“I’ve NEVER met a mom who said she wished she’d worked more”

IMG_1324Most people who post comments on this blog do so on the most recent posts. But sometimes someone finds a post from past years floating around the internet somewhere, and the person wanders here to leave a comment. When I'm moderating comments I see them in the order they come in, so this one, excerpted in the title, was on top of the queue yesterday.

The commenter was writing about my 2014 review of The Nesting Place. The review was not necessarily about mothers working, per se, though the topic did come up. The gist of the story is that the author of The Nesting Place was in dire financial straits in part because she expected her husband to provide for the family, which he turned out to have some trouble doing. They moved 14 times, once needing to get rid of the family dog in the process. Once she took over the breadwinning role, the family started doing a lot better. I noted that this might have been a topic for the couple to discuss earlier, but both were wedded to certain narratives of which gender was supposed to do what.

Our commenter noted, quite reasonably, that in a true partnership, a parent who stays home with the kids has an equally important role as the breadwinning parent. But then we got this: "I think, if Laura is honest with herself, there may be a tiny bit of resentment toward moms who are afforded the luxury of raising their own children versus having a daycare do it. I've met many women who've said they wish they could have been home with their kids in those early formative years. I've NEVER met a mom who said she wished she'd worked more."

Leaving aside speculation about my finances or resentment or what have you, it is interesting to raise the question of the "luxury" of full time caregiving. I blame Lisa Belkin's 2003 New York Times article, The Opt-Out Revolution, for creating a misleading impression among the public of who stay-at-home moms are. Belkin wrote a smart, well-researched and influential story about corporate executives, lawyers and Wall Street high-flyers who left the work force because their similarly credentialed husbands earned enough that they could. These women's stories are important if one is trying to figure out why more women aren't in the top echelons of the working world. But these rarified families aren't exactly typical. In reality, the average stay-at-home mom is younger, and has less education than the average mom in the workforce. When Redbook and I surveyed stay-at-home moms last spring, we found the majority lived in families earning less than $75,000 a year. If mom cannot earn enough to cover the cost of childcare, then families decide it makes sense — at least in the short run — for her to stay home. (Unfortunately, many families also can't actually afford to go without mom's income either. It's quite a bind, leading to the rise of a lot of freelancing during nap time and the like. Redbook and I found that a third of SAHMs worked during the previous day, and six in ten contributed income to their families).

While our commenter claims to have never met a mom who wished she'd worked more, this may be a matter of not looking very hard. When the Pew Research Center surveyed mothers about their choices in 2012, they found that only 20 percent of all mothers said their ideal situation would be not to work at all. Indeed, of mothers who are not employed, about 40 percent say they'd like to work part-time, and 22 percent would like to work full time. That's quite a few mothers who'd like to work more. Indeed, it's the majority of mothers currently at home with their children.

But I think the most problematic part of this comment — well, other than the idea that 40 hours of childcare out of 168 hours in a week means someone else is raising your kid — is that work and time with kids are inevitably at odds with each other. This can only be true if work and childcare are the only activities that fill women's time. In reality, women do a variety of things with their hours. They sleep, for instance. They do housework. They do errands. Some might watch TV. I found a statistic the other day that the average social media consumer spends 116 minutes per day on these sites. Women spend time in the car. They see friends, their spouses, and other family members. They volunteer. They read. They exercise or do hobbies. Time with children and time spent at work could both rise if some of the other categories fell enough. Over the entire population, this is exactly what happened between the 1960s and today. Women started doing a lot less housework. Indeed, there was almost an hour by hour trade-off, averaged over the entire population, of housework for paid work. Time spent with children rose.

Anyway, I know on a personal level that if I wanted to work more, I could do so without spending a second less with my children. I could work at night more instead of reading. I do not have to run every day. I could spend less time distracted on the internet. Indeed, looking back on my life, I imagine I could have written another book or two, or promoted them better, if I spent more time working and less time reading silly headlines and getting sucked into pointless online discussions. So there we go. If we're making sweeping statements based on anecdotes, our commenter can say she now knows at least one mom who would have liked to have worked more.

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73 Responses to “I’ve NEVER met a mom who said she wished she’d worked more”


  1. Laura I don’t usually leave links in the comment field, but I think you won’t mind:

    http://carriewillard.com/biggest-money-mistakes/

    The commenter you mentioned might be surprised to see that THIS woman DOES wish she had worked more when her babies were small.

    It’s one of my biggest money regrets. Economic dependence, in part, did a number on my confidence. It led me to stay years too long in an abusive, adulterous marriage, and left a legacy that it will take me years to undo (no savings, no retirement investing – although I did manage to get out of debt).

    • @Carrie – thank you for posting the link! It’s a very helpful one, and definitely germane to this discussion. I didn’t even go into the topic of divorce and the proportion of women who’ve experienced divorce who probably wish they’d worked more because it would have improved their earning capacity later on when they and their families really needed it. Your story is very inspiring of being able to get out and start over.

  2. gwinne says:

    I’m actually doing some research right now related to the ‘opt-out revolution’ so this is very timely for me.

    I could write a long comment, but I’m pressed for time.

    I’m a single mother. Working is not a choice but a necessity.

    One thing that struck me here, though, is the 40 of 168 hrs you mention above really doesn’t add up to an accurate counter-argument to the original comment. I certainly spend time with my kids….but the fact of the matter is that my preschool-aged son spends MOST of his waking hours with other childcare providers in order that I can do my job. I’m not saying that’s wrong (or right, for that matter) but it is a fact. It’s not about how *I* use my 168 hours; it’s about his. And given the fact that I need to drop him off BEFORE I can work, his ‘workdays’ are longer than mine.

    • @gwinne- I look forward to learning what you discover in your research!

      As for the “waking hours” calculation, this can probably go different ways depending on kid, age, family, sleep style, etc. After much (TOO MUCH) variability, my 2-year-old has roughly settled into a routine of waking at 6, taking a 2.5 hour nap, and going to bed at 7:30. Were he in daycare 8:30-5:30 M-F, he would spend 32.5 waking hours per week there (9 per day minus 2.5 for nap) and 4.5 per workday not there (22.5 per workweek) plus the 11 waking hours on each weekend day (22 total) for a total of 44.5 waking hours. I would not be spending the entirety of that with him, of course, but that’s what the split would be. And that would be on a week with no sick days, snow days, holidays, etc., which can quickly add up.

