ve had that resemble toddlers, I mean) I always thought it would be easier to adopt if you had the one parent works, one parent at home dynamic going on. Guess not, I’m sorry you’re going through all this.

  12. This is so topical. Just had a meltdown today about being a woman and suddenly having no prospects now that I’m pregnant. A living wage in my area is $20/h, and I’d be lucky to get $12 if I could get a job. Forget being able to afford daycare, I couldn’t afford rent on my own. After raising my kids, the job market will have to be pretty hot before they hire someone who took 6-7 years off.
    I have tons of post secondary, too. Womanhood is insanely unfair at times.

  13. Just weighing in to say- although I love the frankness of the article and the theme of ‘no judgement’ I really wish this topic included both parents role in the decision of child care. During my pregnancy my husband and I weighed ALL the options- including him staying home with baby. It’s not just women who have to make these tough choices, rather families. I think when we expand the discussion as a ‘parenting’ choice and not just a mom choice we might take some of the bitterness out of the mommy wars.

  14. Just weighing in to say- although I love the frankness of the article and the theme of ‘no judgement’ I really wish this topic included both parents role in the decision of child care. It’s not just women who have to make these tough choices, rather families. I think when we expand the discussion as a ‘parenting’ choice and not just a mom choice we might take some of the bitterness out of the mommy wars.

  15. I’m not going back to work after my maternity leave, but mostly it’s because I really don’t like my job. If I wasn’t pregnant, I’d be job hunting anyway. Even if I did like my job otherwise, it’s unsuitable to family life for all sorts of reasons. Thing is, right now at least I have a hard time imagining not working. I know in my brain that taking care of a baby is ‘real work’ (especially considering how much I’d have to pay someone else to do it while I work) but until I actually start doing it, it feels like I won’t be pulling my weight at home. My husband doesn’t make me feel like this, he’s behind me staying home for as long as I want/need/we can afford, it’s all coming from myself. Strangely, I don’t feel like this about other women who choose to stay home or not, the fog clears and I can see how it’s a good choice for them. It’s just my own choices that make me question myself.

  16. Full disclosure: Along my maternal line I come from FIVE generations of working women. This is mainly because they were poor and their husbands tended to break and/or die. But, yeah, the women in my family have been working outside the home since the beginning of the 20th century.

    That being said the message I always got was “Work! It is the only way you can know that you will be able to take care of yourself and your children should shit happen–and shit will inevitably happen.” While I am aware that sounds a bit alarmist, that has always been my thinking on remaining in paid employment. One thing I would like to mention is that people keep mentioning the cost of daycare. And I know it is expensive, but remember when your children are young you are probably facing the highest daycare costs and the lowest earning power you will experience. As time goes on (ideally) your wages will rise and your daycare costs decrease. Just a thought.

    In case you don’t have my mother shouting at you but would like to know what she would shout, I found this book excellent:

  17. I really hope that something changes in the states regarding maternity leave. I’m saddened that raising children – the future – isn’t valued. 12 weeks or shorter (!) is barely enough time to recover physically let alone emotionally ….and to have to put your child in daycare that young? Heartwrenching. But most people have no choice….something has to change as I believe the impact is far greater than realized on many levels. In Canada, about half i know want to go back to work and half don’t. People do what works for them. At least we have that choice to get past the hard part. By a year, many are actually ready. But to go back to work when a child is barely 3 months old places enormous pressure on families which could easily be alleviated by reducing military spending for example…caring for your newborn child should be a human right. I’m amazed that this is considered such a low priority in such a wealthy nation. Hoping for better for all you current and future USA mamas….

  18. I think that every family should decide for themselves whether they choose to outsource or insource their childcare during some part of the day.

    That said, I am always slightly annoyed when the calculation of whether it financially makes sense to go back to work only includes the woman’s paycheck. Don’t couples share the cost of all other costs, the mortgage and food and so on? So why, when it comes to childcare, only the income of the woman is relevant? I mean, you can also say, “Hmmm, childcare will cost us half of my better half’s paycheck. Is that worth it, or not?”

    I know it’s just a virtual allocation of costs and funds, but still, it always bugs me when I hear people say that.

    And yes, mat leave in the US is horrible. Here in The Netherlands we get 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. For me that was sufficient, but you can also add 6 months of unpaid leave if it’s not. Paid leave is paid for by the government, that is so that your employer can use the money that they would normally pay you with to hire someone else. That way, your colleagues don’t have to take on extra workload because you are away, so that all is fair (except of course that society as a whole, including people who don’t have or want children pay for your maternity leave, but that is socialism for you :0)

    • THIS. I really don’t get it. Childcare is a family decision, why would only one person’s paycheck be calculated in the decision? Here’s how much it costs US if both parents work, here’s how much it costs if the lower earning parent stays home.

