Diana Landen: I never expected to be a stay-at-home mom. As far as I was concerned, housewives were miserable women trapped by dependency on men. I actually once asked a mother of five what else she did.
I no longer believe that we should all run out and have traditional full-time careers for our whole lives. Neither do I believe that we should give up on having jobs and careers outside the home. So what should we tell the next generation of young women?
Keep your options open.
Don't rule out being an at-home mother. It's a job and it involves dirty diapers, but it's a better job than most. You're your own boss. You take your kids to the park and library. You figure out what your goals are, the values you want to teach your child, and the activities you want to spend time on. You choose who you will spend time with.
But the best thing of all about being an at-home mother is that you don't have to leave your baby. Wanting to stay with your baby is not a bad impulse you should try to overcome. It's natural. It's part of love. You won't always want to be with your baby and that's natural too. So is wanting to work. And so is wanting to be a child care worker-parent.
Stay out of debt and live on one income before you have children. This allows you to stay home if you discover that you want to. It also allows you to hire high-quality child care if you love your job. More money makes it easier to balance work and motherhood.
Be very, very good at what you do. Get an education. Work. The better you are at your job, the more power you have to ask for a flexible arrangement. Many mothers would like to work outside the home, they just want to have more time with their children. Even if you want to stay home full-time, being good at your job will help you return to paid work someday
Split housework 50-50 before you have children. My husband does half the cooking and all of the laundry. He takes care of the children with me when he is home. The way I see it, I am working at child care while he is out earning money. I deserve a break after work too. Like most couples, however, we do not split things 50-50 anymore. You're probably going to go downhill once you have children, so start as far up the hill as you can.
Pull your weight financially before you have children. The money in the bank is our money. I have no qualms about spending it; I work as a mom and I earn it. It also helps that before we had children, there were times when I supported my husband financially. We got used to sharing and working as a team.
Figure out what you want to do with your life before you have children. I have a study for my writing. I have always made time to write, even if it was just during naps and on Saturday mornings. I would never have had the courage to do this if I hadn't started taking writing courses and going to writers' conferences before my son was born.
Never quit work before you have a baby or are at least six months pregnant. A friend of mine moved for her husband's job and stopped working. She planned to concentrate on getting pregnant. Instead she got depressed.
Plan to cut back on paid work after you have children. Women my age grew up thinking that we should push ahead in our careers the way a man would . Unfortunately, we don't have wives. The work world has not changed to accommodate us with challenging well-paid part-time jobs and flexible hours. So mothers -- and sometimes fathers -- end up cutting back on their careers. You're better off planning ahead than taking what you can get when you're desperate. Just remember to stay flexible if it turns out your plan doesn't work.
Plan to return to paid work. Very few of us can afford to be at-home moms forever, even if we wanted to. Besides, children grow up. Start exploring your options and building up your credentials before you need the money.
There is no one right answer to what you should do. Some mothers want to work outside the home, some want to take care of their children, some just want to work less at their paid job. You shouldn't have to limit your career choices before you get started. Figure out what you really want to do with your life. At the same time, you need to know that combining work and motherhood is harder than we first believed. Take the time to plan what you will do and always, always keep your options open.