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Let's end the debate

Over the past several days, my social media feeds have been filled with remarks either for or against Friday's comments by President Obama regarding stay-at-home moms.  I must admit, the only parenting topic on which I've seen more impassioned arguments is the choice to breastfeed or not.  The problem that I seen with all of these remarks is that they are truly arguments - never discussion on the greater topic.  And, the reason I believe this is true is because the situation (I won't call it a choice because for some parents it is not one) of staying at home is deeply personal and emotional.  So, how do we move beyond these arguments to truly understand the nature of staying home with kids?  Here are my thoughts...

Staying at home to raise kids - whether it be the mother or father - is not a decision based on simply one factor.  If it were simply a factor of economics, then it would be easy:  If you need money, then you continue working.  If you don't need the money, then you stay home.  The problem is that staying at home is not simply a decision based off of economics.  Yes, economics is a huge part of the equation because, to oversimplify the argument (as I did above) isn't even the beginning of the economic factors.  One must take into account, can you afford to stay home and - even if you can afford to stay home - will your quality of life be maintained both now and in the future (i.e., retirement).  Are there features in your life that you are not willing to part with due to decreased income - are the expectations you have on your family's expenses realistic and supportable?  Have you considered that, while childcare expenses may decrease if one parent stays home, other expenses may increase?  What happens if you choose to go to one income source and that source is later lost either due to downsizing, injury or death?  These are just a few of the economic factors.  We haven't even begun to question job benefits such as health insurance.

If we were truly basing the decision on whether or not to stay at home on economics, then I would argue we need to bring to light the skyrocketing costs of childcare and education.  We have elevated the demand for childcare to the point that the supply cannot be filled.  I cannot find a teenaged babysitter who charges less than $10/hour in my area. Daycare space is limited and waiting lists are long - some having only one enrollment date which, if you are unlucky enough to have had your child born during a period which doesn't mesh with this enrollment date, then you must wait an entire year to even be considered.  Public schools are decreasing the number of days in which children attend school, some even have weekly early dismissals requiring extra childcare.  Private schools are cost prohibitive to lower income families and many single income families.  After school options cost money. 

But, now, let's consider some of the other factors that must be a part of the conversation on whether or not to stay home.  Do you enjoy work?  What will the impact - beyond economic - be of multiple years away from your job?  Is your career field one in which you must continue employment in order to stay on top of technology, knowledge or skill?  Who do you want raising your children?  Do you have a support system surrounding you and your family?  What will you do if you stay home?  How will you entertain both your kids and yourself?  Do you have a personality where you need to be around people and, if so, how will you stay engaged with others while staying home?  Do your children need the socialization of other children?  There are all questions to ask and there are thousands more.  However, one of the most important questions surrounding this topic - and one of the least vocalized - is, do you enjoy kids?  Let's face it, they're not always enjoyable.  You may love your kids beyond anything else you can compare, but that doesn't mean you're going to enjoy raising them.  Being around anyone 24/7 is hard.  Being around a child or multiple children who don't yet understand the rules of your home or the world around them is exhausting.

Staying at home with children is an immensely personal, deeply emotional, multifaceted decision.

 

With all of these factors to consider, it's no wonder that there has been so much debate over choosing to stay home with kids or choosing to remain in the workforce.  However, this isn't the debate we should be having as it's a no-win situation.  We will never come to consensus on which is the better option because the truth is it depends on the parent, the kid(s), and the situation.  The true debate should be

Why do we choose to continue this debate?

 

Let's instead recognize that, by continuing this debate, we are diminishing the value of a parent's right to parent in the way that they see fit for their family.  Let's recognize that there are parents working who wish they could be staying home with their children, and there are parents staying home with their children who with they could be working.  There are also parents who are truly happy to be working and parents who are truly happy they are staying home.

Let's recognize that just because a parent chooses to stay at home doesn't mean they aren't working.  They may not be pursuing paid employment, but they could very well be continuing skills obtained either through their education or work training in a volunteer aspect.  I know teachers who chose to leave the workforce but are now homeschooling their children.  I chose to continue my education and career training by volunteering in numerous nonprofit positions - even going so far as to being the president of a nonprofit board.

Let's also recognize that just because a parent chooses to remain in the workforce doesn't mean they aren't raising their kids.  I'm continually amazed at the number of working parents I know who volunteer their time on school field trips, coaching sports, or - without second thought - dropping their work to run and pick up a sick child from school.


All of us are trying to find our own balance in a society that tells us we can have it both ways, but I've yet to see this actually be proven true.  

 

What I consider to be one of the most important items for consideration as we stop this debate on staying home/not staying home is beginning the conversation on what can we do as families, neighbors, communities, and a society to support families?  If we believe that it takes a village to raise a child, then we must also recognize that each person within the village must have different roles.  You must have the primary caretaker, the income earner, the educator, the healer, the spiritual leader, the entertainer, and more.  Let's not devalue one of these roles, but instead understand that each is vital.

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