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Working Outside the Home: Can Mothers Make It Work?
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Working Outside the Home: Can Mothers Make It Work?

Today, more than 50% of mothers with infants and young children work outside the home. Are you struggling with the decision? Read on to find out what your options are.

Though most mothers work because of financial need, many choose to work for other reasons. Some want to stay on top of a fast-changing career, while others enjoy the intellectual stimulation, camaraderie, and sense of purpose and accomplishment that their work provides. The decision to work or stay at home can be a tough one for new mothers. There are no correct answers, and each woman must evaluate her specific situation before she decides what is best for her.

What Could It Mean for Your Child?

Before making a decision, you need to evaluate the effects—both positive and negative—that working outside the home can have on your child. Whether these effects are positive or negative depend largely on who will be responsible for taking care of your child.

Positives

  • Children under the care of a consistent and nurturing caretaker may develop as well emotionally as do children whose mothers stay home.
  • The mother-child bond should not be damaged.
  • Being exposed to peers, your child will have a chance to develop social skills sooner.
  • Your child will have a chance to develop independence and responsibility at an earlier age.
  • Your child will have more opportunities to learn to trust other adults.

Negatives

  • Due to exposure to other children, your child may have more infections.
  • If your child is sick, the care provider may not be able to take care of your child. For this reason, you may need to find an alternate provider or program. You should also have a back-up option if the sitter is sick.
  • Unless you are certain about the quality of care, there is a risk that your child could receive inadequate care.

Explore More Convenient Work Options

Many women are torn between providing financial support for the family and being a nurturing and supportive full-time mom. Before you make the decision to go back to your full-time job, consider other work options you may have. Could you cut back to part-time? First, you'll need to analyze your spending habits, possibly reduce your expenses, and find out what's available.

Have you considered job sharing? The benefits include part-time hours but frequently higher pay and less stress for you and your employer. Would your employer consider offering you flexible hours? Perhaps you have a job that would enable you to work at home (telecommute) one or more days a week. If not, maybe you could find such a job. Examples of jobs that are best suited for telecommuting include: accounting tasks, clerical, computer programming, desktop publishing, graphic design, internet research, web design, writing, proofreading, copy editing, market research, telemarketing, and recruiting and sales.

When Should You Return to Work?

You need at least six to eight weeks off from work to recover from the birth of your baby and feel somewhat confident about your mothering skills. Four months of maternity leave would be ideal. By four months, your baby will be more apt to sleep through the night and will have formed a more secure attachment. While some child care authorities recommend that mothers should spend as much time as possible with their children during the first two or three years of life, the advantages have not yet been proven. Working mothers with limited options should not feel guilty about returning to work after three or four months.

Getting Child Care

Children under three years of age need a lot of personal care and cuddling and therefore do better with individual or family day care. The most important aspect is finding a caregiver that knows how to provide optimal physical and emotional nurturing for your baby. Different types of child care options include:

In-home Care: Care is provided by someone who comes to your home.

  • Find a family member, friend, professional day sitter or live-in nanny.
  • Try advertising in the newspaper or contacting a nanny service.
  • Check references carefully. Be sure the applicant has qualities that you find important. He or she should be responsible, warm, affectionate, compassionate, playful, and nurturing with children. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions. Some states have agencies that will do background checks on child care providers.

Care in Another Person's Home

  • For this option, you provide transportation, clothing, diapers, bottles, and toys.
  • Again, check references carefully, using the criteria listed above.

In-home Family Day Care: This option provides care for two to seven children in a home setting.

  • The care is less expensive.
  • Children tend not receive as much individual attention.
  • The provider may not be licensed by the state.
  • Interview the care providers extensively, checking references and reputation.

Day Care Center: Twenty or more children may be cared for in one facility.

  • Day care centers are not usually good options for children under age two. Caregivers may not be able to provide the degree of individual attention that an infant requires.
  • Infants may be exposed to more infectious diseases if the providers rotate through rooms with toddlers and older children.
  • Day care centers must be licensed by the state.
  • Ask others for a referral to a reputable day care center, or check the phone book.
  • Interview providers. Spend at least several hours at the day care to observe and make sure that it is the right place for your child.

Taking Care of Yourself

Juggling work and parenting is often very stressful. You may feel like you'll never keep on top of all your responsibilities. One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. Here are some tips:

Find a supportive employer who has family-friendly policies.

You will have a much easier time juggling your responsibilities if your employer is supportive. If he or she is not supportive, look for an employer with family-friendly policies who is receptive to flextime, job sharing, or working at home.

Ask for help.

Develop and utilize a support system of trusted people who can help you in times of need. Your support system may include family members, friends, neighbors, or professionals that you can hire to take care of some of your responsibilities. Magazines and books that deal with the topic of working mothers are available in the public library.

Get your rest.

Even though you're busy, don't shortchange your rest and sleep. Eliminate time-consuming activities that are not essential. Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a regular bedtime schedule. Schedule some time for yourself every day. For example, have your spouse take care of the baby while you enjoy a warm bath and listen to relaxing music.

Forget having a spotless house.

Your house might have been immaculate before the baby, but now you have more important priorities. Find ways to eliminate time spent on housework. Keep the house clean and safe, but don’t fret over clutter. Make large quantities of food and freeze meals ahead of time. If affordable, consider hiring a housekeeper. Ask your spouse, siblings, and parents for help. Assign chores to older children. A rotating schedule of chores might work best for your family.

Don't expect to be supermom.

Don't expect to be able to handle everything perfectly—no one can. You need help and shouldn't feel guilty about asking for it. There will be times when your child is sick, or is very unhappy about being away from you. Accept that you can't afford the luxury of staying home, and always remember that you're doing the best you can.

If you're a single mom, team up with others.

Friends—especially other single moms—may be interested in sharing responsibilities with you, such as shopping, meals, and baby sitting. This can help you save both time and money. If you have no friends who are single moms, look for a group or organization for single parents.

Resources:

National Women's Health Information Center
http://www.womenshealth.gov/

Working Moms—The Working Mom's Resource
http://www.workingmommies.org/



Last reviewed July 2007 by Kari Kassir, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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