Deciding to Stay at Home

by Amber Strocel*

When I attended mom and baby groups during my maternity leave, the same question always came up: “So, are you going back to work?” Returning to work or staying home is a hot-button issue for moms, and it’s not an easy decision to make. We may love our jobs and we may relish the grown-up time. But leaving your little one can be hard. Finding good childcare can be hard and expensive. A decision that seemed very clear when you were pregnant can feel much less clear when you have a baby in your arms.

I have two children, so I have made this decision twice. After my first maternity leave I returned to work. A flexible work schedule, including two days a week from home, made it a little easier. All the same, I felt pulled in two very different directions. I wanted to be a good employee, but I felt like I wasn’t as dedicated to my job as in my pre-baby days. And of course I wanted to be a good mom, but sometimes I felt my child was taking a back seat to my employer. Neither my work nor my family got my full, undivided attention.

When I was expecting my second child, 3 1/2 years after my first was born, I fully expected to do the same thing. But right around the time my son was born in August of 2008, the whole economy fell apart. Tens of thousands of people were laid off, and I ended up being one of them. Towards the end of my maternity leave I got a phone call letting me know that there wouldn’t be a job to go back to.

Mother and baby in home office with laptop

Being laid off forces you to take stock, and that’s what I did. I knew I didn’t want to enter such a tough job market. I also knew that it would be very hard to find the same kind of job flexibility with a brand new employer. And having one child already, I knew how quickly kids grow. I decided to extend my maternity leave indefinitely and stay home for a while.

Deciding to stay home was not easy for me. I am an engineer, and I earned slightly more than my husband. Losing my income meant a big lifestyle shift for us. It also changed my identity. I hesitated when someone I just met asked me what I did. I worried that others wouldn’t value me if I was ‘just’ a mom. Even so, I was very lucky to be able to make this choice. It is not possible for every family. I believe that one day I will look back on this time fondly, and I don’t take a second of it for granted.

In the 5 1/2 years since my first child was born, I have done it all. I have worked from home, and outside of the home. I have stayed home and I have done small freelancing jobs that I fit around my children’s schedules. I have learned that there is no single right answer. There are upsides and downsides to every choice you make, and the best you can do is find the upsides and downsides that work for you. I have also learned that no matter what, you will always be your kids’ mom. Working or not, nothing can change that.

Have you made the decision to leave the working world, temporarily or permanently, to spend time with your children? How did you make that decision? I would love to hear from you!



Email Author    |    Website About Amber Strocel*

Amber is a crunchy granola mom of two, a suburban superstar and an incorrigible dreamer. She spends her days trying to organize chaos, and eating chocolate on the sly. You can read about her daily adventures on her blog at Strocel.com or check out her quest to help other moms live with intention at Crafting my Life.

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heather July 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I was somewhat forced to stay home also. Not after maternity leave but a little later after a long term work injury. It was a hard time adjusting but so worth it now.

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2 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

It really IS worth it, in the long run. I’m glad that it worked out for you, but I’m sorry about your work injury. That can’t have been fun, no matter the outcome.

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3 Susan S. July 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm

My choice was half and half… leaning towards staying home, and the economic upheaval hit the publishing company where I worked as well. While my job wasn’t eliminated at the time, a beloved boss was going back overseas – which made my decision to leave easier. We are now awaiting baby #2 any day now!

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4 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Congratulations on your second – such exciting times for you!

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5 Jane Bingo sites July 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm

You made the right decision by staying home. I know it might have been tough, but it just makes you a better person. Thank you for sharing this with us.

-jane

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6 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Aw, thanks Jane! That is so kind of you to say. :)

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7 Allison July 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I was a working mom for 1.5 years after my son was born. That was the hardest 1.5 years of my life. I returned to a job that was not nearly as flexible as they claimed they would and who was not supportive my my breastfeeding/pumping. I was miserable, and I didn’t feel that the company was going in a direction that allowed me room to grow. So as soon as we were able, I quit. It’s not been 10 months and I couldn’t be happier. I plan to stay home with our future kids too, and hope that along the way I can do a little freelancing to keep my mind happy.

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8 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I’m glad that staying home has worked for you. And I can say that doing a little bit of freelancing is great for me. It gives me something to focus on once in a while, which is great.

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9 Amys blah, blah, blogging July 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I decided to become a stay at home mom the moment I saw my daughter for the first time. I was in the delivery room crying out, “I can’t leave her!!” And I was on a 12 week leave at the time. I just knew it would not be possible for me personally to hand this little bug over to another person to care for and to love. My husband at just replied, “I guess we’ll have to find a way.” Here we are 4 1/2 years and another baby later and I’m still so fortunate to be here. :)

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10 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm

It’s amazing how actually seeing your baby can change your perspective, isn’t it? I’m so glad you were able to make it work!

