Career vs Stay at Home Mom: Is the Mommy Track a Good Idea?

This week’s question comes from Abby. She asks:

I stayed home with my children for a few years, but I’m now looking for a job.
Thanks to my background (I have an advanced degree in public administration and
we live in Washington DC), I may have the luxury of competing job offers.

Here’s my dilemma: higher paying jobs in my field require frequent travel. My
children are still young, and my husband’s job is quite demanding. Since we
don’t need my income, it is tempting to accept a less stressful, lower paying
position with predictable hours – at least for a few years.

As I’ve considered this, some of my professional contacts have labeled it “the
mommy track” or even “career suicide.” But working full-time with two small
kids already seems ambitious.

How would you advise thinking about the trade-offs in such a situation?

Plonkee’s Opinion

It depends. It sounds a lot like you want someone to say that taking a job with more predictable hours won’t be career suicide. I’d love to be able to do that but I’m afraid I’ve no idea whether it would be true or not.

If you’re worried that people will judge you for leaving your family to travel for work, then stop worrying, they probably will. On the other hand, if you’re worried that people will judge you for giving up on your career, then also stop worrying, they probably will. As a parent, especially as a mother, you can’t win, so put that out of your mind.

As you state that you don’t *need* to go back to work, I assume that you’re doing so because you want to. In which case I’d suggest taking the job that you will find most fulfilling as long as it is practicable. Whether that means the lower paid, lesser status job or the higher paid, greater status job, doesn’t really matter.

The other thing to remember is that it’s not set in stone that your husband needs to have a demanding job with long hours. He’s as much a parent as you are, and could choose to sacrifice his career slightly if he wanted to. Sometimes it’s worth considering things outside the box in case there’s a solution that you haven’t thought of.

Gibble’s Advice

I might be wrong, but what I hear you saying between the lines is that you really would like to stay home. If you don’t need the income and want to stay home, than I would highly recommend doing that. I am a huge advocate of a stay at home mom (or Dad). I think it makes a huge positive difference in children’s lives.

What upsets me most are comments like “career suicide” and the “mommy track”. What’s wrong with that? The fruits of a typical career are nothing more than status, prestige and money. The fruits of the “mommy track” are a your children. That isn’t to say that women that decide to work careers aren’t good mothers, nor that their children are harmed, it just means that I think children are better off with a stay at home mom or parent.

I would do what you want you to do and disregard what other people think. The people that make these kinds of comments in mean them in a negative way have no clue how hard a stay at home Mom works. I work from home, and see my wife daily do the job of a stay at home Mom, and while different, her job is way harder than mine and frankly far more rewarding. People who think otherwise are just ignorant.
If you want to return to work, than by all means do so. If you want to stay home with your children and be a stay at home Mom, than that is wonderful news. Go where your heart leads you, not where your pocket book or other ignorant people pressure you.

As for your husband, is his job demanding or is he demanding of himself? Ask yourself this: What would happen if he cut back his hours some? Would they fire him? Probably not. Would his review suffer? Maybe. Would the extra income you would make, make up for the potential income loss in raises/bonuses he would possibly lose? I would suspect it would. I’d suggest both of you eliminate the financial pieces of all this, and really get to the core of why you want to work or why you want to stay home. Often the answer to these questions aren’t really financial.

Let us know what you decide to do!

Patrick’s Answer:

I think along the same lines as Glblguy here – “career suicide” and the “mommy track” are just buzz words. In my opinion, you shouldn’t worry about what your friends or professional contacts think. You should figure out what you want in life, and then find a way to make it happen.

If you and your husband are happy with his income and the current arrangement, then keep it that way. If you discover you would prefer to return to work full-time and he would prefer to stay at home or take a lesser paying, but less demanding job, then go for it. If you both want to work full-time high demanding jobs, then do it. The key is communicating and discovering which is the best option for your situation.

