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Deciding Between Being SAH Mom
or Working Part Time

QUESTION: I recently returned to my part-time job after the birth of our second daughter. Since returning, I have had a very difficult time making the decision of whether I want to continue working or become a stay-at-home mom. The fear of doing the right thing haunts me. In my heart, I believe being a full-time mom is in the best interest of my two daughters and husband, but how do I know if have made the right decision?

There is no "right" or "wrong" decision. If you should choose to stay home with your children, particularly when they are quite young, that does not mean you will not want to pursue work or other activities that interest you outside of motherhood as your children grow!

Consider the ages of your children and their needs, as well as your own needs and desires. You are working part-time. Are you enjoying it? Or are you missing your children more than you are gaining emotionally from your outside work? How are your children cared for while you are away? Are they in the care of their father or another relative who has a loving investment in their development? If they are in paid care, what is the quality of caretaking? How are the children adapting to the current situation?

Talk with your husband about this decision. You are a team. What do the two of you believe and feel to be in the best interests of your children? What are your needs and desires?

Be suspicious of basing your decision on "all or nothing" scenarios. Life is about change. You can devote your time and energy to your children, particularly in the first three years of development, and rest assured that if you are content to do so, they will benefit from your availability. You will get to know who they are from an early age. And these are precious years of development which cannot be recovered, should you feel later on that you missed out!

Your children will eventually and gradually grow out of their dependency on you. As they grow older, they begin friendships and relationships of their own. Though you remain primary to them, you do recede in importance. So there may be plenty of time for pursuit of other activities, even as soon as the next year or two.

Consider their dependency on you and your needs, which when fulfilled will make you emotionally (as well as physically) available to them. The purpose of family is to nurture the development of all of its members over the course of a lifetime. Determine what the most beneficial balance is in your present family system. But do not "pigeonhole" your identity. You are a woman who is also a mother. Not the other way around!

The label "stay-at-home mother" does not give credence to an identity that leaves room for anything outside of motherhood. Very often, when women become mothers they forget they are people first, with needs outside of the role of mother. Unfortunately, society forgets this, too!

Be careful not to confuse a choice to stay home with young children for your identity. Loss of identity to motherhood will cause depression later. You may choose to appropriately delay or slow down your pursuit of a career (or other interests) while your children are quite young, but this does not mean that you ignore your own development as a person.

Motherhood is an expansion, not a replacement, for your sense of self. Every woman is an individual. You must determine what immersion of your fulfillment should come from being a "mother" in concert with your children's changing needs. Do not back off from fulfillment in motherhood. This is a part of your identity! But refrain from making decisions based on guilt for either staying home or working part time. Enjoy your role as "mother" fully, in whatever form contributes to you being more of the unique woman that you are!

Remember, nothing is set in stone! Remain true to your values and beliefs. You know what is best for your family as a whole. And expect this balance to change over the course of the family life cycle.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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