I love my kids, but opting out of the workforce wasn't an option

Whether you went back to work full-time after your kids were born, chose to drop to part-time status, or opted out of the workforce entirely, Katy Read's essay at Salon.com-"Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom"-touches a chord.

"I became a mother during a moment in history when women faced unprecedented career opportunities yet were expected to maintain a level of interaction with their children that would have made my own mother's eyes roll practically out of their sockets," Read writes. "I was a busy reporter and naive new mom, two jobs that I was led to believe could not, for all practical purposes, be performed adequately and simultaneously. Oh, and while one was commendable, the other was morally imperative."

That, I'm guessing, is where most readers take a side, even though the essay doesn't go on to condemn either choice, per se. Instead, if offers a look at the serious, practical side of what is presented by many as a rosy option. The choice to stay home isn't so much about career vs. kids as it is about financial independence vs. dependence-and what happens if you end up on your own after years of relying on someone else to pay the bills while you raise the children.

I was a working stepmom for years before my youngest kids were born; after my first maternity leave, I struggled with the idea of returning to work. It wasn't because I thought I "should" stay home with my baby (I firmly believe that staying home isn't a moral imperative, it's a career choice). It was because I knew I had to find a way to downshift my career enough to care for my kids without letting it grind to a halt. I'm the breadwinner for our family; for me, and for hundreds of thousands of other working moms, opting out of the workforce isn't an option.

Yes, work-life balance becomes nonexistent when you're in the thick of parenting very young children. But it gets easier-or, at least, you redefine the concept of "a good night's sleep," remind yourself that this, too, shall pass, and you adjust. Besides, even if you choose to stay home, your husband's work-life balance, or lack thereof, can affect yours, too. So opting out in order to gain better work-life balance? To me, that's not a good enough reason to risk financial ruin.

Read spent 14 years focused on her family but now, post-divorce, she's discovered that honing her writing skills part-time for little pay while staying home with her kids wasn't enough to make her employable now, when she really needs to be. "I long ago lost track of how many jobs I have applied for, including some I wouldn't have looked twice at in my 20s, but I can count the resulting interviews and have fingers left to twiddle idly," she points out. "Before I left full-time work in 1996, my then-husband and I, both reporters at the same newspaper, earned the exact same salary. Now my ex, still a reporter, is making $30,000 a year more than that, while I have been passed over for jobs paying $20,000 less."

Over at Strollerderby, Katie Granju relates to both sides of the coin. She took time off when her oldest kids were small, and writes: "At the time of my divorce, I realized that I was leaving my marriage with a bucketload of great memories of time spent at the playground with my children, but without the basic financial security - health insurance, a retirement account, a home - that a woman of my age should have had."

But Granju wasn't job-hunting during a recession, or in a field that's rapidly becoming obsolete. "I am grateful, very grateful, even on the days when I am at work for 12 hours and don't see my kids except to put them to bed," she writes. "Their father/stepfather handles bedtime duties on those nights, and we are both okay with that, given that my paycheck pays for the roof over those beds. I have a lot of catch up to do in my career, but I pinch myself every day, feeling lucky that I have one at all. I know that I might have ended up in a very dire place if I were looking for a job today with the spotty, stay at home mom-type resume I had to offer when I was looking back in 2004."

Did you decide to stay home with your kids when they were small? Why or why not?

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