My wife and I are expecting our first child and recently had to make the decision of whether she should be a stay at home mom or a working mom. For us, the best choice was to have my wife stay at home. But that certainly doesn’t work for everyone. My readers left a bunch of great comments in the article and I invite you to visit it and read their perspectives… it may help you decide which option is best for you and your family. Best of luck!

Lynnae’s Response:

I’ve been a stay at home mom for 11 years now, and I don’t regret one moment of it. Recently my blog has given me the opportunity to travel, and while I enjoy going different places, it’s been incredibly hard to leave my family behind. And I won’t lie. It’s been hard on the kids, too, even though at 11 and 6 they’re a little bit older.

In fact, when my daughter (the 11 year old) was asked recently for a survey about one thing in her life she wishes she could change, her response was that her mom wouldn’t travel so much…and I’ve only been on 3 trips since October!

In the end, my response is to cut back on the travel schedule once I’m through the summer. I much prefer being a stay at home mom to being a career woman. That said, only you can make the choice that’s right for you. But make sure your choice is based on what’s right for you and your family, not what everyone else thinks is right.

Readers: What do you think? Any words of wisdom?

Photo by limaoscarjuliet.


By , on May 6, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. bob:

    I had a unique situation when I was a kid. My Mom is a school teacher and actually taught at my school. She got off at 3:00… the same time I did, and thus we rode to work together. My Dad had a job that allowed him to get off at 4:00. So he was home at 4:30. So even though both parents worked, we saw each other a lot.

    My take on it is do what you feel is something you want to do. In general, if a stay at home mom means financial sacrifice, I’d say maybe consider at least a part time job because eventually, your kids are going to need money for college, and a stay-at-home-mom could mean that might not be possible if the income from a single working parent isn’t enough. So take that into consideration.

  2. Abby:

    And yes, Jenni – my kids love their school! When I was a little girl, my mother explained to me that she worked (part-time as a nurse) not just because the money was important, but because it allowed her to be confident that she could always support us if needed. And it did happen – my father died before I finished high school.

    Going back to work will let us attack some of our next tier financial goals: saving aggressively for retirement, putting more towards our kids’ 529 plans and paying down our mortgage faster. We could live without all of those things, but it is incredibly satisfying to be able to contribute to those goals, too.

  3. Abby:

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and perspective. As it happens, I’ve recently accepted the lower-paying, less-demanding job. (Instead of accepting a high profile job with a major university, I took a quiet little gig with our local government.)

    It’s a great fit – predictable hours, four blocks from home and just two blocks from our church’s school. I treasure the time I spent at home with my kids, but I really hear Dee’s comment – the longer I stayed out, despite doing a few freelance projects, the more I was convinced that going back at some point was getting farther and farther from my reach.

    The comments about the math were dead on – because my commuting costs are zero (well, maybe I’ll wear out my shoes faster), the dress code is casual and there’s rarely a need for additional child care, I’m pretty confident that my take-home pay is stretching farther. On my first day here, I also got a nice little surprise – the contributions towards retirement are VERY generous, again helping to close the gap between the higher paying job and the one I accepted.

    And I really appreciate the comments from Patrick, Gibble and Plonkee about my husband having choices, too. As I settle in, he’s looking into his options for a less demanding job.

    As for the Mommy track issue – Plonkee, you’re absolutely right. I’d been reading studies about how often women do get mommy tracked and how our earnings suffer. But all of those studies seem to assume that every working person’s goal is to earn as much as possible. And that’s not where I’m at – nor do I think it will ever be where I’m at, regardless of where I live. (But yes, GrannyAnnie – this is a town packed with ambitious people!)