      Of course, when the kid doesn’t sleep well, all bets are off on the calculation…

      • Griffin says:

        I feel like what Gwinne is getting at is quality of time with young children. If I were still in Boston, the “launch to work and day-care/school” time would begin around 7:30 a.m. and end at 6 p.m., leaving very little quality time with my children Monday – Friday. I try to tell myself an accurate narrative about how I spend my time, but how I feel about my time and relationships cannot be quantified.

        • gwinne says:

          Exactly.

          My son isn’t lacking in either quantity or quality hours from me on the weekends (which, yes, add up to about a total of 26 waking ones right there). But during the school week, it’s drive home-dinner-bath-bed which is about 3.5 hrs/day, and very little of that high quality.

          I might reassure myself that I do the nice mom thing and read him a book at drop off….but that’s a minimal time commitment as I’m rushing off to a meeting at 8:15 a.m.

          • Leann says:

            I wonder how each of us defines “quality time”–I see bath time as a quality time, since my 2-year-old son and I chat, play, etc. Granted, it’s short-lived because then we have a shrieking, naked, soaked toddler who runs away from the towels, but whatever. Quality time doesn’t have to be fun/recreational, you know?

        • ARC says:

          This is the issue for us. If we pick up our kids at 5pm from after-care (and that would be considered early for the hours people keep at our tech jobs), we’d have only 2 hours before they need to be in bed to get home, make dinner, eat dinner and get them to bed with maybe a bath. For us that was just too stressful, so we both bit the bullet on “perception” and decided we’d switch off on who starts early and leaves work at 3:15 to pick up the kids when school ends. It has made a world of difference, though even those evening hours are not very “quality” with a 4yo who could still use a nap… We are lucky to have the flexibility to do that, and to have a partner who shares the load, though. I couldn’t swing that alone.

  3. CNM says:

    I often hear that old adage that a person on their deathbed never says “I wish I worked more.” But that’s not really the whole picture. Parents- mothers and fathers- want to provide monetarily for their families. For the vast majority of families, getting money means working for wages. I mean, would a parent (mother or father) who is destitute from long term unemployment really say that it is better than working more? Of course not. It’s way better to have a home, food on the table, medicine and healthcare, and other opportunities that money can provide.

  4. Noelle says:

    Laura, thanks so much for this post – it’s so refreshing. I think we’ve all had enough of the “mommy wars” instigated by inconsiderate comments like the one you put to rest here. Why can’t we all just be supportive of each other’s decisions to work or not and realize that it’s not a parenting race?
    Speaking of which, your writing about the 168 hours in a week helped me calculate that even with my toddler in pre-school 40 hours a week, I spend roughly two-thirds of his waking time with him. Of course, not ALL of that is quality time, but it sure helped me realize that not even half of my hours are spent working or away from him!

    • Lynn says:

      Thank you, Noelle, for bringing up the on-going “mommy wars”. My kids are now 15 and almost 18. For most of their lives, I worked part time (~20-30 hours/week) and I think I was much happier (and therefore better when we were together). But the constant criticism of moms, no matter what we chose (if there was a choice), caused me to continually question myself. Ugh.

  5. Mary says:

    There is not a day in my life that I wish I was a SAHM, I thoroughly enjoy my job. I can see from time that I do spent an extended time with my children (Christmas, vacations, etc) that in fact I am a much better parent when I work. Not to mention that I believe that the income I bring into the family is far better for my children over all than the ‘extra’ time I would have spent with them had I chosen to stay home. This is further confirmed to me when I see the stress that friends and family are under when there simply isn’t any wiggle room in the budget.

    Also as a side note but in line with the original post the comment was left on, I think it is terribly sexist to fall into this thinking. Why are we not having these same discussions about the male partner in a relationship? Honestly if one person in my relationship were to stay home with the kids, it would be my husband. Not only is he far better suited to the task but from a financial perspective (not that it matters to me), my earning potential is far greater. No one wonders why he choose to work rather than stay home while the kids are young.

    • Gillian says:

      Mary, Yes! I love my children and they make me a huge part of who I am, but I also LOVE my job. I am a professional, I went to school 23 years to get where I am today. I am proud of that. I also enjoy having that part of my brain engaged. Furthermore, my job allows me to outsource a whole lot of household chores I hate–cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Those are tasks I would be doing if I didn’t work and that would be time that I would not be spending with my kids.

      I skip off to work each morning, but I return home equally enthusiastically each afternoon to spend time with my kids.

      • @Gillian – I like this image: skipping both ways. I wish everyone could have that!

    • CNM says:

      Yes, I am a woman and a mother and I am really sick and tired of this gendered criticism. There is absolutely NO blow back or “discussion” about how a father’s time is spent at work versus with child care. In fact, it seems like the narrative is precisely the opposite; that it’s great that the father is so dedicated to his work to earn money to support his family.

  6. Ana says:

    Yay! I love it when you take down these tired, gendered narratives. There is a lot of room between the work-a-holic lamenting their lack of family time on their deathbed and not working at all.

  7. Chelsea says:

    As a working SAHM, I sometimes wish I worked more – at least for more speculative projects. Probably not more on the statistics classes I adjunct ;). One important think I did learn about myself when deciding to stay home after my second kid was born is that, I never NEVER want to go back to a 9-5 office job (if I can possibly help it), but I do want to continue to build my statistical consulting business, and sometimes it’s hard to fit that in after my regular work and childcare obligations. It’s true that I *could* find time to do it, but like Laura, I’d rather run or read. Instead I’m looking forward to the summer and fall when my little one (2 now) is in preschool for more time during the week, and the time will come available on its own.

  8. Catherine says:

    Well I wish I had worked more! I have stayed at home with my children, but didn’t really intend to do so full time. I applied for various jobs and did voluntary work, but ended up being depressed. My husband couldn’t cope, had an affair and left. It might have happened if I had been working, but at least I would have had the job to go to each day.
    I enjoyed being at home with my children when they were very little, but don’t think it is necessary after the age of 1.
    I agree the use of the word ‘luxury’ is pejorative. I suppose if that word is to be used at all it is relevant to people (men and women) who get to choose how they balance time spent working and time spent with their children.