      For my family, it would have “made sense” in the way the author uses the term for me to stay home and my husband to continue working. He made about $4/hour higher than I do, and our family has had to cut our budget significantly to live on only my salary. But both of us would have been miserable.

      Why don’t I see any discussions of who-stays-home-and-who-works that go, “I WANT to stay home and my partner WANTS to work so we figured out a way for that to make financial sense”? It’s like our wants, to work outside the house or in, are only justified if they “make sense” financially.

      • I think for a lot of people, the reason they talk about the mothers paycheck going back to work v childcare is a simple calculation of “will going back to work cost more than the additional income it will bring in?”… Rather than “we dont split costs so I have to cover it”.
        I know thats how my friends have all thought about it when making their decision, as if the additional costs of returning to work are not outweighed by the financial and social increases of being back in the workforce, many simply cant justify it.

        • But that is the thing, why would only the woman has to justify the costs of daycare? This way of thinking strongly implies that responsibility for childcare comes down to women, even when they work similar hours as their partner (because then the childcare comes out of the woman’s paycheck).

          I think this way of thinking truly limits the options of women, and it muddles the discussion. If one person wants to stay home, just say it and don’t shroud it in financial justifications.I think wanting to stay at home with your child (independent of your gender) is a good enough reason to do just that. Just like wanting to work, even if working is a budget neutral thing, is a good enough reason to to just that.

          • Maybe it’s just because more woment want to stay home than men, combined with more women in lower paying jobs to begin with. It’s not always the case, but it’s probably why a lot of the discussions are focused on women returning to work, and not men.

          • I agree with the central point, but I would assume it stems from the fact that women generally do earn less (which is a whole other argument!).
            For us, I earn a lot more than my husband, but also have a lot more flexibility, so when we have a baby we should, theoretically, be able to balance working hours so we can both continue our careers.

          • What Marte said, ON EVERY LEVEL. I get sort of blurred vision level upset when the conversation is about whether it makes financial sense for *me* to stay home, as opposed to a discussion about if *one of us* should stay home. (And that’s not getting into the fact that I don’t think daycare is always a financial decision, or a short term financial decision. We made it based on balancing love of family with love of our careers, and long term earning potential, not short term.)

            We have one household income, and that whole household needs to figure out what the best childcare options are. We have two parents equally invested in raising a child, those two parents need to figure out what the best childcare options are. We’ve never even run the math on daycare costs vs. my salary, because that’s not math that makes any sense for us to run. We run daycare costs versis the household budget.

            My career isn’t less important than my partner’s career, and it’s not the only one involved in the financial calculation.

  19. Augh, this post and discussion are so horrible and fascinating, and all too timely.

    I’d love to hear anyone’s report on putting very small babies in daycare– what’s the experience like? What’s the normal staff: babies ratio where you are?

    I started shopping around for daycare options for my 4-month-old (in anticipation of going back to work full-time), and realized that I couldn’t imagine leaving this helpless little guy with a group of 4-5 strangers who are trying to take care of 20 frenzied toddlers at the same time. What’s it like when you have to do that with an even smaller baby?

    • My son started daycare when he was just shy of 3 months old. He goes to a mixed group with children ranging from 3 months to 4 years old. At that time, he was the only small infant, the next youngest was 8 months old.

      I don’t really remember the exact teacher to child ratio at that time, but I think it came down to about 4-5 kids per teacher (the ratio’s are determined by law here, depending on the age of the kids: I believe it ranges from 4 to 6 kids per teacher) Usually his group is between 10-15 children big, so 2 or 3 teachers.

      I always felt totally OK leaving him there. He seemed to like looking at the other kids, and his needs were simple because he was so young: food, sleep & attention. And those needs were met, the teachers were very specific about his schedule, which was really nice. So he seemed totally fine.

      It’s impossible to tell whether he actually was fine, obviously, without him being able to talk and report back to me. But he is now 14 months old and has cried only once when I left him at daycare in all those months. He has one specific teacher that he really likes, and she is also really fond of him. So that makes me extra secure that he is fine and happy there. Although the others teachers are nice too, so if she is not there, he is still content.

      Although I must be honest and tell you that he only goes to daycare 2 days a week (my partner and I both work 4 days, and then my father comes to look after him 1 day a week). So I can’t tell you how I would feel about this same set-up for full-time. I guess I would still feel the same, but I can’t say for sure.

