Ah, maternity leave — that magical six weeks of paid time to breastfeed and bond with your newborn. Nice benefit, if you can get it. Better still are the additional four to six weeks of paid paternity leave for which dads can file. Back to back, you can manage to have parental in-home care for your infant for up to three or four months. If that sounds like too little a block of dedicated time, that’s because it is. The first four months with a new baby are a sleepless, nerve-fraying, shower-sneaking, barely eating blur for many first-time parents. If any of them are like me, they barely feel they’ve had time to make an emotional, enjoyable connection to their baby in that brief a time. They’re too consumed with the need-meeting, the task-sharing, the so-milk-laden-breast-wringing. Truth is, sometimes, parenthood doesn’t begin to get awesome until four to six months in. If by then, it’s time to go back to work from 9-5, a parent can feel like she’s really being cheated.
It makes sense, then, that more parents are opting to scrap the office grind altogether and are finding ways to integrate their work life into their home life, rather than the other way around. Sheryl Nance-Nash of Forbes.com profiles four families who’ve decided to make the shift, and while she’s quick to add that this doesn’t exactly mark a national trend just yet, it’s a concept that’s gaining appeal as the demands of office work increase and time at home with the children decreases.
She adds that the decision isn’t purely emotional. Some parents are making the shift out of necessity.
For some, maybe there is no job to go back to, as companies go out of business or downsize. Others feel vulnerable in this economy and want some sense of control, even if it means starting a business in these uncertain times. For all the talk about work-life balance, in many workplaces, it’s still more myth than reality, or real, but costly in terms of career trajectory. It’s not my imagination. In The Career Cost of Family, Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz write, “Some female MBAs with children, especially those with high earning husbands, find the trade-offs so steep and leave or engage in self-employment.”
Then, too, nostalgia is in the air. Some people are craving a time when family really meant something and they made a living as a farmer or sold homemade goods at the market. They made a living, but not a killing, and everybody was seemingly happier. Much of the family somehow contributed to the business, too.
I can certainly attest to the necessity, if not the nostalgia. As an adjunct professor whose course load and income fluctuates semester to semester, working a second job from home has been a must, as was starting a business. The endeavor affords me time with my toddler, saves in child care costs, and provides a much-needed second stream of income. A quick cost-benefit analysis tells me working 9-5 wouldn’t be worth the time away from home during these critical years of my daughter’s early childhood development, since I’d spend a great deal of what I’d make paying someone else to raise her. And it’s likely I’d be taking a job about which I’m not as passionate or invested as I am with teaching or writing.
Working from home with a small child is difficult — next to impossible without spousal or family support — but as Nance-Nash’s article asserts, with the right caretaking partnership in place, the decision to opt out of returning to work can be the best one for all involved.
Would you work from home or start a business to spend more time with an infant or toddler? If you intend to have children, is the stay-at-home mom thing for you?