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11 Sandra K321 July 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm

We sound a lot alike. I was also an engineer working for a company that designed modems and other communication devices. I went back to work 6 weeks after each of my 2 sons were born. My plan was to work until the oldest reached 5th grade, at which point he wouldn’t be able to go to daycare anymore and I didn’t want them to be home alone. We had good daycares and I thought it was better to have them go to daycare/preschool when they were young and for me to be home with them once they got to the age when they were involved in clubs, sports, etc., and needed rides home or just to be able to watch them play soccer, etc. My plan almost worked.

I got laid off when my oldest was in 4th grade, a year earlier than what I originally planned. I had been at my previous job for over 20 years at that point and had a lot of leeway as far as leaving early if I had to if the kids were sick or to take them to dr.’s appointments, etc. If I had to start a new job and juggle being a mommy and an employee that was fully committed to their work, it would have been hard. My husband works out of state during the week (also an engineer) so I was on my own Monday through Friday with the kids. I just collected unemployment and then decided to start my “retirement” early. I didnt’ have my kids until I was almost 40 so I had put in plenty of time working before that. Our mortgage was paid off and we had no major debts. For us this was the best decision.

And I think it was the right one. My oldest son graduated high school last month as salutatorian of his class and is going to an excellent university in the fall. My younger also has fantastic grades, as well as being on varsity sports teams and spending his free time volunteering.

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12 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:19 pm

We DO sound a lot alike. I can also relate to your husband being away – my husband works in TV and is on the road a lot. Even when he is home during the week, he’s often working an odd schedule. It means there’s no one to fall back on.

I’m glad that your decision worked for you. And a big congratulations to your oldest son!

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13 Nanny Expert July 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Since my first child was born 12 years ago, I have had the chance to work on all points of the spectrum – from working full-time (5+ days/week in the office and traveling) to staying at home full-time. My place on the spectrum has changed with each new baby and each big milestone – most recently when my youngest started school full-time.

My advice to moms starting out on this journey is not to view the decision to stay-at-home or stay-at-work as a permanent, all-or-nothing choice – because it doesn’t have to be. Make your decision, but keep your options open as best you can – and evaluate where you are and where you want to be every year – in your career and in your family life.

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14 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm

That is great advice! I think it holds for so many parts of parenting. Kids change so quickly, so it’s good to keep your mind open and re-evaluate periodically. Thanks for sharing!

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15 Deb - Mom of 3 Girls July 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I went back to work after my older two girls were born, but not because I wanted to. I was one of those who never really even thought twice about it while pregnant – of course I was going to go back, because I had no choice. I was the main breadwinner for our family and also carried our health insurance. Once that first baby was born though… I desperately wanted to stay home with her, but there was no way to make it work. Things were the same after my second daughter was born almost 2 years later. When we had our third daughter, both my husband and I were in different jobs and we took the leap to extend my maternity leave, but things fell through and I went back to work (a different job) when my baby was 6 months old.

Like you, I felt the same way – neither my employer or my family were ever getting enough of my time and energy, and I felt pulled in so many different directions. And also like you, I had matters taken out of my hands when I was laid off in 2008. My youngest was 2-1/2. Since then I’ve been home with virtually no prospects for a new full-time job, so I’ve had to get creative with ways to try and earn extra money. Thankfully my husband now has a job that offers health insurance and he works a lot of overtime to make up some of the difference. It’s not the ‘best’ option and I am still looking for full-time work so that we don’t lose our house, but it’s at least kept us afloat, for now. And I’m so glad that I’ve had this time home with my girls too.

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16 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I am Canadian, and so I am very lucky because health insurance isn’t really much of a consideration. I can imagine it would BIG for you, especially with little ones to think of.

I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed this time, and I hope that you find some work that works for you, and soon.

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17 jennifer July 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for your comment. I am in the same shoes as you. Laid off in 08 and looking. Love staying at home, but still trecking for a new job.

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18 Sheila July 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I told my husband long before we were married that I wanted to stay home with my kids. We waited to get married until we were in a position to live on one income. Then his company collapse a month before our wedding. Though we both got new jobs, it was a struggle, especially since I got pregnant a month after the wedding. Since I knew I wanted to stay home, I socked away about two-thirds of my paycheck and we did our best to live on his. Still, we knew we could only live on his income for a short time before we ran through the savings.

