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Motherhood: Making Choices About Working

Summing Up the Pros and Cons
The sensible way to think about work and motherhood is to consider different options (Work or not? Full- or part-time? This job or that one?) in terms of this mother with this child and this partner in this family with this childcare possibility at this time. Let's suppose a mother, Jane, is debating whether to return to work or to continue staying home with her toddler, Tommy, and his big sister. Grace. If Jane is bored out of her skull staying home + Tommy is easygoing and would adapt quickly to childcare + her husband is up for doing more housework + Grace is doing fine in preschool + there's a good home day care site just down the street + Jane already weaned Tommy months ago = Returning to work probably makes more sense than staying home. But what if the opposite were true? If Jane feels deeply satisfied with being a full-time mom + Tommy is anxious and clingy + her husband works very long hours + Grace is jealous of her brother and wants a lot of time with Mom + and Tommy is still nursing = Staying home probably makes more sense.

Of course, in real life, the case for one option or another is usually a closer call: Suppose Jane is climbing the walls at home and her husband is fine with doing more housework, but Tommy is anxious about separation and the childcare options don't look very good. The needs of children must be balanced against the needs of their parents, who have rights, feelings, and wants that count, too. Even when you consider only the child, there are still tradeoffs: sometimes a "cost" to a child (such as adequate but less than optimal care) in one area is balanced by an even greater gain to the child in another area (such as a mother's greater patience because she is less stressed). Complicating things, there are the tradeoffs between present costs and benefits, and future ones: perhaps Tommy will be quite stressed at this time by Jane working, but he'll benefit in a few years from the additional income and seniority she'll have from continuing to work.

Overall, it's a tough decision, and either way Jane goes, there will be problems. But the right decision for any mother, whatever it is, will be the one that considers all aspects of her situation - and then evaluates them in light of her purposes and priorities in life.

Using Purpose and Priorities to Inform Your Choices
When you are clear about your purposes and priorities, it is enormously easier to make fundamental decisions about working or not, and to inform daily choices. Say your boss offers you a plumb assignment, but it entails a day or two of business travel each month. If you know that your priority right now is maxing time with your family and you're deliberately treading water in your career, then you'll feel more peace of mind about turning down the opportunity. On the other hand, if you've decided to put more energy into your career, you'll feel easier inside about telling your child every few weeks that you have to go on a trip overnight, but you'll be back really, really soon.

When you have a clear direction in life, you don't have to continually reevaluate your choices, or agonize over the ones you've made. It helps you deal with people who are questioning, sniping at, or resisting the choices you've made. You know what you feel in your heart, and you're more able to explain your actions (if you need to). Even if you can't fulfill an important purpose right now, or be entirely true to your priorities, clarity about what's awry helps you let go of self-blame, feel entitled to mourn what's missing, and be motivated to work on creating a life structure that's a better fit with your values.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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