Anniversary edition: Stay at home or go back to work?

Editor’s note: Even for the busiest of us, it’s important to take pause and evaluate how we’ve changed and grown. Flipping through the editions from the last 10 years – a veritable trip down memory lane! – it’s only fitting that our anniversary issue be a reflection on the best of Ottawa Parenting Times. We poured through the pages and gathered the classics you may have missed the first time around.

From February/March 2017: When my own 13-month maternity leave was ending four years ago, I wrung my hands and faced one of the most difficult decisions in my 30-something years: should I put my long-awaited daughter into daycare, or give my notice at a job that I loved? As someone who – up until that point – considered herself a ‘career woman,’ I was torn, having just experienced the most incredible year of my life in watching my daughter grow. For this story, I spoke with both moms who went back to work, and who elected to stay at home with their children. All the women had wonderful, valid reasons for doing what they did, and both sides were right, because they did what was best for their families

Stay at home or go back to work?

Working mom Sara Samimi. Photo Courtesy Sara Samimi.

“Should I stay or should I go?”

It’s a question that nearly every parent faces at some point – usually during a maternity leave.

Choosing whether to stay home with your kids during early childhood – or sending them off to a daycare or another caregiver – is one of the most important choices that your family will make concerning your young children.  Parenting Times asked six Ottawa moms how they came to their decision, and how it’s working out for them now.

The stay-at-home parents

Chelsea Smith wanted to be the one to raise her children, Hunter, two, and Ethan, four months.

“I was uncomfortable with the idea of someone else being their primary caregiver and influence,” says Smith. Staying at home allows her to experience all of their milestones, care for them when they are sick, and to determine their schedules and activities. “I am able to participate more actively and thoroughly in their learning and development,” she says.

An accountant by profession, Ottawa resident Katrina Hunter is a stay-at-home stepmom and mom to Dorian 12, Rowan, 11, Aiden 2 and two-month-old Kaelyn.

Benefits of staying home include getting to watch them grow and saving money on daycare costs, but she admits that there are drawbacks.

She thinks “it would be good for my toddler to have more exposure to his peers.” Pending the cost of two in daycare, she is considering finding a permanent, full-time position in her field when baby Kaelyn turns one. It’s hard work being on the job as a mom 24/7, Hunter says.

Smith agrees.

“I find it very difficult mentally and physically being a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “The days are long and very demanding, but I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world.”

The working parents      

An engineer, Kanata’s Karyn Russell worked hard for her career before her daughter Ainsleigh, 6, and son Liam, 2-1/2, were born.

Even though family finances were not a deciding factor in her decision, she knew she wanted to go back.

“I enjoy my work tremendously,” says Russell. “I did not want to give up my career or that part of myself after having children. I am both a career woman and a mother – they do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

With a bit of extra planning and smart time management, the arrangement works well for Russell’s family.

At first, Sara Samimi didn’t want to go back to work after her maternity leave with her daughter, Holly Ellen, ended.

But two weeks after returning to work, the special assignment assistant with the Ottawa Catholic School Board “wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I love my daughter dearly, but I never realized how much I missed my work, and daily adult conversation,” says Samimi.

As a result of returning to work, she finds the time with her daughter more precious, meaningful and purposeful.

“When I was home all day with her I became very drained and lacked the full energy to do the things I wanted to do with her,” she said. Being back at work has made parenting duties more of an even split with her husband, since they are both at work all day. “I believe for my overall health and happiness working outside the home is best for our family.”

“Work is my thing and daycare is hers,” is how Kanata resident Alana Waumsley describes life with her daughter.

A registered nurse at Queensway Carleton Hospital, Waumsley says she loves the impact of what she does.

“I missed having daily work challenges while I was off,” she says of her maternity leave. “I had a great need to return. I have worked hard before my daughter to get where I am and have other aspirations within this organization to advance my career. I always knew I would go back after my mat leave,” she says.

While Waumsley has kept her autonomy and appreciation for my everyday work, her daughter Ainsley, now two, flourished in daycare.

“I felt Ainsley being in daycare would allow her to learn more from peers and from a caregiver that has a passion to mold and educate young minds. I know in my heart that this is the right thing for me and for her,” Waumsley says. “Ainsley has grown so much being in daycare. She has a buddy that she talks about. She is very independent and gets to have lots of adventures every day.”

Although Waumsley recognizes that she’s missed witnessing some of Ainsley’s milestones, the nature of her job as an RN allows her to focus on family life when she is at home.

“Ainsley has taught me to be present with her on our evenings and weekends together,” she says.

Like Waumsley, Heidi Ribalt Peters knew she would return to her job as the manager of a clothing store after the birth of her daughter, Sarah Bella.

Although finances are part of the reason she works, she liked the idea of being around adults.

“I love my daughter, but you don’t get a lot of stimulation from a baby or toddler,” she says.

Still, there are drawbacks, which include “missing out on a lot of their day-to-day learning – they get that at daycare instead of with you – and it’s hard to balance work and spending quality time with the kids when you are working 40 hours a week.”

While all parents have their own reasons for either staying home or going back to work after children, both sides view the other with mutual admiration and respect.  

“Being a stay-at-home or working mom are both extremely difficult,” says Peters. While you are doing one you are always thinking of the other and probably second guessing yourself.”