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To Stay at Home or Return to Work?

This article examines the pros and cons of being an at-home mother or a working mother.

Stresses of staying at home

To Stay at Home or Return to Work?

Francine Deutsch, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College, found that 58 percent of at-home and 53 percent of mommies working outside the home reported feeling frustrated, depressed, hopeless, or angry. That's what I found, too, when I delved into work questions: women in both camps are full of angst about their situations.

Among others, Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura deride parental selfishness, saying, "You chose to have a baby so now deal with the consequences." Yet, they didn't see what I saw: Hurting mommies were already sucking it up, already putting their children's and families' needs first even if finances required that they work. Over the long term, though, the repercussions of the disappointments moms stuffed inside were corrosive. The "put up and shut up" approach does not take into account that family life centering round a toxic mommy cannot forever be spared lethal effects.

Stresses of Staying at Home
Scores of moms I know relinquish work to stay home with little ones but are dissatisfied or frustrated a good portion of the time. They are clumsy introducing themselves, half-mumbling what they used to do for work in a previous life, or resorting to a browbeaten "Just a mom." Shut inside with two children with chicken pox for a week, I understand how very desperate the situation is for them, how on-the-precipice they feel, even though their husbands don't often recognize it.

Sally, a mother of two in Indiana, imagined she'd be the perfect stay-at-home mom because she's very nurturing. "I now realize I need to get out and have more time alone than full-time motherhood allows," Sally says. "More than that, there are times I don't enjoy being a mom. I never expected to have those feelings. I get so overwhelmed and frustrated, and I am not the person I want to be with them." Unable to accept her emerging Jekyll and Hyde personalities at home, Sally returned to full-time work. Indeed, researchers tell us, work seems to buffer new moms from depression, and stay-at-home moms have harder emotional travails.

After all, guilt is an equal opportunity employer. Mommies at home feel guilty for not making the most of their college educations and alternatively for not being able to master household tasks given their supposedly freer schedules. Frequently, moms at home expressed their frustration at feeling sluggish and stuck, unable to complete a multitude of projects with which they'd charged themselves. "I could gaze at my daughter all day long," says a former lingerie designer with a six-month-old dumpling. "It's almost easier to succumb to doing one thing rather than fourteen. Except at the end of the day, I can't believe how little I've accomplished."

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