    • My baby started full-time daycare when she was a week short of 3 months old. She goes to a daycare center that serves kids 6 weeks-preschool. The child:teacher ratio for the babies (under 1 year) is 4:1. The ratio changes as they get older. Our daycare has separate rooms for the different age groups – babies, 1 year olds, 2 year olds, and preschool – so my daughter’s teacher only has to worry about the 4 babies in her care.

      My daughter is 9 months old now and I think daycare has been great for her. She is a curious, social baby and even when she was only 3 months old, she seemed very happy to watch the other kids. Now it’s great to see how much fun she has playing there and interacting with the teachers and other kids.

      I didn’t have any qualms about sending my baby to daycare, so it wasn’t as hard for me as it is for a lot of parents. My brother and I went to daycare from when we were babies until we started school, and we turned out fine 🙂 so I figured my baby would be fine too. I do feel like the teachers at my baby’s daycare really care about her and the other kids so I feel good about dropping her off each day.

    • Our son went to a home daycare and started at 7 weeks (thanks for the shitty maternity leave, America!). It worked out really well for us, our city has a professional association of home daycare providers and we were able to visit several and interview them before I went back to work. We found a woman who was GREAT with babies, whose ratio we felt comfortable with, and who had no problems with our cloth diapers. Our son loved her and settled in pretty quick. She was also great about keeping in touch, especially those first few days when I was a nervous wreck. She sent pictures and texts about what he was doing and it REALLY helped!

      At about a year old, we transitioned him to a small center with kids of all ages and that’s been great too. I think he’s really benefited from the experience of socializing with other kids and getting to know other adults too. It was nerve wracking at first, but we have been super lucky.

    • We put our daughter in daycare when she was 6 weeks old. It was very trying for me emotionally. We moved to a new area when she was 4 days old, and I had to start a new job, so there was a lot of transitioning going on that made me want to hold onto my baby as long as I could. I love the daycare she is at though. The ratio is at most 3 providers for a maximum of 8 babies (my baby is at the CDC on an Air Force base), but the room only has 6 babies right now, ranging from 6 weeks to 1 year. I just remind myself that I am doing what is right in my situation for my family. If it ever feels like it is not working, then we can reevaluate the situation. I just try and remind myself to not feel guilty. It is not the amount of time you spend with your child, it’s the quality of time that is important. This is my mantra as I transition onto nightshift in a few weeks:)

      • One more thing. I also have a 5 year old who has been in daycare since 7 months, in 4 different states, with 6 different providers/childcare centers! That’s a lot of adjusting for a child! And she is doing wonderful! That is not to say she doesn’t have bad days/weeks and doesn’t show signs of stress at times (usually when we first experience a move or a schedule changes for my husband/me/or both). But to see my child make friends so easily and be so outgoing (especially when I can be so shy) but to still have her confide and love my husband and I, we know we are doing good by her in our situation. Just to give some perspective on how your child may be down the line. Granted, it is all dependent on your child’s personality. But we tried to make all our moves and life changes into positives (we get to try something new, meet new people, etc). Not every one of those providers was wonderful, but we have gotten so much out of meeting all kinds of people and having them in our child’s life.

  20. i will preface this by saying im not even 100% sure that i want to have a child, but the thought of having one now makes me shudder with fear. i cant not work, my boyfriend has student loans to pay. his income would not cover everything. and also, i am way to much of a control freak to even think about giving my baby to someone else to look after. i just dont think i could do that. so, im screwed. and no babies for me.

    my only thought is that maybe one day in the future my mom would want to come live with us and take care of the baby while i work. thats my only idea, and quite frankly, if that doesnt happen, i might not ever have a kid, even if i want to.

    • My little one is just shy of 4 months old now, and the plan is for me to return to work when she reaches a year old. I have already discussed with my employer returning on a part time basis and have been given the green light on this, which means that I will need to find care for my daughter for 2/3 days per week. Fortunately my mother only works part time and lives 5 minutes away, so she is able to cover a day per week, and my mother in law works on a saturday, and is able to cover the rest. This is the only reason that I am even discussing returning to work. I couldn’t put my child in daycare, just like you I am too much of a control freak! Even the thought of leaving her in the care of trusted relatives makes me feel sick – what if I miss important milestones? I am spending this year trying to find something else to supplement our income other than returning to work. Fortunately I am rather crafty, and have so far learned that I am pretty good at making rag dolls (my own design!) and crochet. Etsy store here I come!

  21. We’re due in March, and I’d been agonizing about this choice. I’m inherently a workaholic for my job and a slacker at home-that’s just how I’ve always been. But my husband is older than I am and has been in his (highly paid) field for quite a bit longer, and I make significantly less than he does.

