A Good Time to Be Working. Period.

by Susan Wenner Jackson


As I’m sure many working moms experience, I sometimes feel ambivalent about my choice to work full-time rather than care for my daughter at home. There are days when I think, “Maybe she’d be better off if I just sucked it up, lived extra-frugally and spent my weekdays with her instead of going to work while she’s at the sitter…” But a scary brush with layoffs last week had me feeling really good about earning a decent income.


My husband witnessed one of his coworkers (in a very small office) get the pink slip. Later that morning, he learned that many more employees of his parent company (in a distant office) were axed, too. All of this was quite out of the blue, at least from his perspective. His superiors assured him and his remaining coworkers that no further layoffs were planned, and their jobs were “safe.” Whatever that means, in this economy.


Meanwhile, he and I are IM’ing and emailing about what could/might/should happen, with him freaking out and me reassuring him that everything would be OK. I have a feeling I would have been freaking out, not reassuring, if I were a stay-at-home mom whose family depended solely on his income for survival.


Instead, I knew that we could do OK on what I make, even if he got laid off and was out of work for a while. And though I am not expecting any layoffs at my work, I feel safer knowing that he’s employed, too. I guess it’s possible we could both get laid off at the same time, but it’s not likely. (Everyone knock on wood, now!)


This experience reminded my mom of the days when my grandpa would get laid off, back in the 1940s and 50s. He did various types of factory work, and it was common for such workers to get laid off, only to be called back to work within days, weeks or months. Mom recalls my grandma, who was a stay-at-home mom to two girls, going nuts when this would happen. Here she was, depending on Grandpa for every dime to pay for their groceries, clothes and mortgage payments. And she didn’t have the background or opportunity to go out and earn an income while Grandpa waited for another factory job to open up. It must have been a truly helpless, terrifying feeling.


I still sometimes feel sad that I have to be apart from my daughter all day during the week, and I doubt that will ever go away. But I can remind myself that what I’m doing not only contributes to our family income—it’s also a strong safety net in these frightening economic times. That’s something to be proud of.


It is a good safety net. But I think for those who do feel they should be SAHMs, the economic situation should be a GIANT sign to make sure you have that 3-6 months safety net in the bank.


For quite awhile I pondered the idea, myself; whether or not to become a SAHM like so many other women out there, who seemed to be doing it and loving it. Getting up at the crack of dawn and delivering a still sleepy child to a daycare center not to be seen until pickup at dusk often left a lump in my throat and a pain in my heart. Women working outside of the home and SAHMs often seemed at war with one another over who was providing a more suitable home life for their children; the battleground being forums on popular women’s websites.

For a time it appeared fashionable to be a SAHM, and I found myself envious, when, along the route home, I would see what I presumed were SAHMs looking quite trendy, pushing their kids in jogging strollers, and in general, spending the time with their children that I wasn’t. I found it awkward to return home after a long workweek to see my neighbor with a golden tan hanging her beach towel up after an afternoon swim; while I appeared ragged and spent, still in my work clothes and drained from the commute, trying to find my way back into my role as a wife and mother. Now it looks as if the tide is turning and many of these SAHMs are returning to work. Inwardly I am smug, wondering what their next defense will be, and how they will define their new roles and juggle work and family life. I realize I shouldn’t have these thoughts and try to dismiss them whenever possible. Whether out of necessity,or simply fear, we’re all in this together.


Oh thank you, thank you for posting this. These are my thoughts exactly. I really feel out of touch with SAHM's who try to make me feel guilty for going to work. Thanks for reminding us of tougher times for women who didn't have the choice at all!