To work or not to work?
Why the educated homemaker is opting out of the workplace and why other women are not
It’s 5 a.m. and Laura Williams squints at her computer’s bright light. She presses the letters on her keyboard and replies to as many emails as she can before another busy day at her full-time job begins.
After she makes breakfast for her family, her husband Ryan gets their daughters, Emma, 4, and Anna, 18 months, ready. Then the Williams family sets out to drop Emma at pre-school, and then mom and Anna drop dad at work.
Sounds like your typical family morning: the family gets ready, the kids go off to school, and mom and dad go off to work, right? Well, sort-of.
Seven years ago, 29-year-old Laura Williams was living the professional life she always imagined. Armed with a degree in social work from Cornell, Williams had an impressive resume that could practically name her job of choice. But today, she’s living the life she never imagined she would have: she’s a stay-at-home mom.
Williams is a part of a growing national trend where educated women earning good salaries temporarily ‘opt out’ of the workplace to take care of their children.
With professional experience ranging from public relations at XEROX to handling media affairs for 1997 U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky at Boston University, Williams had employers from Rochester, N.Y. and Cambridge, Mass. offering her higher paying and higher power jobs.
But the newly married, successful professional was also thinking about starting a family. So Williams turned down these career advancing offers and continued at the Boston University Public Relations Office.
“I knew early on that I did not want an 80-hour per week job,” said Williams. “Getting a graduate degree, working part-time, and starting a family are three things that did not mesh.”
Williams, 36, who described herself as a go-getter, said she always felt ambitious while growing up.
“I knew I wanted to work professionally,” she said. “I always thought I would work part-time and have children.”
But after working at BU through her first pregnancy and simultaneously taking graduate classes at the university, Williams became anxious; yet she wasn’t ready to walk away.
“This was definitely the most stressful time in my life,” said Williams, whose own mom was a stay-at-home mom. “At the time you think you can do it all, but finally I approached my boss and convinced him to let me work from home.”
Williams said that although she felt fortunate to have this opportunity, she often felt torn between her job and her baby—even at home.
“I had a responsibility to respond to media inquiries,” she said. “Yet there’s this human being next to me, relying on me, pulling my heart strings.”
Ultimately, Williams decided to be a full-time stay at home mom, and she’s not alone—-according the 2000 US Census, children under 15 represented 84 percent of the 49.7 million children under 18 living with two parents. Of these, about 11 million lived with “stay-at-home” moms.
“Women are realizing when they carry a baby for nine months that it’s okay to follow your heart,” said Williams. “It’s more important to be there with your child than to be a successful CEO, or attorney, or in any high position.”
Laura Mastrobuono is also a stay-at-home mom who opted out of her high paying pharmaceutical sales job to raise her children.
“Work is work, but family is forever,” said Mastrobuono. “This was planned. We [she and her husband] were always conservative financially, but we lost half of our income when I left.”
Mastrobuono, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in business administration, said that she has no regrets about leaving her career but admits that she and her husband sacrificed material items as a result.
“We do not have a lot of the newer high tech stuff, but everybody makes choices and it is definitely worth it,” she said. “Time with my children is more important than stuff!”
Mastrobuono also said that her husband has always been a very active father and his role in their family has not changed since she left work.
The only concern that Mastrobuono expressed is her frustration with government penalties for not working.
“I wish that there were tax advantages for families with a stay-at-home parent,” she said. “It could potentially benefit society if fewer children were in daycare and coming home to empty homes.”
As the tax law currently stands, families with two working parents can set aside pre-tax money in a ‘dependent care reiumbursement account’ to pay for things like pre-school and summer camps.
“These are things that I now have to pay for without that benefit,” Mastrobuono said. “When I worked, I had a 30 percent savings of the cost of those things.”
But Mastrobuono said the world is a tough place today and raising her children well is more important than any benefit.
“The child care shuffle gets old fast and work suddenly loses its’ appeal when you have somebody else depending on you,” she said. “When you are sitting in a meeting that is a waste of time, you realize that your time could be better spent else where.”
Mastrobuono said she is never bored, because when it’s not play time, she is grocery shopping or doing laundry.
She also said that living in a town with many Moms who are at home makes her occupation even more enjoyable.
But there are still a lot of women who think staying home is boring. In 2002, there were an estimated 6.2 million majority-owned, privately held, women-owned firms in the U.S., employing 9.2 million people and generating $1.15 trillion in sales, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research.
Gladys McKie is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University who worked through her sole pregnancy and daughter’s childhood.
“I could never stay at home,” said McKie, who is working to earn her PhD one night a week at Northeastern. “It’s just very boring….I can’t live through my daughter’s eyes.”
Statistics show that women like McKie are continually increasing their education and completing degrees throughout the country.
Take the state of Minnesota for example, where the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by women has increased by seven percent since 1990, according to the United Way.
The organization also said that women in that state earned 60 percent of associate degrees, 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 62 percent of master’s degrees, 46 percent of doctoral degrees and 45 percent of first professional degrees in 2000.
To work or not to work?