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Recently, I read this article on “opting out” and though there’s a part of me which is glad the piece was written, there’s another part that is a bit disgusted and offended. I’m not simply disgusted in the article, but in the comments as well. Again, I ask “Why is it that we are so intent on judging and criticizing others’ choices? Why is it any of our business? What is the harm in simply allowing people to make whatever choice(s) work for them at any given time?”
As Birthing Beautiful Ideas states:
- “For those of us who have a decision at all, the choice about whether to work outside of the home or work from home or quit all of our jobs and stay home with our children is fraught with multiple challenges. Sometimes the choice is only even a half choice. Other times, it is not a choice at all but instead one that is mostly the product of circumstances, of family finances, of divorce, of a move to a new city or state or country, of a job loss, of a changing workforce, of a lack of affordable and reliable childcare.”
- “I think that we need a broader recognition of just how much privilege is packed into these worries and concerns. Those of us who worry about our choices to stay at home or work from home or work out of the home must rely upon other people–and many times, other mothers–who work low-wage jobs with little-to-no benefits and little-to-no flexibility. So when we talk about “us” and “we”–we mothers who face such extraordinary difficulty when it comes to our work and parenting configurations–are we including all parents in “our” conversation? Or just those who look and live and enjoy many of the same privileges as “us”?”
As was pointed out so well, sometimes what may look like a ‘choice’ for one family, in essence wasn’t a choice at all. When the cost and safety of childcare, whether private, public, subsidized, or communal is included, it may not be a ‘choice’ for one parent to stop working. It may be the only way they can care for their child(ren). This is not a luxury, oftentimes it is fact. Maybe one’s ideals of parenting and parenthood include one parent staying at home or working from home full-time or part-time. One parent staying home may be the only way a family feels comfortable and safe. Maybe the ‘choice’ is wrapped up in the needs of a child or children. With the rising rates of children with special needs, it may be the best ‘choice’ for a parent to stop working or significantly decrease their working hours, whether at home or outside of the home.
Though it may seem like a small portion of families are faced with these choices, when it comes to caring for their child(ren), my research and experience tell me otherwise. The realities of situations and communities, at times, is quite different from what we may hear about on television or read in the newspaper, as often those are only partial stories. My experience as a professional also tells me that there are a great many children who are in childcare situations which are not very safe, let alone ideal. It’s not just the childcare situations that make national, semi-national, or even local news.
Oftentimes ‘choices’ are the result of circumstances that may or may not be in a family’s control. Those ‘choices’ may also be taken quite reluctantly, for various reasons. It is also very much a fact that when one parent leaves the workforce or significantly alters their participation in the workforce, the family is not “better off”, there is an even more important financial struggle that the family has to endure. Am I implying that sometimes a parent may leave the workforce and the burden isn’t so great, no. I’m simply saying that more often than not, largely based on our societal economic structure, there are families that may struggle even more than before both parents were working. Some families can barely manage financially with both parents working. Some families may have created financial situations prior to becoming a family with children and the addition of those children almost requires both parents to continue working. There are also those situations wherein one person in a family unit may decide for another who is working and/or how much they are working. It’s also important to remember that even in one-parent households, that single parent may not be working for some of the same or similar reasons as in a two-parent household. Sometimes these parents are receiving many services, without a history of criminal activity or drug use/abuse.
The cost of healthcare is even included in a family’s decision. It may be beneficial to work in order to receive healthcare, though it may also be taxing on that same healthcare cost because of working. And, it’s not always true or financially possible for the other parent to then become responsible for the entire family’s healthcare. Then there’s the conversation about the emotional or mental stability of the parent that no longer works. Whether the parent no longer working held a professional job or not, likely their social interactions, their mental stimulation, and feelings of worth and contribution have decreased. This can lead to other issues and stressors within the family unit.
The reality is, despite what some may believe or want others to believe, a parent ‘choosing’ to work isn’t very clear-cut. The reality is also that sometimes, I would even venture to say more often than not, it may be a decision that is contemplated every day. A family ‘choosing’ to have one parent not working is a clear risk to the family’s basic financial stability and frequently the parent no longer working’s entry back into the workforce after any length of absence is proved ever more difficult.
So, maybe the debate and conversation shouldn’t be so much centered around what ‘choices’ families are making, rather on the circumstances that families are faced with and the pressures placed on parents and families through society and the demands of our culture. Maybe the conversation shouldn’t be about what parents do after they stop working and discussions about how to meet the true needs of families versus corporations and businesses needs to be had. Maybe, just maybe, we can all each recognize that people, families, make the best ‘choices’ they can in any situation and that no one ‘choice’ is always the right choice, the preferred choice, or even the only choice. Maybe, just maybe, we can support one another instead of criticizing each other. And maybe, just maybe, we can also allow others to make decisions without dictating whether their decision is privileged, because it just may not be.
What are your thoughts on the difficulties in making parenting decisions? How has your family’s work situation changed since the introduction of child(ren)?