  9. Natasha says:

    It is socially acceptable to say “Ugh, I wish I could spend more time with my kids… I work too much.”

    Saying the opposite, “Ugh, I wish I could work more… spending so much time with the kids is driving me nuts!” – is not something many women feel comfortable mentioning in a random conversation (even if they do feel that way).

    Hence… social norms might mean we don’t get “the whole truth.”

  10. Cloud says:

    I am going to try very hard to get this comment right, because I don’t want to give offense to women (or men!) who genuinely want to make child care their only focus. I know those people are out there, and in fact know some of them, and more power to them. They are happy with their lives and that is great. But there are also people like me, who cannot be happy with only one focus. I would not be happy if work was my only focus, and I would not be happy if child care was my only focus. Before I had kids, I had more intense hobbies to provide that other focus. Even now, with kids, I wasn’t happy until I found a way to make my work life have more than one focus. So now, I focus on my kids, my consulting work, building my publishing business, and also my own writing. I am extremely fortunate to have been able to arrange my life this way, and I never forget it. I also know that my way, while absolutely right for me, is not right for everyone. It is not “better” than anyone else’s approach. It is just better for me. On the flip side, I have met women who would probably benefit from more to focus on in their lives but who feel like they “should” be stay at home moms and focus only on their kids, and they tend to be the ones who generate extra work around child care. If these moms were happy with their lives and content to let the rest of us live our lives in the way that make us happy, great. But so often, they don’t seem happy and seem to need external validation that their choices are the only right ones. I call this phenomenon “competitive parenting” and I think it is hurtful. I have also come across adults who think their mom resented them because in our parents’ time, there were fewer options for women to be mothers AND have a career. That seems like such a sad dynamic, and I’d guess those moms are ones who wish they had worked more… and I think their grown kids would agree. So I guess I think your commenter just needs to meet a wider range of women.

    • Ana says:

      Yes! I agree with this, especially about needing multiple foci in my life. I’m sure if I didn’t have a paying job or didn’t have children, I’d devote that time to some other hobbies/commitments. This is exactly what I see both the SAHM and the child-free women around me doing—lots of activities, leadership, hobbies. Maybe I just surround myself with women who want a rich, varied life but I think that’s more the norm

    • Griffin says:

      Drop the Ball, which Laura reviewed a few weeks ago, investigates why women feel torn among their various callings of work, home, and creative/hobby pursuits. How you grew up (i.e. one or two parents working) is much harder to distance oneself from that you might realize, as is the obvious and not-so-obvious women receive every day about how they should spend their time. Dropping (or balls) certain ideals is hard when you don’t even realize you hold them so fiercely.

      • Cloud says:

        I believe that is true. We absorb a lot of assumptions about what our lives “should” be as we grow up. However, for what its worth, my mom stayed home with me and my sister until we started school. This was in part because she was required to quit her job as a teacher when she became pregnant with my sister, but she is also one of those people who would love to focus on kids. We have often talked about how if she had been born in different circumstances she would have been a great child development researcher. Anyway, she went back to work once I was in school because our family needed the money. I do not know what she would have done if that had not been the case, but I do know she was an excellent teacher and made a difference in a lot of kids’ lives.

        • @Cloud- the point about your mother being an excellent teacher who influenced a lot of people over the years is an important one, and gets at another sweeping generalization in discussions about this topic that always bugs me. It goes along the lines of “children are more important than money” or “I’d rather be with my kids than making widgets” or other such ways of characterizing work as soulless, or only about the paycheck. Some work might be that way. But many people work in ways that have profound and beneficial effects on other people, and we are all blessed and lucky that they have chosen not to keep their talents solely within their families.

          • Griffin says:

            To the extent that one buys into Myers-Brigg and other personality type analysis, certain personality types are not at all designed to bring the best out of young children. I once read an INTJ description that went so far as to spell this out and explain why an INTJ would struggle as a full-time care giver. Put another way, I’m better at what I do during my working hours than being a full-time care provider for young children.

  11. Angela says:

    Ah, yes- the broad sweeping statement!
    People and families are so varied. I feel like that is one of the greatest lessons of growing older: realizing that how I do things, or how the people closest to me do things is not a standard for everyone else. So often, especially as parents, we know that what works for one child does not work for another. The same can be said for moms and dads. I thought staying home would be more fulfilling. After 1 yr of staying home I added a part time job; and then after 18 months I was fully prepared to go back to work.
    I’m so grateful for all of the research you do, and for your blog. I never realized how important it was to challenge the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves.

  12. Omdg says:

    I’m one of those people who needs to work at something substantive for probably 50-60h per week to be happiest. I do feel on my more difficult months with in-house call ever 4th or 5th night (or worse) that I am barely treading water, and do miss my family a lot. But I’m told this won’t last forever and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I would go bonkers as a Sahm. Do I wish I worked more? No. But I already work a heck of a lot!

  13. Jennie says:

    I, for one, am a mother who wishes she worked more. My children are well tended by both me, my husband, and (an angel) for a grandmother. Coincidentally, few days ago we attended a function as a family at my husbands boss’s Sunday School function . The age old “mommy war” came up. Being the only full time working mom there, I became public enemy number one in this war. I garnered the classic, “I could never let someone else raise my children.” The always welcome, “Don’t you think it’s selfish to your husband and children?”
    Due to the delicate nature of my husband’s boss’s wife being part of the group, I politely deflected comments. (Truthfully, now days it goes in one ear and out the other.) However… my 14 year old son, was listening and after about the 3rd ugly comment he stood up and said, “Well, maybe you can’t do all the stuff she can. My mom is awesome.” With that he left and went and sat in the car.
    Talk about awkward, but so proud! I politely excused myself and went out to sit with him. Mostly because I was about to start crying.
    No one mom has it figured out. Our life works for us. It’s that simple.

    • Meghan says:

      You are definitely doing something right! What a great son you have – I hope mine turn out the same way. I always think being a working mom who loves working is a great example to set for sons (daughters goes without saying 🙂 ). I want my sons to grow up recognizing women are just as valuable and invested in the workforce as men. (When my youngest was 2, he told his teacher I order pizza for my job, so I have a ways to go.)

