Mother and baby in home office with laptop
The recent decision by Marissa Mayer (Yahoo! CEO) to end work at home options for Yahoo! employees has made me think about my own family and career balance.  Ms. Mayer’s decision seems to have stirred up some controversy and judgment about both her career and her parenting.  She recently made the statement that her priorities are God, family, and work, in that order.  Her opponents are having a hard time believing that, citing her return to work only 2 weeks after giving birth, as well as this recent decision to phase out all of Yahoo!’s work from home opportunities, as their main examples.

Personally, I think we may be overstepping our bounds a little by judging her decision to return to work, as we certainly don’t know all of the thoughts that went into that decision.  I have known people who returned to work very quickly after having children (3-4 weeks), and those who thought they would return to work after 12 weeks, as well as those that never did.  I have seen moms start childcare and/or have family, friends, and babysitters keep their babies overnight as early as 2 weeks, even while they were “staying at home.”  And I know many stay-at-home moms who put their kids in daycare for sanity, socialization, and every reason in between.  These are all difficult and very personal decisions, and there are pros and cons on all sides.

I currently work full-time outside of the home, with an option to occasionally telecommute.  With that perspective, here is little bit of insight as to how and why I made these decisions, and most importantly, why I think they are right for my family.

I love my family, and in many ways consider myself a “stay at home mom” at heart.  Before and shortly after the birth of my daughter, my husband and I had multiple conversations about the option to stay home.  I reviewed our budget, applied for part-time and telecommuting jobs, and thought very seriously about staying home with her long term, or at least for the first couple of years.  And, to be honest, we probably could have managed it financially, but we didn’t do it.  Nor did I accept the part-time telecommuting position I was offered.  I was five months pregnant at the time (which the company knew), and something just didn’t feel right.  I figured I could try again for a similar position or choose to leave my job and stay home at a later time.  I also turned down a job when my daughter was three months old, where I could have brought her to work until she was 6 months.  Again, it wasn’t the right job at the time.

So, here I am, still working full time.  I did change jobs, primarily to be happier and to work closer to home, but I am not a stay-at-home mom, nor am I working from home.

Even though I struggle with this sometimes, and probably always will, I feel I have made the right decision for my family for the time being.

While there are clear benefits to staying at home with your children, there are also benefits of working outside of the home.  These include benefits to me, my family, and to my daughter.

I truly believe I am a better, more attentive parent when I am home because I work outside of the home.  My time with my baby is her time, and our time, not anyone else’s.

I often think of how difficult it would be to have that focus if I were home full-time.  Where’s the balance and boundaries if I were working from home?  To be at home with my daughter and not be able to give her my attention would be worse than being away.  Babies don’t understand the explanation of “Mommy is working right now and can’t play.”  To a baby, it must feel like neglect.  They will learn to understand it, but to have them feel this day after day until they do understand it…how hard that would be? Again, this is just my personal opinion and what has worked for my family and me.

When I am home, I try to limit the focus I have on outside things.  I really try to make sure I am engaging my daughter, and am being engaged by her.  While there are some that are phenomenal at this, I have seen many stay at home moms that find this challenging day after day.

These days, we allow many distractions into our homes.  We are plagued by more technology and “convenient distractions” than we know what to do with!  I am adamant about the idea that I don’t ever want my daughter to think that a computer or cell phone is more important than she is. So, I really try to limit my time on these devices when I am home.  I see many stay-at-home moms essentially addicted to these things.  I know this is not true of all of them, but I see so many constantly on social media, talking, texting, emailing, playing electronic games, and watching television.  Just physically being at home with your child does not make you a great parent.  How you spend your time with your child is what makes the difference.  And while we all have moments of distraction and “electronic temptation,” I try to make sure this is not the norm for me.

Another notable concern, is the situation where when one parent works and the other is home full time. We see the stay-at-home parent “hand off” their children and house responsibilities to their spouses during evenings and weekends.  I do not see the balance for the parents or the children in this.  The working spouse has responsibilities 7 days a week, and the stay at home parent gets a couple of days off and nights out?  It is important to have balance in marriage and to show your spouse and children both balance and value, not that they are a “chore.”

Because my time at home is limited, I truly value it and really try to make the most of it.  I think it is sometimes difficult to maintain this feeling and effort, and precious moments may be taken for granted if I did not have the perspective I have.

I also recognize that both my work and family would be negatively affected if I did not have a definitive line between work and home.  There are times when I need to attend to work issues from home, and vice versa. But, for the most part I try very hard to leave work at work, and focus on family when I am home.  Truly, neither one should regularly distract or detract from the other.  I feel that trying to combine them would do just that.  While telecommuting is a great option for some, and I feel fortunate to have the option as needed, I feel it makes it too easy to blur the lines.  Working from home makes it easy to do “just a couple more things” before the work day is over, or to play “just a little longer” over a “break.”   By separating my work from my home, both get all of my focus during their slotted time, and both are better because of that boundary.

Finally, I think my daughter is learning more about her own security, independence, and importance.  She knows that some days Mom leaves in the morning and Mom comes home at night.  There are days when she clearly doesn’t want me to go, but she is reassured every day that it is part of our schedule and that I always come home.  We have routines that we follow to make it simple and reassuring for her.  I never sneak out or trick her.  I always say goodbye, wave, blow kisses, etc., and she is generally happy as I drive away.  And then, at the end of the day, we share the excitement when I return.  I want her to know that I am as happy to see her when I get home as she is to see me.  I think this is a great way to help build her self-worth.

I am fortunate in several ways, and my husband and I have worked to create a situation that benefits our family:

  • We have childcare in our home, so the baby has virtually the same routine every day.  It may be a different person who watches her, but it is almost always in our own home.  I definitely think this helps all of us!
  • My husband and I work alternate schedules, so we don’t need babysitters every day of the week.
  • I have a somewhat flexible schedule to help me meet my family obligations.  I work full time, just with some days longer than others to help me balance my work and home.
  • I use my sick and vacation time when I need to, often just to spend the day at home with my daughter.
  • I love my job, and I appreciate the people I work with.  My boss is wonderful and understanding of my family obligations.  This makes a huge difference.

I can’t say that any of these things are right or wrong for someone else, but for my family, they work.  My daughter is happy, healthy, and truly thriving.  My family is balanced, and I feel balanced.

The Yahoo! employees and executives will have to decide what works for them, but certainly the most important aspects of parenting have little to do with the hours or location of your work, and much more to do with the quality rather than quantity of your parenting time.