    Work kinda made the decision for me-we’re getting laid off three weeks before my due date. But I still wonder about when to look for a new job-or if to do so at all. Maybe I’ll go back to school part time. Maybe I’ll stay out for a few years while we have all the kids we want to. Who knows?

  22. This is very timely for me, too. I am on week 6 of maternity leave, during what was supposed to be week 31 of my pregnancy.

    I have 12 weeks unpaid leave, with half of that covered by short-term disability at 60% of my salary. I could use up all 12 of those weeks before my daughter is even out of the hospital. Because of her extreme prematurity, her doctors have strongly recommended that she be kept out of daycare until she is at least two years old. My salary would not cover the cost of a nanny, much less support us if my husband left his job. Frequently the choice to stay home or go back to work is no choice at all.

    I’m not too worried about the next few years – we will have to tighten our belts a lot, but we can manage off my husband’s salary. I am more concerned about later, when I try to re-enter the workforce. I have a master’s degree in my field and I’m good at my job, but I’m afraid I will be judged or deemed irrelevant for my time at home.

  23. When I had my first baby I asked my male bosses if I could bring the baby in so I could continue to breast feed, with my breasts. They were like, “how about you just work from home?”. It was great. I just brought up breasts a lot for about 9 months and didn’t go back into the office full time for a year! It was still really hard and I wanted to quit many times but after a while the office became my quiet place where I could go to the bathroom by myself and my daughter enjoyed hanging out with other kids during the day. Even if you can negotiate just a few weeks of working from home or a few hours at home, a few in the office, it’s totally worth it. Of course it doesn’t work for job but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  24. I agonized over going back to work. I never thought I would want to stay home; I thought I would be bored or understimulated. Then I had a baby and realized that we had been together every day for a year, and I couldn’t imagine leaving him at 3 months old.

    Thinking about my return to work brought up a few things:
    1) What’s with the crappy maternity leave America? Obviously, those decisions were made by men.
    2) Why aren’t there more part time or job share options for working parents? For my family, eliminating my income is not an option. But, if I were able to work part time, we could make it work. However, working part time for $10-12/hour is not going to work, and I might as well keep working full time. Again, obviously this system was not crafted by women!
    3) There is a serious confusion of values in the US, and tons of mixed messages. Breastfeed your baby! But not in public! And then go back to work at 3 months postpartum! And keep breastfeeding your baby! Pump! Keep up the house! Do a good job at work (even though you are sleep deprived because your baby is still learning how to sleep)! Eat healthy! But work 40+ hours a week, and barely have time to go to the grocery store!

    Sorry, I’m obviously a little bitter. Or at least challenged by this new role and the MAJOR lack of societal support there is for families.

  25. Wow. This makes me realize again how lucky I am living in Germany. I get 14 weeks paid leave at 100% salary and after that 12 months at 60%, paid for by the government. Oh, and I could stay at home for 3 years and my employer would have to give me my job back after that.

    • I am also in Germany and there is a very strong downside to this – childcare options are really, really limited for kids under 2 years and even for 2-3 years, there is not enough space in the Kitas. Because what possible reason could people (and that translates to mothers for almost everyone :/) have to want to get back to work after ‘only’ a year or so? How dare people want to get back to their careers after only ayear or even *gasp* a few months? The social climate is also completely against people leaving kids in any kind of care before they are 2.

      • Yup, that’s true. Also, there’s not enough kindergarten spaces, I heard it’s a pain to get one. I agree, there’s definitely room for improvement.
        Still, I feel a bit more comfortable about not having to make the decision of staying at home or going back to work so soon after having the baby. I guess I’m also lucky because I will be able to do freelance work from home.

      • Interesting. Are you in Bavaria? Because I don’t think I know anyone whose kid is not in some sort of daycare facility after about year 1,5.
        And if the city you live in doesn’t give you a kitaplatz after year 1, you can sue them and get your salary. Admittedly, the kitaplatz the offer might not be acceptable to you (a colleague was talking about a tagesmutter who “does smoke, but not around the kids”, how? ).

        I’m in the middle of my first week of mutterschutz (6 weeks before and 8 weeks after ETA) and we are trying to figure out of to deal with Elterngeld (rather complex mechanism, the couple gets 14 months of paid leave, if each parent takes at least 2 months completely, this can be extended, if both parents work part-time between 62,5 and 75%). Unfortunately my husband’s boss is a dinosaur. And mine is rather incompetent.

    • Reading all these replies, I’ve come to the conclusion that maternity leave and working conditions and relations,in general, are much-much better in Europe than in America!!!imagine leaving your 3months old or even younger, in a child care unit!!! I think it’s for the best of children , the government to be more thoughtful of humans, in general, and not of numbers and financial issues!!!

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