    • @Jennie- that is awkward, but how funny. Your son loves his mom.
      That line of “I could never let someone else raise my children” is perplexing. Do all these people homeschool? School kids are gone out of the house for about 35 hours a week, which is about the same amount that the average woman with a full time job works.
      If one wanted to cause a scene on the selfish comment, you could turn it around and say you think it’s selfish for a woman not to take on the responsibility of supporting her children financially. Not recommended (as I respect couples’ decisions to specialize if they wish) but said with a laugh it might cause the person to stop if nothing else.
      Also, just want to say that criticizing people’s life choices sounds like a really bad topic for a Sunday school class 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        I found out later that the ladies are all part of a women’s study called Wife School. I haven’t read it so I can’t say for sure, but this may have had something to do with why this conversation came up and my crazy notions of financial independence were at the forefront. I’ll be honest, it was probably one of the most proud moments I’ve had as a mother.

    • angela says:

      Amazing!! Love, love, Love that he did that. What an attest to the great example you are leading with as a parent!

    • Byrd says:

      Heck, I’m about to start crying. What a brilliant comment.

      And I was hoping someone would address the “letting someone else raise your children” comment. My daughter goes to a daycare, it’s true. It’s a wonderful daycare that is a positive addition to her life, not just a place to stash her during the day. But still, my husband and I raise our daughter. We work with her daycare teacher on developmental milestones and behavioral issues, use her as a resource, and then *we raise her*. Gah. I don’t even know how else to explain it.

  14. Debra says:

    I have great admiration for those women and men who excel at child rearing and taking care of everything outside of a “career”. I am NOT that person. Thankfully I am married to a man who IS! He has been a SAHD for almost 4 years (our daughter is 12) and life has never been better. I need my work to be fulfilled as a person. I also need to be a runner so I don’t drive everyone around me crazy. I do not feel guilty that I am a complex person with diverse needs because we ALL are. I work hard in every way to set a strong, healthy, loving example for my daughter. We are teaching her that we each contribute our part to the success and happiness of our family, no one element is more or less valued than another. I will say I am not certain we would be so content if we were forced (by circumstance or each other) into roles we didn’t want. I do feel the women I know who wish things were different (in either direction) had less flexibility/opportunity to pursue the greener grass on the other side.

    • Jennie says:

      I absolutely love this. People seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I work on average 15 more hours a week than my husband, he cooks as many meals as I do, and he’s usually on driver duty to sports and activities Mon-Fri. ( I take the weekends and give him a break. ) We also both drive mini vans–people think he’s driving his wife’s car and say so. He’s quick to let them know it’s his and way nicer because he has DVD and I don’t. Ha!

  15. Suzanne says:

    I’m in the process of writing on book on being a part-time working mom, so your post is very timely. The thing that is so interesting in comments you include in your article and below is that people focus on one extreme or the other — SAHM or FTWM. What about the area of grey in between? What about moms who are interested in staying active in their career and being engaged as a parent? Why do moms have to choose?

  16. Virginia says:

    Long post but I am just loving this discussion. As always Laura, I am a huge fan of your work and the perspective that you bring.

    My daughter was an early and prolific talker. At my in-laws’ house, their friends wondered aloud about our secret sauce (we did nothing more than other educated, invested parents do….she was just born that way). They then commented (in Korean- they thought I couldn’t understand) that we were too busy and it must have been our nanny.

    My husband and I (physicians) worked 40-50hrs/week outside the home that year but our schedules were staggered. Our nanny worked 35hrs/week averaged over 4 days, and my daughter napped 4hrs/day- so she spent about 20 waking hours with her. I spent roughly 50hrs/week with her (awake time). Not all of it was quality of course- she was a toddler after all.

    Because of your work, I was not offended by their comment- just found it untrue and funny.

    That year I spent working 40hrs/week- I made great money but wasn’t practicing to the extent of my training and ability. I recognized that I could tolerate another 5-10hrs/week if it were something exhilarating. Now I’m back to training for said job and loving it. Working more than I like (my sweet spot is 45-50hrs/week of WORK time), but this will change over time.

    Reason’s I work:
    1) I don’t want to tell my daughter that she cannot be something or someone because she will have to work too much.
    2) I and my parents have invested $400,000 in my education- post high school.
    3) The federal government will have paid me a modest salary for 6 years to train as a physician- I owe it to society to care for our sick and suffering.
    4) I’m good at being a doctor. I cherish the privilege of shepherding families through critical illness and difficult decisions. I think I should share this strength with my community.
    5) Having an income takes the burden off of my husband being a sole provider.
    6) If something happens to my husband, we could live comfortably on my salary.
    7) My daughter is learning that husbands can also cook, email teachers, do school drop off.

    • angela says:

      YES!
      I love this comment!!!!

    • SHU says:

      I’m stuck on the “my daughter napped 4 hrs/day” part. WOW 🙂
      (though I love the rest of the comment, too)

      • Virginia says:

        LOL!! But she slept 9hrs and poorly at night . We did not win the sleep lottery!!!

    • Rinna says:

      This comment made me SO HAPPY! Good for you for doing what you love – at home and at work.

    • Byrd says:

      I’m also so thankful for this comment. Part of the reason I’m inspired to work in a challenging mid-level engineering position is FOR MY DAUGHTER. And for her peers, too, including the commenter’s children. My job serves a role in society and I hope that my doing it, as one of a very few women in similar positions, will make things better for the next generation. Having my daughter has inspired me to network more, push myself harder, and work to advance women’s issues. And, as you note, to make sure I can provide for her solo should it become necessary.

      (One note on above: by stating that my job serves a role in society, I’m not making any relative judgement on other choices and their role in society. It’s just a direct statement about what I know, which is my job.)

  17. Teja says:

    My mom worked a lot. But I admire and really love her. I would not have it any other way.