Luckily he managed to find a better job just after the baby was born, though the hours and commute are worse. So we’re just scraping by. We want to put away for savings, though, and pay off our large college debt, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for at-home work. Since I’m a teacher, I started passing the word around that I’d be interested in tutoring at my home. Instead, my old school contacted me, asking if I’d like to teach one class a day. And the best of it was I would be able to take my baby with me! I accepted the job, and it starts in the fall. I sure hope it works out. I’m hoping to wear the baby in a sling, and the office will take him if he gets fussy. I’m terrified of failing to meet his needs because I’m working — especially because I’m not planning to nurse and teach at the same time — but I think with one class a day we’ll be okay. Here’s hoping!

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19 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Wow, that is an amazing offer! I am sure it will work out. Your little guy will get used to the routine soon, and so will you, and it will become second nature. Good luck!

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20 Krista July 13, 2010 at 3:46 am

Wow, you are incredibly lucky – and must be an awesome teacher for them to let you bring your baby! ;)
I’m jealous!

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21 Nicole July 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I knew I wouldn’t be going back to my job after my first was born. I was a quantitative analyst, working on a natural gas trading floor, and it was high stress work with a lot of hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up. But, my employer offered me a consulting position at the end of my maternity leave, which I turned down as I was already three months pregnant with my second.

I still get asked all the time if I am going to go back to work, and the answer is no. Unless there was a serious change in our situation, I am fully committed to staying at home. I have no problem filling my days with volunteering at the school and other, smaller commitments. I’m happy this way, and my family does best, I think, with me here.

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22 Amber Strocel July 12, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I’m glad that you’ve found the best solution for you! I think that knowing what works and what doesn’t for your family is so important. :)

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23 Laura July 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm

I gave my notice last week when my employer wouldn’t approve a switch to part-time, so your article has perfect timing. There was no way I could go back full-time and be away from our little guy 11+ hours a day/5 days a week. I work for a publishing company (and have for the last decade) so will therefore have the opportunity to freelance eventually, which helped make my decision. Although I know being here with our baby will be the most rewarding thing I can do, I have to admit I’m terrified of feeling a little trapped and bored. I keep hearing that routine and getting out are key. Is this true in your experience?

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24 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 1:08 am

I am not that good at routine, but I do get out a lot. I definitely find that having that outside interaction is even more important when you’re otherwise at home all day. I’ve also found that being focused and taking advantage of the time that you have is really important.

I know that you can do this, good luck!

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25 Patty Reiser July 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm

With my first child, 17 years ago, I was a newly widowed mother so I had no choice but to go back to work. With my son, who is almost 7, I initially returned to work. After 6 months of trying to do it all (breastfeeding, working, etc) I couldn’t take it anymore so I decided to walk away from my job so stay home and raise my children. And this fall I am further making the leap to homeschool my son. It has been a sacrafice but definitely worth it.

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26 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 1:08 am

It really is a leap, but one that many of us are glad we made. Good luck with the next adventure in homeschooling!

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27 Patty Reiser July 13, 2010 at 2:41 am

Thank you Amber. We are looking forward to this home school adventure. May create a whole new blog. :-)

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28 Jasmine July 12, 2010 at 10:00 pm

I knew from the moment I got married I wanted to stay home when we had children. I got my wish and have been home since my firstborn – 13 years now. I love it. I feel it is an honor and one of the highest callings a woman has. After seeing my baby and watching him grow into a toddler – I then had to make a choice about school – I interviewed several preschools and after seeing what I saw – we prayed and decided to homeschool too. It’s been quite a journey, but one that I’m happy we chose. Thanks for sharing. Great Post.

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29 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 1:09 am

It’s so important that we are happy and confident in our choices. It sounds like you are – that’s so awesome! Best wishes on your homeschooling journey, too.

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30 Narelle July 12, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I’m also an engineer, but got made redundant during the Financial Crisis, when my son was 11 days old. I’d always sat on the fence about what I wanted to do career/stay-at-home-wise when I was pregnant as I really didn’t know how I’d handle being a parent. In some ways, I was glad the decision was taken out of my hands. I mostly enjoy staying at home, but starting my blog was one of the best things I did, to carve out a little bit of me-time and to help retain my own identity. I’m still conscious that I don’t want to look like a stay-at-home Mum, even though I have no plans in the immediate future of going back to work – I try to dress at least smart-casual (but still comfortable) and look after my appearance. I’m not sure why – I’ve never really cared about what other people thought of me – maybe just because so much of my identity in the past was defined by my brains and professionalism.

Thanks for your article – it’s nice to hear of others with similar stories.

