"Mommy? How come you have to go to work?"
As we prepare to leave the house for yet another work day, my preschool daughter asks me a question that’s been ruminating in my head since I first became a mother. The automatic response is something like, "I work because I have to earn money to take care of you. " But somehow that doesn’t seem like the best response.
Thankfully she gets distracted so I’m off the hook, at least to her. I still need to know the answer, for myself.
I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about. Once you have children, work definitely provides necessary financial rewards, but there are also hard costs to consider. For instance, paying for quality child care while you work can consume more than half of your after-tax income.
Yet, working isn’t all about the money. Your career also provides a sense of personal fulfillment and contribution, which for many moms is an important factor in the work/don’t work debate.
If you’re deciding whether (or how much) you should work, begin by weighing the pros and cons.
Pros of working
When you’re working, you can:
- Contribute to your family’s earnings
- Maintain, or advance, your career
- Benefit from intellectual challenges and professional relationships
- Give your children the opportunity to develop social skills in a childcare/school setting
- Feel a personal sense of value and fulfillment
Cons of working
Of course, the downside of working means you may:
- Have increased stress to meet the conflicting demands of work and family
- Not spend as much time with your friends and family
- Be constantly distracted by your family when you’re at work (and visa versa)
- Experience the guilt of leaving your children with a caregiver every day
- Dread the weekend, which have become filled with laundry, chores and shopping
You may have considered these factors hundreds of times, yet still struggle to answer the question, Should I work?
First, it’s important to realize that this isn’t an “all or nothing" question, and it’s not permanent. So whether you decide to stay in your 40-hour-a-week job, work part-time, start a home-based business or quit work altogether, you’re never stuck in that situation forever. This alone may give you some freedom to breathe and see your situation from a fresh perspective.
Next, here are three questions you can ask yourself before deciding whether you should work:
How much do you need to earn?
Nothing beats creating a good, ‘ol fashioned budget! Many families live paycheck to paycheck simply because they haven’t exercised the discipline of basic financial planning. Perhaps this is because the word “budget" can feel constraining and restrictive. Yet, a budget is really your “freedom tool" when used effectively.
Take some time to review your spending in the last month. A quick assessment may reveal that money you think you “need" is really seeping through the cracks. One such crack may be your cable bill, which has a sneaky way of creeping up month after month. But if you’re disciplined, you’ll notice it immediately and can easily negotiate a rock-bottom rate with the cable company (or get rid of it altogether – the husbands cringe!).
So, plug up the cracks (i. e. figure out where you’re just plain overspending!) and then re-assess your budget. You may find that you really can afford not to work!
What’s your motivation for working?
The financial motivation is obvious. Work is a means for earning money that affords you the lifestyle you’re accustomed to living. But, if money were not a factor, would you still work? If so, would you be doing what you’re doing now? Think about what really drives you to stay in your current job.
When you look beyond the financial aspect of work, you may find that you have to work because you thrive on the social interaction or intellectual challenge. Or you hunger to be recognized for your professional achievements. Work provides so many benefits beyond the money. So what keeps you there?
What can you live with?
It’s hard not to be influenced by the social pressures placed on mothers. Consider the flurry of debate ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas created when she announced her decision to leave her post to care for her children. The world wants to tell you how you should parent, yet the world doesn’t have the final say.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to live with your choice. If work is having a negative impact on your family, or yourself (i. e.depression, anxiety, etc. ), then the best decision may be to leave your full-time career. But if you know that leaving work would create even greater stress than staying, then find another option that works for you.
Don’t wait, ACT
You may spend hours, days, months, and years toiling over the question: Should I work? While it is important to carefully consider your options and develop an organized plan, I also urge you to take action. Procrastinating won’t resolve the situation, but action will.
©2006 The Integrated Mother and Michele R. Dortch. All rights reserved. You are free to reprint this article as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Also, please let us know by email to firstname.lastname@example.org where the article will appear. The attribution should read:
“By Michele Dortch of The Integrated Mother, a nationwide coaching and training company providing work/life solutions for working mothers and their employers. Visit http://www.integratedmother.com to sign up for a free Work/Life Makeover Kit. "