  18. Annelies says:

    Hi Laura, I started reading your blog during my maternity leave. My oldest was born a couple of days before your youngest. I’ve learned so much from it and from the comments these past two years. Some things I’ve read here have strongly influenced my decisions about my career and my life in general. You wrote somewhere (maybe in a book?) that you shouldn’t make decisions that impact your career in the spur of the moment (e.g. because your children aren’t sleeping well or aren’t adjusting in childcare etc) but you should always postpone the decision with a month or so because the situation can be very different. That proved to be very true in my case and I’m so glad you pointed this out for me.
    Anyway, here is my take on this subject, note that I am not a native speaker and live in Europe, so I have a slightly different perspective: I was the child of two working parents. I have always felt proud of my mom for working full time, also when I was a smaller kid. I do not remember feeling abandoned in after-school daycare, it was just what it was and as a child we don’t ask as many questions as we do as adults, we are happy in our routine and we just love our parents for who they are. Children also have a very different perspective on time, which is why I don’t know whether it is very useful to apply the 168h perspective on children. Although I spent many hours in pre-school and daycare as a young kid, all my earliest memories are connected to my family. I hardly remember the name of my pre-school teacher from when I was three but I distinctly remember visiting my little brother in the hospital. Of course, it also works like that for adults and it is not because we don’t remember it that it didn’t impact us, but I think children don’t really perceive being at daycare or pre-school for a lot of their ‘awake time’ as a very long time as long as they know they will go home in the evening.
    I personnally know lots of women who probably wish they had worked more. I know a mother of five now grown-up children who openly resents her kids because she ‘gave up her life for them’. She literally says things like: I want to chose the movie tonight because I already gave up everything for you. I also know of a stay-at-home mom whose young kid came home one day and asked why his mummy didn’t have a job like all the other people… My mother-in-law was at home a lot and admits that her children lack independence because of it (of course, this is not because of the staying at home per se but because she chose to do everything herself). My husband wishes that, as a teenager, he would have been more alone at home because he always felt supervised by his mom.
    I think staying home for the children is a brave choice, but it is not healthy to let your identity depend on it (neither is it healthy to let your identity depend entirely on your work). Because children are so consuming, it is however easy to fall into this trap.

    • @Annalies – “I want to choose the movie tonight because I already gave up everything for you” — oh dear. Resentment is a terrible thing in any form it comes. I think there can be resentment either way — if one wanted to work and didn’t get to, or if one did have to work but didn’t want to. Another reason to be sure that choices are made in a way one personally can live with, and not out of an assumption of what someone else wants.

      • angela says:

        Love this, love the work Laura is doing- what an amazing impact her work is doing for individuals and families! love it!

  19. Sofia says:

    Hello, new reader here. Interesting post that evoked a lot of thoughts!

    I could easily imagine women regretting not working more. In fact, I know that my mother-in-law regrets this – she basically had no choice but to stay mostly at home all her life, because due to my FIL’s job, they moved around the world all the time (in their generation, it was unheard of that the wife would say no if the husband got a great job offer abroad). She took good care of her kids and is happy about that, but now at 65 she clearly regrets never working. Not so much for the money, but for the social relationships and self-fulfillment (she has actually more or less said this). I imagine that there are many more women like her.

    For me, who lives in Northern Europe, discussions about parents working/staying at home from the US perspective are interesting. In my country, there are basically no SAHMs or SAHDs. While some people may temporarily call themselves a SAHM or SAHD, almost nobody stays at home after their youngest child is 3, and the typical stay at home is shorter. This is partly due to the family policies (you can stay at home with your kid until the kid is 3 and go back to your old job, and you also get a small compensation per month until your kid is 3), partly due to the fact that it is difficult to live on one salary here, and partly due to general attitudes regarding work and family life.

    However – nobody puts their kid to outside day care when the kid is younger than 9 months, almost nobody until the kid is 12 months, and the typical age to go to outside care is little under 2 years.

    Form my perspective (I might be wrong), the discussion in the US is very polarized – you either choose to be a SAHM/SAHD or a working parent and that’s it, you’re in one of these two camps. In my country, to put it roughly, every parent (well, mom or dad, not both at the same time, typically mom) stays at home for a year or two, sometimes three, and after that, *everyone* goes back to work.

    I might be partial, but think the system in my country is great (an according to polls, this is what almost all parents think). I felt very strongly that I wanted to spend all day, every day with my kids when they were babies and small toddlers, and I did that, and that was wonderful. After that, I felt very strongly that I wanted to return to work, and I did (actually, my husband also wanted stay at home with kids and we split the 3-year stay-at-home period about evenly with both kids. We have a 5-year age gap between the kids so that was separate 3 years). It was great to concentrate fully on the kids when they were small without worrying about work life. But the about 2 years per kid at home was enough for me, and it was also great to return to work afterwards. I have always liked to concentrate on one thing at the time, and I also feel that having a baby and breastfeeding drains all my mental energy (or more accurately, forces me to put all that mental energy on the baby). I often wonder how so many mothers in other countries are able to work and take care of a small baby, and even breastfeed.

    I don’t know much about work culture differences between Europe and US, but I think that because basically everyone stays at home about 1.5-2 years per kid, this stay is accepted by the majority of workplaces, and does not harm your career (I don’t know about highly competitive lines of work, though. I’m a researcher at university which is of course also competitive but not in the same way as some business world jobs).

    • @Sofia- thanks for your post, and for your perspective. I do agree that the choice sometimes seems harsher in the US because people generally need to make a decision about work much quicker. I strongly suspect that if more people had the option to take even 6 months off there would be a lot less quitting on the first day back from maternity leave. That said, there are downsides to multi-year leaves. It is hard to take 2-3 years out of the workforce and come back with your connections and skills intact. One can decide that that’s a reasonable trade off, but it is a trade off. Also, from an employer perspective, keeping a position available for multiple years introduces a lot of labor market friction. One could decide from a social perspective that’s a worthwhile trade off but again, it is a trade off.

      • Sofia says:

        I didn’t realize my comment turned out that long – apologies and thank you for responding!

        Perhaps it is a trade-off – if so, it was definitely a trade-off that I was willing to make, but my honest experience is that it hasn’t set me back in my career, nor have I heard of anyone (in my country) to complain that a similar maternity leave would have set them back (granted – I don’t personally know many business people). In fact, my husband stayed at home with our kids for a bit more than 2 years and he still got a full professorship at a very young age (professor positions are very highly competed here because small country=few universities=few positions).

        The social system here does create some friction between employers and employees, but mostly, the system is well accepted. Employers are also compensated from public funds for parenting leave costs. Further, it’s just been shown that unlike was previously assumed, the vast majority of mothers get back to work life just fine after the parenting leaves.

