This is a question every mother asks herself at one point or other, I think. I know I have used the calculator at several different points from toddler hood to school age wondering if the time I spend away from home is worth the income that I contribute to my household. At certain times I have felt that there wasn't enough money in the world to take me away from home, such as when my child was a baby. We felt that there was no substitute for what our child needed in the first year of life than what I could give him. Even though living on maternity leave benefits (which while generous in this country are still a pittance compared to a real pay cheque) and a student loan income was near to impossible to do long term, we knew my husband's education would pay off in the long run. We also had help from my generous mother who allowed us a lot of leeway when it came to paying the rent on time. When I did go back to work it was difficult, I will admit. My son dropped breastfeeding like a hot rock when I started back to work in the evenings, finding the convenience of the sippy cup and cow's milk much preferable to sitting still in momma's lap for an extended BF sesh. Gone were long lazy mornings of nursing on demand and no schedule but baby and mama's. It took me some time to get over the fact that I was no longer the most important thing in his world and that he could survive without me for a few hours. Survive he did and as we went on I took on more and more hours at work, trying to "get ahead" and give him everything I never had as a child. We made some financial decisions that in hindsight were not the best, but we also bought our home, which got us into the market and which we still live in today. I learned many things about that period in my life and the biggest thing I learned is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I don't have to work forty or fifty hours a week, paying others to rear my child and cook my meals to get ahead. In fact, I probably won't get very far ahead this way and the debt we incurred during that crazy period proves it. Yet, staying home full time is not an option either. Whenever I stay home for long periods of time, my husband feels a lot of financial pressure to "bring home the bacon" and I feel a lot of pressure to fry it up and clean like Martha Friggin' Stewart every day. It just isn't us. So, since my husband makes three times the cash than I do, we put the priority on him getting to work, being fed and happy and having a little extra to do something fun once in a while. Our solution? I work part time. I figured it out on the calculator and my contribution is, admittedly, small. My costs to work are also minimal though; no dry cleaning, no real transportation costs, ( I could walk if I wanted to) and not even the need to pack lunches makes the only real "cost" my time away from the family. I used to feel a lot of guilt about the fact that the boys had to have dinner without me some nights. I have decided that the nights that we get to eat together are just all the more special because we are home together. My attitude about going to work is that I choose to work because it works for me and it helps me pay my own bills and give a feeling of taking the pressure of my husband to provide everything. I also abhor asking him for a penny because it's a matter of control to me. If I have no money that I have earned, I have no power. If I have no power, I feel powerless about our financial future. So, can I afford to stay home? No, I can not. In more ways than one, I can not.
What about you? How and where are you on this ever controversial issue? Feel free to comment about it!