I sometimes find myself envious of the stay-at-home moms and dads who stroll up to the bus stop with a steaming mug of coffee in their loungewear or yoga pants. Once their kids step onto the bus, they have what I often perceive to be an entire day of freedom laid out in front of them to finish laundry, work out, run errands, or maybe just take a nap. Must be nice, huh?
Of course, I know stay-at-home parents don’t have it easy at all, and that “fantasy” of mine is truly that – an illusion resulting from my jealous misconceptions – but I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes fall into the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” pit.
When I’m feeling jealous, discouraged, or inadequate, I think about the reasons I’m a working parent and why it works best for me and my family. If you’re like me (or just human for that matter), at some point you struggle with what-ifs about the choices you’ve made and often wish you had the life of someone else. The 10 best things about being a working parent might help you refocus and put things into proper perspective. I know every parent, whether working in an office or taking care of the kids at home, could use reminders that they are not alone in the world!
And in that same vein, I find it necessary to write this disclaimer: The list below in no way is meant to give the impression that working parents are better than those that stay at home. This list is meant to highlight the reasons that working parents should give themselves a break and focus on gratitude instead of envy.
It goes without saying that spending the day with your kids can be wonderful. A rainy Saturday afternoon spent baking cookies, coloring, etc. is a great way to get to know your kids and spend some quality time cuddling. Extend that rainy day to a rainy week, however, and you may start to crave some adult interaction (and a straight jacket or two).
When you are a working parent, you frequently get the adult interaction you crave. Psychologists recommend that stay-at-home parents get involved with other adults in their situation to ensure that they get enough adult conversation to feel connected to the outside world. As a working parent, you have that connection with your peers every day.
It is fabulous to spend the day with your kids, but at some point, every mom or dad needs to connect with another like-minded person on a more intellectual level.
The cost of daycare can be overwhelming (sending twins to day care is the equivalent of an extra mortgage payment!), so many people believe that staying home with the kids versus paying for child care generally equals out when it comes to finances. And it often does!
Depending on your profession and your personal circumstances, your salary may generate more income than you will save in child care costs (like it does in my situation). In addition to your salary, you need to factor in health care, retirement benefits, and other employment perks (like flextime or gym memberships, which are becoming increasingly popular). Having a steady income is a luxury many families don’t have when mom or dad stays at home.
Staying in the Game
The general economy is slowly improving, but for awhile, unemployment was at an all-time high and the job market was extremely competitive. Unfortunately, especially for women, re-entering the workforce after a period of unemployment made it even more difficult to land a job.
While ideally every parent could jump back into the workforce after taking time to raise children if they chose to take time away, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. As a working parent, you keep your foot in the door and your resume active to better take advantage of future opportunities.
Setting an Example
Children who grow up with working parents quickly adapt by learning responsibility, self-sufficiency, time management, and the value of hard work. That is not the only way for children to learn those lessons, and stay-at-home parents are equally focused on instilling strong character traits in their children; it just so happens to put you on the fast track when you work outside the home.
Of course your children ARE the center of your existence, but you also crave a life outside of them and necessity may dictate it if you need to work to help support your family financially. You were a unique person with personal interests before they were born, and it can be difficult to maintain that when your role as parent is in center focus. Working outside the home can set an important example that hard work pays off, you need to earn your way to success and survival, and that you have priorities and interests that aren’t always all about them.
Taking care of children is hard work, but it’s not always mentally stimulating. Stay-at-home parents and working parents alike need to take a break and do something that turns on that extra brain power, like read the news or a book without pictures. Working parents have more opportunity to do this when they’re in the outside world, meeting the challenges of a career and leading a professionally and mentally adventurous life outside of the home every single day.
While the mental stimulation of a career can also be the root of exhaustion, stress and more than a little chaos as a working parent, it’s also one of our greatest benefits when we step outside the home each morning.
Socialization for your Kids
Your children may be in school full-time, go to a daycare, or you may be one of the lucky ones that sends them to grandma and grandpa’s house. Whatever your situation, your kids can benefit from learning to adapt to time away from the home when there are working parents in the mix. This may mean getting along with other kids at a daycare or school, or adjusting to a different style of care with a family member or home daycare provider. It fosters trust and can diminish separation anxiety, as your children develop a routine understanding that “Mommy and Daddy go to work, but Mommy and Daddy always come back.”
Developing the skills to interact in new situations, with new people of varying personalities, is an important skill for your child to develop, and life as a working family can help cultivate that confidence.
As a working parent, one of my favorite things to do is take time to volunteer at school or attend a holiday party. Because I’m not always able to do these things, when I am able to participate, my kids are absolutely over the moon with excitement. There is something extra special about being a working parent at school on an impromptu day off, and I like that I can make the time with my kids seem like a special occasion and surprise treat. As a working parent, quality not quantity is most often the name of the game, purely by default.
Stay-at-home parents of course trigger the same happiness and joy when they attend school functions with their children. It’s always a big win for any child to see that special face round the corner on their way to the classroom. And admittedly, I’m often envious that they get those special moments more frequently than I might.
Sense of Accomplishment
As I mentioned above, it is important to have a sense of identity outside of your children. This extends to accomplishing goals outside of potty training or learning milestones. While equally important, they don’t always feel as satisfying when you cross the finish line (although I certainly did my best end-zone victory dance when we finally got potty training down!).
When you complete a complex project at work, earn a raise or a promotion, or simply contribute as a valued employee with creative ideas, you’re awarded a deep sense of mental accomplishment in yourself that doesn’t necessarily depend on your parenting skills. Of course, stay-at-home parents are incredibly accomplished and break records every day too. We’re all winners!
Working parents spend their few free hours chauffeuring kids to and from school, piano lessons, soccer practice, make school lunches, plan birthday parties, etc. on top of a busy workload, deadlines and a full day at the office/store. Working parents often need to become master planners, and become adept at organizing and prioritizing. Survival of the fittest rings true, with working parents channeling every resource to keep energy and focus front and center. The challenges working parents face logistically often cultivates a deeply rooted talent for accomplishing a lot with very little.
Every day I talk to working parents like me and stay-at-home parents in my community, and I always learn something new. I’m thankful that my job allows me to see both sides of the coin of parenting, and I have a greater appreciation for the time I do spend with my children.
Being a parent is never easy. Focus on the best things about being a working parent and remember that every parent, whether the stay-at-home mom in yoga pants or the corporate executive dropping her son off at daycare, is doing their best. We’re all parents. That is our bond. Our personal journeys are our own. For me, working outside the home is a necessity, mentally and financially. But that doesn’t make me any better, any smarter or any more capable that a parent who chooses to stay at home. Remember, we’re all in this together!