It’s kind of funny that this is even a question, but for women with children, it is. I guess it should be a question for men with children, but it isn’t. I’ve been thinking about my recent post and stumbled onto another one with a similar theme. Before I was married, I never questioned whether I would work or not. I knew a couple of women from both high school and college whose goal was to marry, have kids and stay at home, but for most of the women I knew, the question of whether to stay home or work didn’t arise until after kids came along. For me, the question didn’t arise until pretty recently. When our first kid came along, I was our only income, so there was no question about whether I would work or not. I had to. I had a pretty heated argument with someone who suggested I was shortchanging our son by returning to work. I remember nearly shouting, “Well, who’s going to pay for our food and shelter if I don’t work!” I was pretty steamed. In hindsight, it wasn’t that I felt my adversary was right, but that I resented the dilemma in the first place. Somewhere inside I kind of wanted to stay home. After all, the job I had at the time was just for the money (and the insurance).
Back when my kids were little, I felt like they got good care. I didn’t feel like I needed to be there to read books or play or whatever. We did all that when we were with them and I knew they were getting lots of attention from their caretakers. Now that they’re school age and they’re not really getting anything special out of aftercare programs (or don’t even have aftercare programs), I feel more of a need to be with them, to help them with homework and to help them negotiate social issues that arise. This year, Mr. Geeky has been meeting Geeky Boy after school. On days when he can’t, he calls us and discusses homework and other things. Not ideal, but it works.
Despite the tug of wanting to be at home, I work for three main reasons. First, I work purely for my own personal satisfaction. I need intellectual stimulation. I need to be challenged. I need to be around people. I enjoy solving problems, thinking about issues, etc. I’m not creative enough to create that environment for myself at home. Second, I do it for the money. I enjoy the extra income, and for a long time, we actually needed it. We could probably get by now without it, with a few sacrifices, but I know I appreciate the buffer my income generally gives us. Third, I feel the need to contribute and chose my job accordingly. I think if I were just working for the money, I would not feel as satisfied nor would I feel as compelled to work. If I were a corporate drone of some kind or a salesperson or something along those lines, I don’t think I’d enjoy working. Being part of an educational institution and mission makes me feel like I’m doing some good in the world, even if it’s only for a handful of people. That’s not to say that I feel that if I’d been at home, I couldn’t contribute in some way. It simply reflects my own perception of how I need to contribute. I’m just not the type of person who could get satisfaction out of volunteering by itself.
In other words, my decision to continue working is an individual one and probably different from many other women. There may be women who work purely for the money and are satisfied with that. There are women who don’t work and are satisfied with that. It’s often a complicated decision for many people. A two income family juggles many things in order to make things work. A single income family may have to make certain sacrifices in order to make that situation work. And the world of work doesn’t make either situation all that easy. For one, there’s no in between really. Some jobs are inflexible and involve working long hours, keeping people away from their families and placing undue burden on the spouse at home (if that’s the situation). I feel lucky to have enough flexibility that I can take days off when I need to and could take plenty of time if something tragic happened. That, too, helps me continue to enjoy work, knowing that my workplace would want me to put family first when I need to. If only every workplace had that attitude.