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Posted at 3:22 PM ET, 10/ 1/2009

Moms: Which Years Would You Like to Stay Home?

By Valerie Strauss

Stay-at-home moms are “more likely” than working moms to have an infant or pre-schooler in the house.

That piece of information is one of many in new census statistics that my colleague Donna St. George wrote about today in a front-page story about stay at-home moms. The story said that mothers who stay at home tend to be younger and less educated than most, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

What intrigued me about the story was the age of the children who are at home with their mothers--the youngest.

It is not known whether this is true because new mothers have a hard time getting into the work force, or because they want to bond with their children in the important first year of life--or both.

But here’s what I wonder: If you are lucky enough to be able to choose when you work and when you don’t, which years are the most important to be home?

When my children were born, I would have said, “When they are really young.”

But as my daughters grew, I began to think that it would be better for me to be at home and on top of things as they got older. Now that they are 13- and 16-year-olds, I would answer the question this way: In middle and high school, when hormones, work load, social life and new mobility can cause great stress and potential for enormous trouble.

This is, of course, theoretical: I worked full-time when they were young and I work full-time now (though I, unlike many people, have been fortunate enough to work at an organization that allows me time away from my job when I need it).

And for many people this conversation is moot. But let’s pretend it isn’t.

Which years would you most want to stay home and why?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 1, 2009; 3:22 PM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  Parenting, Stay-at-home moms  
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Early elementary school (though I can't think far enough to high school to make that decision). Even though my four-year old has had long days at day care for years, I hope I can be home when he gets home from kindergarten and first, second, third grade. He'll have such long days and then to go to aftercare seems rough to me. I was lucky that my mom and dad were a teacher, so while they worked, they were home when we were. I envy that.

(Also, I wish maternity leave was for when they were 3-6 or 6-9 months. Would have been so much more fun!)

Posted by: mdem929 | October 1, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I maintained a flexible schedule for the first 15 months of my second daughter's life. It allowed me to breastfeed for 2 years which is a mixed bag. I enjoyed our time. My daughters aren't old enough to inform my opinion about teenagers so I have to say that staying home the first 4 years would have been ideal to me.

Posted by: flabbergast | October 1, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

When I had my child I opted to go back to work and hired a nanny for the first 3 years, then used a church-run daycare for another 5 years, and then a larger daycare for 3 years. My child grew up with loving adults around her in her early years. And once in school, she didn't stay at daycare longer than 1-1/2 hours. So I felt pretty good about it.

By the time my daughter reached the 6th grade daycare was not a good option because she was too old for the activities and then she aged out. I began working at home in the afternoon so someone would be home when she got off the bus. She's in the 8th grade now and I am so glad that I am at home in the afternoon. She talks with me about issues at school, often the moment she walks in the door. I am know which kids are home alone and what they are up to. At this age, they want the independence but lack the judgement and being at home keeps her on track. Teens and an empty house are not a good combination. I remember in high school how we always went to the house with no adults after school. I doubt kids are any different today.

Posted by: AnotherMom | October 1, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Definitely the elementary school years. There are good daycares available for small kids - expensive yes, but high quality - which makes it easy to work fulltime during the pre-public school years. But the public schools are totally geared towards SAHMs. The hours don't match work hours, the afterschool programs are poor, and there are constant half days and vacations. Plus, my kids can't participate in the afterschool activities because the activities end at 4pm and I can't be there to pick them up. Summer is a nightmare - most camps end at 3, and all of the camps end 2 to 3 weeks before the school year starts. Elementary school is really really stressful for families in which both parents work.

Posted by: bkmny | October 2, 2009 6:18 AM | Report abuse

Now that my child is a freshman in highschool I look at this very differently. There are also several perspectives. One is the availability of high quality child care. another are the types of activities children like at different ages, and whether friends or family are the prime focus.

There are many good daycare options for young children. In my area there are also good options for aftercare in elementary school. These are programs that children enjoy, with warm nuturing adults.

The aftercare options for middle school are poor and there are few dependable afterschool activities. The kids at this age still wanted to be home afterschool and were dependent on parents for transportation and admission to activities. Right afterschool was when my child wanted to talk for the first 2 yrs of middleschool.

In highschool there are many different afterschool activities. He typically stays at school for 1.5 to 2 hrs after his last class. My child is less dependent on me for transportation. (Can now safely ride a bicycle longer distances, take the bus etc) He is also beginning to shift from the family to friends. He now wants to talk late at night.

So for our family middle school was the most important time to be home. I am fortunate that I work part time and am able to be home afterschool. In retrospect I would have liked to work less during the preschool years, more during the elementary school years, and more now in high school. (With hours coordinated with the school day!)

Posted by: wannabeanon | October 2, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I have never worried about working while my children are in elementary school. However, I have a lot of concern about middle school and high school because people are a lot less likely to look after or care what happens to your children at that age, but what they can do to harm their future grows exponantially.
My alternative is to make sure they are very involved in afterschool extracurriculars so they don't have an empty home to go to.

Posted by: Brooklander | October 2, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most of the people who posted above: you find pro and cons to all the age groups. However, a key part of a mother's survival if they work is whether they have a good support system to deal with the kids' schedule(s), regardless of their ages. That support system comes in many facets, not just a spouse and job flexibility.

There have been numerous articles on this topic, it's a bit boring now. I'd rather hear from the parents of adult children ages 18-30. What would they have done differently?

Posted by: doglover6 | October 2, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Why not marry a real man who has the brains, income, and breeding to take care of a family so the Mother can stay at home and properly take care of the kids?

Posted by: charlietuna666 | October 3, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

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