Q&A: WAHM to SAHM

Jennifer writes:

"Currently my husband and I both work full time.  Our daughter (18 months) is in daycare.  I am also currently 9 weeks pregnant, due in January (if all goes well).  The daycare/both parents working "full time" routine has not worked well for us.  Some families are able to make it work; for us, it has been awful.  My daughter gets sick at least every two weeks, and some months she has gone to daycare only a few days in the entire month.  My husband and I have flexible work schedules, for the most part, so we can take turns staying home with her while the other works odd hours to make up for missed days, but it has just been so very difficult, and I have almost no leave accrued anymore for maternity leave when baby #2 arrives.  Also, whenever she's sick, she sleeps terribly, so we both are up with her more, and that leads to us being sleep-deprived and getting sick ourselves.  We have considered whether I could quit my job and we could live on his income in our current situation, and we just can't make it work.  Things would be extremely tight if not just plain impossible, and we'd have no safety net whatsoever--a surprise root canal would decimate us--we don't have dental coverage as it is right now.  We really need my income.  So, we've decided that at least when baby #2 arrives, we will try to find a nanny for both, because it will become more financially reasonable with 2, and that should at least limit the number of illnesses. 

So here's the second part of my question.  My husband was recently offered a job in another city that pays a bit more, life costs a bit less, they have better insurance for less, and we think we could swing it there on his income alone.  On the one hand, I have all these lovely fantasies of hanging out with my kids and exploring a new town, but on the other hand, I have worries--worst case scenario, I imagine myself alone in a new town with no family or friends with a two year old and a newborn rapidly going insane and a husband who has to "prove himself" in a new job and is absent a lot.  I certainly am not trying to put you in the position of saying which I should do, but what should I do?  Just kidding.  I want to stay home with my kids for a couple of years.  I breastfed my daughter until recently, and pumped at work for a year.  I'd love to be home and breastfeeding baby #2 and not have to stress over the pump and milk production all the time, which for me was an issue.  I'd love to spend the next six months hanging out with just my daughter until baby#2 is born, so we can have some special time together before she has to share me.  I think my question is more--what should I do to prepare myself for this transition?  Can I do it?  And how can I avoid the worst case scenario?

Also, let me add here that my husband loves what he does and we would not be living where we currently live if not for his job.  We make about the same amount, but my job is just a job to me, whereas his job is what he truly wants to do, so in terms of equity, fairness, and how we made the decision that I might stay home, that's basically it, and also, his job is very specialized, highly competitive, and geographically very limited, whereas I could pretty much work anywhere.  And last but not least, all of the above is personal TO ME.  I know discussions of staying at home versus working outside the home can become heated.  I am not asking which is better, or making assumptions as to what choices women should make.  All of the issues expressed in the letter are specific to me."

Jennifer wanted to make sure that everyone knows this isn't about WAHM vs. SAHM (vs. WOHM), and I want to do that, too. I don't think there's any moral high road when it comes to deciding how to keep your family alive financially and emotionally. (I have a bunch of problems with the way US culture and economic policies treat parents and families, and think the concept of "choice" about working or not is moot for most women, but that's a different post entirely.)

It sounds like you really want to stay home while your kids are little. If you really want to, and you can make it work financially, then you should. Since you're not attached to the city you live in, and your husband has this great opportunity, it sounds like the perfect time to do it.

You're correct in thinking that being a stay-at-home mom can be isolating, so you need to start forming a network of friends as soon as you get there. Before you move, go to an office supply store or Vistaprint.com and print up a bunch of cards with your name and email address and (cell) phone number on them. Put a few in your wallet and diaper bag and everywhere else you might need them. Whenever you meet a parent you'd like to hang out with, give her or him your card. I didn't do it with my first son, and did it with my second, and it's made making new friends so much easier because there's no awkwardness. Now it's just handing the person a card and saying "Maybe we should have a playdate for the kids. Call me and we'll set one up." or "Would you email me the name of the store you bought her shoes at?" or whatever other pretense you're using for further contact.

Since you nurse, I'd start with the La Leche League. Go to a few meetings and check them out to see if there are any moms there you might want to hang out with. Do the same with storytime at the local library, and the mom-baby movie (if there is one in your new city). If you're religious, start shopping for churches or temples as soon as you get there and make friends with other parents there. Go to meetup.com and look for SAHM groups in your new city. See if there are other specific internet groups for your new city that can hook you up with playgroups. Yahoogroups is a good place to start, as is momsclub.org. Or you can just Google your city + babies or kids or parents to see if there are any local sites or lists you can join.

You could schedule in some time while you're house-hunting in the new city to go hang out at the playgrounds and check out the local scene. Strike up some conversations with local parents about how to meet playgroups. They should be able to give you some good leads, and you may even make some friends with one or two of them. That way you'll be set up with a friend or two by the time you land in your new city.

It's a lot of work, but if you go at it like it's a job for the first few months, you'll end up meeting enough people that you'll be able to find 3-5 that you want to hang out with regularly. You won't like everyone you meet, so it's basically a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more cards you hand out, the more people you make playdates with, the more you increase your chances of finding a few people you really enjoy.

I'd also suggest looking for a local chapter of the group Mothers and More (http://www.mothersandmore.org/). It's a group that's dedicated to helping women who are "sequencing," which means going in and out of the workforce while also raising children. Meetings give support to women who are going from one work situation to another, and also help with networking and giving suggestions on keeping your hand in by doing some part-time work if you want to.

If you find that you hate being at home full-time with your kids (and that's OK! really it is!) or that you actually can't swing it financially, you can find a part-time or full-time job in the new city. But if you don't try SAH now you'll always wonder about it and wish you had.  You'll probably end up in the paid workforce again when your kids are older anyway, so why not take the time now to be with them if you have the desire and can manuever your finances to make it possible?

If you're willing to put in the work it takes to make a network of friends for yourself, then you're set. It won't happen overnight, but you'll have plenty of time before the new baby arrives to get set up.

Good luck. (And if you want to tell us where you're moving, there might be a reader or two in your new area who could have some playgroup leads for you.)