    I really appreciate the input from the M-Network and readers. It’s nice to be reminded that there is no perfect answer. :)

  4. Dee:

    I just want to put another perspective in. Six years ago I came home from my professional job. I started working from home five years ago to have some income and still be there for my children. Because of the economy my husbands income has dropped substantially this last year and I have been looking to go back to a 9-5. No one wants to think that career suicide or the mommy track is still out there, but it is. I have a degree. I have applied in my field where I had ten years experience and other positions as well. I have been told it’s too bad I took so much time off. That my working from home doesn’t really count. And I have also had to prove that I have kept up my computer skills, even though I use them on a daily basis. I am hopeful that I will find the perfect fit.

    If your husband has a steady, safe position then you’ll be okay financially to stay and enjoy raising the children. On the other side should something happen to his position, then there are things you may have to face reentering the workforce.

  5. Jenni:

    There are some benefits to working too, depending on the job and the hours! I wouldn’t work long hours and take lots of trips away, but I work 7:30 to 4:00 four days a week at a well paying job and I think my kids (especially my older 5 year old) actually benefit from it! My 5 year old loves “school” and his friends and learns a ton there. I also think I appreciate the time I have with them more, since it’s not all day, day in and day out. I never blow up at them and really enjoy their company.
    Also, I do think that it’s a good idea to make money if you can, while you can. Technically, we could scrape by on my husband’s income, but with my money we have been able to buy a home I am proud of, pay off all other debt, have a years worth of living expenses in savings, take vacations, etc (you get the idea). I grew up poor and really don’t like the feeling of scraping by, so this situation works for me! It’s not for everyone, but I don’t think staying at home always is either. Not trying to start any mommy wars, but I just wanted to give another perspective.

  6. Janice:

    You will never be on your deathbed and regret the time you spent with your children. You WILL regret the time you spent away from your children and on an airplane…

  7. GrannyAnnie:

    When my kids were young, it was all the rage to have both parents work outside the home, and hire nannies, and be high powered IMPORTANT people. We women felt pressure from women’s lib to advance career opportunities for women. Interest rates were so high, both parents had to work to have a home. I would have KILLED to be able to stay at home and be a wife and mother, but this was very difficult, and few of us could pull it off. Those of us that did suffered from peer pressure. Sounds to me like there is a little peer pressure going on (DC has always been a CAREER town, for the ambitious and mobile) and the derogatory terms are “Mommy track” “Suicide”. If placing appropriate attention on your children is considered derogatory, then I’d say MOVE! Get the heck outta there. I’m older now, and I live in a fairly rural area, and the evenings and weekends are spent watching T-ball games and band concerts. I still work, and the hot topics at work are which teams are in which playoffs, which high school band is the best, and the fundraisers at church for youth camps. It occurs to me, putting it all into perspective, that THIS IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT. Family. Not some company line, or career track. Choose whatever balance is right for you and your family. When you get to be my age, you will forget the names of all those coworkers, but you will never forget your children.

  8. Hello! Before you consider any job, consider how much you will actually make with childcare costs, work clothes, eating lunches out, more gas for car, possible second car, additional taxes (will you working bump you up to a new tax bracket?), and more costs associated with working.

    If God is allowing you an oppuntunity to stay at home, that is a tremendous blessing.

    Use that time to really be with your kids. Also start a home business or work from home, around your schedule. Or if you really need time away from kids, volunteer, and swap childcare with another stay at home mom.

    I am a single mom to two boys (ages 11 & 5.) It has been my desire to be with them as much as possible, and God has blessed that. I was a nanny with them for years, and then I ran an in home daycare for the past three years. Both were alot of work, but I was able to be with my boys and focus on them as well as other kids I was watching.

    Now that my boys are a bit older I work in an office just 10 hours a week. My job is very accomadating and flexable.

    I am young (29) so I figure I can have a career if God will’s, when my boys are older.

    But right now my boys are my career.
    -Becky in NJ

  9. My advice would be as follows:

    Since your income is not needed, you might consider working from home in a more flexible, even part time, job. This will allow you to keep your skills fresh to some degree while you “warehouse” them until the day you decide to use them again full time– if ever.

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