Staying home with your kids is a career choice

When I was nearing the end of my first maternity leave, my husband happened to mention to a neighbor from a few blocks away that I would be going back to work soon. She gasped, and asked, "So, who is going to raise your child?"

A new friend of mine recalls how, when she first mentioned returning to work, other new moms she met told her how sorry they were for her. And after story time at the library during my second maternity leave, someone I barely knew kept saying it was such a shame I couldn't "find a way" to "do what's best" for my children. (News flash! If your paycheck covers the mortgage, continuing to earn the income with which to pay it is, in fact, "what's best" for your children!)

We're quick to say that all moms are working moms, but if that's really the case -- and I believe that it is -- let's take things one step further: Staying home with your kids is a career choice, not a moral imperative.

And yet, instead of recognizing that we're all trying to do what's best for our own families, we make (or hear) judgements about it all the time. Over at one of my favorite blogs, Mom to the Screaming Masses, Carmen writes: I had an argument with someone recently, someone who asked me why, if I was a stay at home mom, my kids had problems. Wasn't the point of staying home with my kids, this person said, to avoid all of the problems? To make sure that things went well for everyone? The issues with that argument are so numerous that it's difficult to know where to start. Aside from the obvious Mommy War fodder and the shrapnel from the Mommy Drive By, it's like saying that anyone who works should never have financial problems. Is that realistic? Of course not.

Let's be frank: Full-time stay-at-home parenting is a tough gig. There are no sick days. It's largely unpaid. All vacations are working vacations. If you do your job right, your current position eventually becomes obsolete.

But my decision to go to work? It's not something I need to feel sorry about. Earning the money to put food on the table is just as important as cooking that meal and feeding it to your family. The decision to work outside the home is just as valid as the decision to work within the home.

Have you been criticized for your decision to maintain your career, whether it's outside or inside the home?

Lylah M. Alphonse blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. She's the managing editor of Work It, Mom!, where she writes about juggling career and family at The 36-Hour Day, and she writes about parenting issues for The Boston Globe. Follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.