How Our Moms' Choices Influenced Our Decisions to Work or Stay Home

How Our Moms' Choices Influenced Our Decisions to Work or Stay Home

Women share short- and long-term effects of having a working or stay-at-home mom.

By: Leah Maxwell

There’s no end in sight to the “mommy wars” that rage between groups of women making different choices for their different families. One of the most hotly contested battles is always that between working moms and moms who stay home with their kids. Statistics, anecdotes, and feelings of pride and guilt (and everything in between) are all part of the debate, but nothing much ever comes of it because most of the participants are too busy defending their own choices to see how much they actually have in common with the other side.

And what do they have in common? Love. Moms who stay home love their kids, and moms who work love their kids, and moms who do some combination of that, or who go to night school or who make huge personal sacrifices or who are doing exactly what they’d always dreamed of doing – they all love their kids too.

How do I know? Because I asked some former kids (a.k.a. adults!) how their lives were affected by having a mom who either stayed home with them full time or left the house to earn money. How did it affect them as kids? How did it shape who they became as adults? How has it manifested in the ways they choose to parent their own children? And did anyone feel that her mom’s work status indicated a lack of love, or are these stories firm reassurance that there are lots of ways to be a good mom?

1. “I can’t imagine my childhood without her working. It is/was totally normal for me. I didn’t know it then, but looking back, many of my friends’ moms were stay-at-home moms, but I never felt ‘different’ for having a working mom. I can say as a parent now that I can’t imagine not working. Not only because she worked but [because] I have no idea how to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve never experienced it. As an adult working parent, I really admire her.” -- Kate D., mom of two and employed full time outside the home

2. “My mom worked in a meatpacking plant. It was a terrible job, but she had limited options as an immigrant with a language barrier. I feel guilty and privileged to be a stay-at-home mom and freelancer because I know my parents’ sacrifices were how I attended one of the best and most expensive universities in the country, and now I’m definitely underemployed for my education. I think at some point I will be back to work and I won’t regret this time.” -- Aleksandra W., mom of two who stays at home with her kids and works part time as a freelance writer

3. “[My mom didn’t work] and we were poor and it was stressful for her. I knew she was stressed at the time. She said she traded security for tea parties and she is happy with her choices 20 years on. I do wonder if her life could have been better. She runs an office now and she is so smart and talented and she was a crap cook and homemaker [but a] good mom. I remember the coolness of her hand when I had a fever and I’m grateful.” -- Rachel F., mom of one and employed full time outside the home

4. “She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but went back to work part time when I was 6 months old because she was bored. She was very good at her job, and she was also a good mom who was home every night, very involved in school and my life. I think she gave me a great example of being a good working mom and balancing both gracefully. I definitely felt like the odd one out ... because my mom worked. But she still attended some school events during the day, was on the PTA, and eventually the school board. She was just the one who attended awards ceremonies in dress slacks and heels. I was embarrassed that she stood out because of how she was dressed, but I wish I hadn’t been. It was a GOOD experience for me, so it’s one I’ve always wanted to follow. I want to be her when I grow up.” -- Katrina R., mom of one and employed full time outside the home

5. “My mom didn’t work outside the home but was PTA president, team mom, room mom, cotillion chairperson, etc. I like that life, and I liked having her around when I was home, so I think that partly shaped my desire to be a stay-at-home mom.” – Megan S., stay-at-home mom of two

6. “My mom works full time as an engineer. Always has. She also did all the home stuff (dinner, cleaning, etc.) and also drove to activities. She feels I should have a high-powered career and wasn’t very supportive of the few years I was a stay-at-home mom. When I explain that we don’t want two intense careers, she doesn’t get it. She feels like she made it work, why can’t I?” -- Eleanor S., mom of three and employed part time at home

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7. “She took several years off when I was born, then went back to work when I was 6 or 7. Although my dad owned a successful business, she was really the breadwinner, so it never occurred to me that women shouldn’t make more than the men they’re with. It’s like that in my relationship now. She hated her job and encouraged me from a very early age to find a way to make a living doing something I enjoyed. And since I do what I love (and it took a major leap of faith to get there), I guess I took it to heart.” -- Kristen S., employed full time from home

8. “My mom was home with us but went back for her BA and master’s when I was a teenager, and then worked as a teacher. I think I took it for granted that she was always there when we needed her, and probably judged her for not doing more. Which is awful and mean. And now I stay home so I have a whole different respect for what she did for us, both working and not. I think it can be hard to get how complicated the choice is.” -- Elizabeth T., stay-at-home mom of one

9. “My mom worked. It affected me a lot once I was in high school. Divorced parents meant that caring for my little sister fell to me. But I also really admired how hard she worked, and I have a very strong work ethic today because of it.” -- Erin J., mom of two and employed full time outside the home

10. “Our mom stayed home and ... I really appreciated having her around. I think it meant that I thought of SAHMing as the default for me (i.e., what I would also want to do?), and it’s been an adjustment to figure out my own path, that having work outside my family life is important to me.” -- Miriel R., mom of one and a full-time grad student


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11. “My mom stayed home until I was in late elementary school and then started working part time. Once I was [older], she worked full time. She was always there, available to volunteer in classes, drive on field trips, and I loved it. That’s why I’m staying home now.” -- Katie G., stay-at-home mom of two

12. “She worked two to three jobs. I missed her a lot. I want to stay home with my kids.” -- Becca S., stay-at-home mom of one

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13. “My mom worked back in the 60s and 70s. I was usually the only one in my class with a working mom. I never felt neglected or ignored or wanted her to NOT work. She was/is a feminist and highly educated and always said she didn’t get a master’s degree so she could stay home.” -- Jane H., mom of two and employed full time outside the home

14. “Mum worked four days a week starting when I was 6. I remember hating it at first, but later I really enjoyed spending time with my dad. I’m an only child and my dad is older, so pretty old school, and it made us really close. Mum worked every Saturday, and I think Dad and I both looked forward to Saturdays!” -- Victoria M., employed full time outside the home

15. “My mom was a nurse until she started having kids ... then she had NINE of us. It absolutely impacted who I am. I still cherish all of the time that I had with her at home. It made me realize how much I would sacrifice to be home with our girls.” --Jen L., stay-at-home mom of two by day, nursing student by night

16. “My mom worked. Because of her, I can be a working mom now. It’s just what she did. And it’s just what I do. She’s also why I give myself a break when things fall through the cracks. It’s not about perfection.” -- Lexi S., mom of four and employed full time outside the home

17. “My mom went back to work [after I was born]. My dad was old school and my mom did it all. It made me look for a partner who would do it all with me … We did great and had more opportunities because she worked. My kids will have the same. I don’t feel guilt like my friends do.” -- Elizabeth R., mom of two and employed full time outside the home

18. “Mine was a stay-at-home mom and I feel like it was a gift to me and my sister. We may not have had the benefit of seeing her work outside the home, but she brought real presence and purpose to being home with us. Now, as a parent, knowing how much of a stay-at-home mom’s job is sheer drudgery, I think I am learning even more from her -- her grace, patience, and engagement is my guide for how I want to be for MY kids, both when I’ve worked outside the home and as a SAHM.” -- Kristin C., stay-at-home mom of three

Did your mom work or stay home, and how has that affected your own decisions as an adult?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

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