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31 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 1:10 am

I agree – blogging is a HUGE outlet for me, too. It’s something that is all mine, and I love that about it. I also like stretching my brain in a new direction through writing.

Best wishes!

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32 Betsy July 13, 2010 at 12:01 am

I have worked part-time or full time since my son was born (17 years ago). I am a nurse, my husband is a minister, my schedule has always been flexible enough that our son has always had a parent at home taking care of him. I did get the best of both worlds.

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33 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 1:11 am

I did enjoy my part-time schedule while I had it. I really wish it was an option that more people had. As an engineer, it’s not so easy to find, which is a big part of why I’m home now. I’m glad that you found a choice that worked for you!

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34 Dominique July 13, 2010 at 1:16 am

I took about 2 years off work after the birth of each child. I am intending to take 2 years off again after #3 is born in Sept as the 1st two years of their life needs the most attention and we do not have really good infant care around here.

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35 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:09 pm

The first years really are the most critical, and the hardest to find good care for. Good luck with your new little arrival in September!

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36 Krista July 13, 2010 at 3:49 am

I’m a teacher and taught right up until the week before my first son was born. They wanted me to come back in the fall, but I decided I didn’t want to do the extra schooling required for me to keep that particular position. Especially with a newborn in the house!
Now, 3 years later I have 2 boys and I’m so glad I get to stay home with them and “just” be the mom. Teaching is one of those jobs where during the school year you work all the time. The only good thing is that eventually when they are in school I will be able to go back to work and be on the same schedule as they are. My mom did the same thing and it’s such a benefit.
Of course that wasn’t the main reason to be a teacher, I love it too, especially after a year in industry, I knew I wanted to go back and get my teaching degree! Having the flexible schedule for my kids in the future is an added benefit!

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37 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I’m glad that staying home is working for you right now. And I really do think that being able to share holidays with your kids is a MAJOR upside of teaching. I know that my teacher friends are very glad to have that benefit.

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38 Serendipity is Sweet
Twitter:
July 13, 2010 at 7:48 am

With my first, I had planned on going back to work, but after my son was born I had a bout with post-partum depression. I took 12 weeks maternity/disability leave and was preparing to go back, but some changes at my employer coupled with a tough time finding quality child care changed my mind.
It was very tough the first few years on my husband 2nd class Navy salary. I had been making more money than him. We struggled a lot in the beginning. I have always worked from home doing what I could to bring in a little money…freelancing or MLM or just selling stuff on ebay. Looking back there have been very few month over the past 10 years when I haven’t worked at all. Still, I don’t consider myself a work at home mom.

I think finding the perfect balance is the hardest part, and being flexible is key. Good luck to all the other moms out there!! And remember, if your situation isn’t working for you, change it! Life is a journey. Don’t get stuck in an unhappy place. There are always options. Even small changes can be empowering and make a difference!

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39 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:12 pm

This is so true! Often we have way more options than we recognize. No choice has to be either-or, we can tailor our situations to work for us. Thanks for the encouragement!

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40 Kelli July 13, 2010 at 9:54 am

I, too, was forced to stay home shortly after child #2 was born. I stayed out of the workforce for quite a few years and had child number 3. :-) When he was about 6 months old, I went back to work for a little over a year and again was cut back. I received unemployment and started blogging. :-) I am still not really making enough to be home and there is no more unemployment, but we are managing and I don’t want to go back. LOL!

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41 Mrs. Wilson July 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I chose to take six-month and seven-month maternity leaves with my first and second children, respectively. I didn’t have a choice, I NEEDED to go back to work. But I didn’t want to.

We just did a move that now allows me to only work two days a week and I LOVE it. I feel a weight in the pit of my stomach every time I have to bring my kids to daycare, and I’m so thankful that I only have to do it two days a week now.

Totally off topic, but I saw that you’re attending the pre-BlogHer meetup in Vancouver. I’ll see you there!

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42 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:14 pm

I wish that I could make the pre-BlogHer meetup! Unfortunately, I have a prior commitment. Perhaps we’ll meet some other time.

And back to the topic at hand – I’m so glad that you’ve found an arrangement that works a little better for you. I found that really made a major difference to my outlook at work, as well. It’s hard to stay focused when you’re worried about your kids.

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43 Mrs. Wilson July 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Whoops! Forgot to look at the author of this post.

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44 Christina July 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I make a lot more than my spouse, especially with bonuses, so I’ve been the breadwinner since my children were born. I was home for one extended leave (maternity leave + 8 weeks) and that by far was much, much easier than handling both full-time work and a household. I’m saving and saving and hope to retire early!

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45 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Just because you work doesn’t mean you’re off-duty at home, for sure. It’s such a tough balancing act.