    • Alexicographer says:

      American here with family scattered across Europe. While there does seem to be much to value in the various European systems and their far more generous parental leaves, I do have a family member in Europe who went back to work p/t in the first year after her first infant’s birth (because she wanted to) at considerable expense because her maternity leave benefit (if she stayed home) was greater than her part-time pay — but working p/t meant giving up the entire benefit. She now has more kids and has stayed home with them though I don’t in fact think she really wants to — at least where she lives the pro-natalist policies (birth rates are very low…) mean that each additional kid is more valuable, from the parental leave benefit perspective, making going back to work (particularly p/t) that much more expensive relatively speaking.

      • Sofia says:

        Yes – in some European countries (mostly in the former eastern block), social policies at the moment practically pressurize women to have a lot of children and to stay at home. That’s not at all cool and is completely different from the family-friendly policies in Scandinavia (+ the Nordic) and France, where mothers do work and are expected to work, and the system supports this by providing a high-quality, publicly funded day care system, while also allowing parents to stay at home when their kids are very young.

        • Alexicographer says:

          Yes, this is indeed former Eastern bloc…

  20. Kathleen says:

    Laura,

    LOLZ on the “Zondervan Woman” comment from your 2014 piece. Yes, there is a distinct type!

    You and the rest of the commenters are right that it can be tough early on – with new babies, toddlers – to power through long work weeks without mommy guilt. I remember being simultaneously proud and sad when my oldest son’s first “baby signs” were the phrase “mama work.”

    But it does get better! We tend to be myopic about the present, thinking circumstances and feelings will never change, but MY GOODNESS is it easier once the kids are even early school age. Now I can be away from home from 730 am to 800 pm and only miss about 4 waking non-school hours per day with my kindergartner, who happily does programs like chess and soccer after school many days. And NOT taking time out from my career, but instead billing 2100-2650 annually, has allowed a degree of career advancement and financial security that’s setting up all of us for long-term success.

    So here’s to powering through the tough times to realize the dividends at the end!

    Mama work!

    • @Kathleen – yeah, I re-read the old review when I saw that comment and I had to laugh. It is totally a type.
      And yes, I think that there is much to be said for reaping the flexibility and autonomy that comes from investing in your career. While it might be hard to keep this mindset when the kids are little, the good news is that you get that flexibility and autonomy around the time the kids are old enough to remember what is going on.

  21. Marie says:

    Well, I’ll say it. I wish I had worked more, and not just for financial reasons (though that’s a big one). I stayed home because of a child’s medical complications that, thankfully, have resolved. I did love the early years, but once the kids were in school, I still had to be home to help out because of her condition and in case of emergencies. And I hated it. I tried the PTA, volunteering, etc., but it’s not me (and I’m a terrible housekeeper). I was lucky to be able to get back into my career about 5 years ago. It’s a very fast-moving industry that requires constant learning, and it’s perfect for me. I certainly don’t “wish” I hadn’t helped out my child, but if she had not needed me in that capacity, I would have gone back to work earlier with absolutely no guilt.

    I’m not the first here to be completely irked that no one asks the dads that question–and we know there are scores of them who would have been very unhappy had they been the stay-at-home parent.

  22. Liz says:

    I often have said that I wish I could work more. In my case, it wouldn’t change my income, but since my now 7 year old was born, I’ve been coasting in my career to spend lots of time with him. Am grateful for an extremely flexible job that allows for that, but also looking forward to ‘leaning in’ a bit more now that he’s more independent. Won’t immediately change our financial future, but will allow me to invest a bit more in my professional growth, and just feel like I’m doing my best. I know I’m extremely privileged to have a job with both flexibility and stability, but I am another woman who has definitely said, “boy, I wish I could work more!”

  23. It’s fun for me to see which of your blogs get 0 comments and which ones get 46! But it is also sad to think that 30-45 years after your dad and I were raising children, the discussions are still taking place!

    Among the many reasons I am glad I worked, even if part-time, is that I qualified for my own Social Security money. There was no advantage in signing up under your dad’s name and that pleased me!

    • omdg says:

      My parents say the same thing. I wonder whether we’ll still be talking about this 30 years from now when my daughter grows up.

  24. SHU says:

    I’m sooo late to this party (though I want to read all of the comments!) but wanted to chime in. YES to the fact that it’s much more acceptable in some circles to say “wahh, I work too much, wish I were home more” than “waah, I’m home too much with my toddlers, wish I worked more!”. And yet I do not think I would have been particularly happy as a SAHM!! (I probably would have made it work, and had lots of hobbies and social things and other stuff going on, but I’m happier feeling productive & stimulated at work and being able to afford to outsource some things). I do greatly look forward to a little bit of rebalancing (currently with NO flexibility I hate missing out on certain things) but I can absolutely understand why some may WANT to work more!

  25. Alexicographer says:

    Yeah … I went back to work 30 hours/week when my son was 2 months old and 40 (official count, salaried position so actual hours vary, but that’s probably a reasonably accurate average) at a year and while I can’t say I wish I worked more, I certainly don’t wish I worked less. I do wish we’d made more use of the excellent paid child care options in our area, though — looking back, our kid — an only — really, really enjoyed the structured playtime and interactions with other kids that they provided. We did a lot of juggling of mom/dad/grandparent time and really … why? Not that these weren’t/aren’t great, but at the margins, less of them wouldn’t have made any difference and would have made life simpler.

    I will say that now that my kid’s about the age of Laura’s oldest I’m starting to think I want more time with him (of course, he sleeps less now than he did then, so I get some of this naturally). He can do fun stuff now, like beat me one-on-one @ basketball (not that challenging, but all the same). But as Laura notes, there are ways besides cutting back on my work hours to achieve that.

    • @Alexicographer – I think this brings up an interesting question of when those “formative” years are. It might be hard on mom to be away from a baby, but the baby has zero memory of it. Whereas my 9-year-old has more needs for shaping character and philosophy of life and all that. Depending on the nature of the career, it might be better to put in the time when the kids are little to buy yourself more flexibility later on. I also tend to think kids get more fun as they get older.

      • Alexicographer says:

        @Laura, indeed. I think I’ve commented on this before, but my first experience with having parental responsibilities for anyone was with teenage stepkids and … yeah. I certainly quickly became aware that even when kids don’t need “supervision,” you don’t necessarily want to put them in settings where they don’t expect adults to be around or where they don’t have ways to get help/backup if they need it (and for the record — good kids, unexciting environment. Nothing crazy. And yet.). Which, long story short, makes flexible work schedules, etc., pretty valuable at that stage. And I did make a “note to self” back in that day.