I hope that you’re able to save enough to retire early!

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46 Tina July 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Unfortunately in this day and age many people need the salaries to provide a halfway decent lifestyle for themselves. More power to the women that can be stay at home mom’s. I can only dream.

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47 Amber Strocel July 13, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I understand that being at home is unattainable for many moms. The cost of living is very high, and salaries aren’t keeping pace. I hope that, whatever your situation, you can find some happiness and peace in it.

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48 Jay July 14, 2010 at 12:31 am

I was let go from my job right before we go pregnant, I saw this as a blessing in the long run – especially when I had terrible morning sickness that left me incapable of doing work anyways! My husband really hoped I would be a stay at home mom and I fell into it and LOVED it. I have done freelance projects and have rediscovered myself by being a mom to now my 2 kids (Ariel almost 4 and Xander almost 1) It is a hard job and I am thankful that my hubby was able to do some side projects to keep the budget up to cover me at home. Sure we don’t own a house yet, or drive the best car, but we have 2 great kids that are getting a mom to be at home – priceless!

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49 Amber Strocel July 15, 2010 at 12:28 am

I’m so glad that things worked out for you in the long run. It’s so amazing how that can happen, isn’t it?

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50 Susan July 14, 2010 at 12:47 am

I just love when life works out like that… when the decision is made for you and it’s the best one anyway.

Thank you again so much for sharing this post with us here. I’ve been loving reading all the discussion.

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51 Amber Strocel July 15, 2010 at 12:29 am

Thank YOU so much for letting me share this post. I am loving all of the fabulous comments and discussion. :)

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52 shelly July 14, 2010 at 9:58 am

With my first, I went back to work. Luckily, I was a teacher and he was born towards the end of the school year so I had the whole summer at home with him. It was still hard to leave him every day. With this one, I’m hoping to be able to work from home for a while.

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53 Amber Strocel July 15, 2010 at 12:29 am

I hope that you’re able to work from home, too! Good luck. :)

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54 obanator July 15, 2010 at 2:52 am

Yes, it is never easy to juggle work and be a mom at same time. You have responsibilities for both your family and your employer. This can be really tough to handle since you have to choose your priorities. And mostly, it’s the children that come first since they’re always been the reason why parents work so hard. But if work gets in the way of being a good mom it can be hard for the kids. In the same way, being a mom sometimes gets in the way of work and can lead to losing the job.
Working from home will let you manage your time easily with your kids and work. We all strive to do what is best for our families.

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55 Tanya ~ The Chatty Mom August 4, 2010 at 4:04 am

I also was laid-off…from a family business that allowed me to work at the office or at home WITH my children! Talk about a change. And I’m still (1 year, 5.5 months later) looking for work in my field. There is nothing that I love more than taking care of my children (girls 5 & almost 4) and would love to be able to just freelance or telecommute from home. It just would be the best situation for my little family…they’re used to having Mom around, even if she’s working.

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56 Miechelle August 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I just read this post now and though I am the parent of a 16 year old daughter, it resonated with me. I left a becoming successful business and a solid career as an attorney to emigrate to the States having met my now husband online and the two of us having decided that I would be the one to make the move as there were more opportunities for the both of us in the US than in SA where I hail from. We got here in 2008, also in the middle of the madness and sans green cards etc – those had to be obtained after my marriage. I had actually applied for and, believe it or not, gotten a very good job before I even left SA but they ran out of patience with my very longwinded and arduous visa process (for which I cannot blame them) and so was very eager to commence the job search and start earning. While doing the mad frenzied thing it is to apply for a job in a place you are utterly unfamiliar with (I had to google the address of every job I applied for) my daughter started losing herself – at 14, she was finding the change of environment a tad stressful and understandably so. It took about 4 months of hysteria, of us trying to settle into our new lives, new relationships and a very new world and a lot lot lot of crises until I finally got the idea that I might be doing the best thing for all three of us by staying home and creating something normal – a home – for my husband and daughter to come home to and for me to dwell in so that I could recover from the most hectically stressful period I have ever experienced in my life. I now know for sure that it was the right decision. I no longer feel like a fish out of water and unvaluable because I have to resell myself in a new pond and I am positive that what I am doing with my time during the day is substantially more valuable than any contribution I could make financially. I feel blessed that I am even in the position to have made the decision in the first place but also know that everything happens for a reason and I can live with that :)

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57 stay at home mom jobs August 10, 2010 at 8:11 am

These stay at home mom jobs offer freedom from long and expensive commutes to the corporate world where the hours are extensive and time away from the family is significant.

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