  26. jl says:

    thanks a bunch for this post.
    Very interesting point about how work and childcare are not the only two activities in a mom’s life, it’s a great way to put things in perspective. All those things you list – let’s call that “self-care/hercare.” And as much as it shouldn’t be, work often gets categorized as “hercare.” But. It’s very easy to lose this perspective, get in that work vs. family frame and just stay there. Mental and physical strategies to avoid such black-and-white thinking? Please, please share!

    I for one part, have found out that when I am doing well at work – aka a “good day” – publishing, making progress, great feedback, perhaps bonus income – I have no problem thinking that work and childcare are not at odds. It is on those “bad” days – when the kid gets sick, when the work is slow, when the kid cries “I missed you mommy” first thing you see her at daycare as the last picked-up child just sittin’ there all by herself – yes, those are the times when no matter what the truth about hours added up and about, i get to that ugly point – that yes in fact these two realms are in conflict.

    Success is less frequent, and bad days have a habit of morphing into intolerable days at least in memory, and when this piles up a few months, perhaps a year, combined with “incidents” that exacerbate the dilemma, moms could throw in the towel. I don’t think a mom becomes fixed at a work>child or child<work all the time, or even most of the time. I believe it's a day-to-day variation at least in the very beginning; I think your research is crucial for moms, first time around. To this day I have not yet met a mom who at least doesn't give it a try, to juggle childcare and hercare, first time around.

    That is where your blog comes in for me, Laura. When I read about your not-so-productive days and weekends, sorry to be blunt but it is comforting and encouraging. My favorite part is when you make it absolutely clear that there is no answer, parenting could be catch-22, unpredictable and out of control – but that's still no excuse for one NOT to try and be productive and professional, as you do, even for 15 mins.
    Thus I'm not so sure how helpful it is to frame things that way – the hourly add-up and math-y way – for a mom who is caught at that painful and distorted frame of work vs family. If I read this post on a "bad" day, it would not have been helpful. I'd go straight to your "bad" days, find solace in that you are going through similar toughness. Today is a "good" day, hence my being able to afford this comment at this hour – and to my surprise I find myself relishing your comment, agreeing to the letter, perhaps able to justify my current work-life model even more.

    I'd love to see a post, therefore about how to make bad days feel like not-so-bad, to perhaps not-too-good, to pretty bearable days, Laura. I love it when you write in your daily posts about those few minutes when you are able to churn out work-related outcome, but you don't say how exactly you are able to shut-off that little corner of your head that could very well give into the fatigue of raising kids, the temptation to take a break, and instead get 15 mins of work done. That is huge, in my perspective. The ability to get work-related thing done in 15 mins out of an 8-hour on-childcare duty weekend is harder than 2-hours during a full-time daycare weekday. Because it starts with 15, and that can grow into hours. That, for me, is the hardest thing and where I'd love to see you write another book maybe. You've taught me to identify pockets of my-time; now I'd love to ask you the detailed mental and physical strategies on how to actually get to use that time. Because if I could be more like you, I would want to work more, everyday, because more does not mean whole time; more just means more – not less.

  27. ARC says:

    I would love to read more about the thing a few people have alluded to, about work being very satisfying when it’s going well but thinking about quitting/becoming a SAHP when it’s not. Because this is where my mind goes. My job does not really serve others, like the teachers and doctors mentioned here, so it’s hard to derive warm fuzzies from that. I do love the paycheck, and the fact that I am doubling our family’s income by working.

    But, man, all the things I could do with ALL THAT TIME if I didn’t have to go to work each day. I’m at a low point now, and at least 50% of my peers are SAHPs (both men and women in the mix) so it always looks like a good option on those bad days. And then I remember that I really, really, loved our 3 week trip to Scandinavia last year, and stuff like that isn’t possible on one income. Sigh.

    • Anon says:

      I also wonder how often quitting or choosing to go part time after a child is born is more about a woman’s feelings about her job than her feelings about her child/childcare. I know this was absolutely true for me. If I had been working in a job that I loved and was stimulating and satisfying, I would have been much more likely to stay working FT. As it was, at the point I was pregnant with DC1, it was probably time for me to have moved on to a different job, but at that point it obviously didn’t seem wise to apply for something new. After DC1 was born, I had to work during my maternity leave and was pressured into going back when he was 5 weeks old (WTF!). However, my DH was in a PhD program and we needed my income in order to not live in a cardboard box eating cat food (which is sort of a joke, but not really…) so I had to put aside my “fed-up-ness” with my job for the sake of our family (something I realize men have to do all the time). DC1 went to a wonderful daycare and I felt like he had a good experience there, but I did (do) feel resentment about having to go back to work so darn early. BUT when my DH graduated and got a well-paying FT job and I was pregnant with DC#2 I had a break down because I just couldn’t drop off another tiny, brand new baby all day long to do a job that I – at that point – really couldn’t stand any more now that there was no longer an economic reason to do so. Plus I had a very spirited 2-year-old who was so much more fun from 8 – noon than during the death march that was 6 – 8 pm. Yeah, I had hours with him, but I wanted the best hours, not the worst. I do think getting a new job that was part-time was a good choice for us, but honestly, probably the change that really made me happiest overall was the new job part. I just needed the appropriate kick in the pants to make that happen, and having a kid was the life event that triggered it. It’s possible that something similar, say a death in the family, might have done the same thing.

      • ARC says:

        YES! I read somewhere, maybe from Laura or someone else on a blog, that if you love your job, you’ll MAKE the childcare arrangements/schedule/etc work. IE, that’s just part of the logistics of working. But when you don’t love it, you start to rationalize the choice to work at all. For our family, it also doesn’t help that BOTH of us have taken extended time off from working since we had kids, and suffered no ill effects when “ready” to work again. So it always seems like a looming option in the background, and an attractive one when the frustration mounts.

      • @Anon- Thanks for sharing your story. I agree that this is another reason to think about work that will stay satisfying and rewarding. I’ve had a few young women ask me about finding “family friendly” work, which is great, but you also want to make sure it’s interesting, exciting, well-compensated work. Because those are the things that will likely keep you in it long term. If you’re bored, not so much, no matter how “family friendly” it is.
        I also appreciate your noting that men stay in jobs they hate all the time – because they have to. This is one of the reasons I believe that supporting a family financially is ideally a shared responsibility. When women share this responsibility, it allows men to consider things like their long term satisfaction and interest, and not just the cash, benefits, and stability (nice as those things are).

      • Anon says:

        @ARC, I think I will also not suffer long-term consequences, either, because the part-time work I have chosen actually has the potential to be way more lucrative in the long run than my old FT job so it has been pretty easy to rationalize – if one wants to call it that – leaning out as taking time to build a business rather than wasting potentially productive years. I think/hope it will actually turn out to be a good career move. It’s certainly one I’m much more excited about. I’m definitely happy to find childcare to do that kind of work.

        @LV – I agree with you about finding meaningful work right off the bat to be good advice as far as it goes, but for many of us (me at least) what we *think* we want our of a career in college or in our 20s is different from what we decide we want later in life. I mean this purely in terms of career goals, not in terms of “family friendly-ness”. I didn’t know what parts of my job I really enjoyed (and what parts I hated!) until I’d worked for several years, and it did take a kick in the pants in the form of the second kid, to really re-evaluate my career (though, as I’ve said, I think any other big life event would have done the same thing).

        Also, I feel like I should add, even though I was unhappy in some ways working between DC1 and DC2, I never never never regret working so that my DH could finish his PhD. That was absolutely the right decision our family, and – as you say – if I had not been willing/able to work, he probably would not have been able to achieve that goal. At least we would not have been able to maintain any kind of standard of living had we tried.

      • Beth says:

        My choice to scale back my work and focus on my family was closely related to being in a profession I had grown weary of. I always worked part time once my kids came along but when my youngest started school at 3 y/o I cut my schedule back drastically. Which sounds odd but I had been teaching music lessons in the after school hours and I couldn’t see continuing to do that once both my kids were in school. Looking back, I realize this decision was based both on the need to shift my professional priorities and to focus on my family. We had a fairly traumatic few years around the time our second son was born, for reasons too complicated to go into, and we needed time to recover. Those four years where I barely worked made a huge difference for our family.

        I will say the decision to cut back came shortly after my younger son FINALLY started napping regularly and I was able to get our house decluttered and under control. The clarity I experienced once our home was in order was AMAZING. This is partly why I believe in the value of domestic work. It DOES matter. I was also able to lose 30lbs, which made 95lbs total over a decade, which helped put my life on an entirely different track.

        I should also mention that we bred the two worst sleepers on the planet in their younger years. Our second son’s first year was made even more challenging by his waking 4 -12 times a night. There’s no way I would have been able to function at a regular day job. It’s a miracle I was able to hold it together as well as I did.

  28. Shelley says:

    I’m late to the party but I have enjoyed reading all the comments.
    When can we stop the “Mom Guilt”
    I come from a family of working women. My grandmother graduated from college in 1916 and my mom in 1952.
    I have worked 1-5days a week in my 37 years of working.
    I now work 3 days a week. I love my kids and I love my job. I am not perfect and they are not perfect. But I don’t regret working and I don’t want to judge what has worked for other mom’s.

    I was judged by others…I did everything “wrong” with my daughter. My husband was in grad school…..so I worked full time, she was in day care at 6 weeks, and I didn’t breast feed. She is now a MD/pHD. We joke that she is proof that baby formula is OK. ; )

  29. Beth says:

    Jumping into the party late but I’ve been thinking about this for a week. Coincidentally, I’ve spent that week reading Anne Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business. It’s an incredible book.

    I just started my first “real” job at the age of 43 after two decades of being a freelance musician and almost of decade of being a mostly stay at home mom. While I’ve always worked (for money) this is the first time I’ve had more traditional hours in that I’m not home during the day and we need to make child care arrangements for after school, in service days, etc It’s been a huge life style change for our family but we’ve been able to adjust fairly seamlessly and things are great right now.

    I have never thought it was anyone’s business whether a woman chooses to work (for money) or stay at home with her children. My own mother had a career and I certainly don’t feel neglected because of it. I have never judged a Mom for putting her baby in day care and have been quite vocal in my defense of those women when the subject has come up with very opinionated family members.

    However, what I have often felt is the judgement of me for choosing to scale back my work and focus on the domestic side of our family life. Frankly, several of your writings have left me feeling this way. There is the unstated or even flat out stated, assumption that my choice to “Lean in” to the caring of my family by cooking, cleaning, and other household management tasks was an indictment on my level of intelligence and social relevance. So much of what you’ve written about in these areas is how they are a waste of your time and should be outsourced. Which is understandable for someone choosing to focus more on career, but I have been quite insulted by the insinuation the work I spent years doing for my family wasn’t worthwhile. Because so often, that’s the underlying tone of many articles in defense of working mothers. A truly intelligent and interesting woman would never be satisfied spending a few years changing diapers and baking bread. My years of higher education being wasted.

    In all fairness, I have hired housecleaners since I’ve started working and have drastically simplified our meals. But I still choose to spend a large amount of my off time on food preparation because it’s one of my core values. Right now my focus isn’t the domestic side of our lives but I still cherish those years when it was and wouldn’t trade them for the world.

    I guess what I’m trying to say that while I find it inexcusable to criticize a working mom we need to be careful not to make light of the choices of those who choose to stay at home. The whole point of having a choice is that BOTH choices should be respected and valued.

    • Lindsay says:

      Thank you for your comment! I read the whole thread, wondering if this POV would turn up at all. If women can’t freely choose either full-time at home, full-time at work, something in between, or different combinations until retirement, then nothing has changed. Out of curiosity, what kind of work are you doing now? Is it something you used to do part-time?

  30. Leanne says:

    For me, it’s pretty simple: I’m happier and more fulfilled if I play more than one role in life. I wasn’t happy with just one job in the early years of my career; I felt the same way while on my (extended) maternity leave. I’m happiest when I’m out of the house working sometimes, and in the house with my children other times. I also think judging how we’ll feel on our deathbeds is a really outmoded concept, as the definition of work, at least for middle-upper class Americans, has become more creative and niche-oriented. It’s easier than it once was to find a job that you love. And there’s no shame in loving that job and your family at the same time. For me, I love both roles (mother and worker) more when they’re played simultaneously.

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