Stay at home or go back to work?

“Should I stay or should I go?”

It’s a question 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 your family will make.

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, 2, and Ethan, four months.

“I was uncomfortable with the idea of someone else being their primary caregiver and influence,” she says.

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.”

An accountant, 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 there are drawbacks. “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.”

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

“I am both a career woman and a mother – they do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

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 says.

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.”

And “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. “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.”

While Waumsley has kept her autonomy and appreciation for her everyday work, her daughter Ainsley, now 2, 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 mould and educate young minds. I know in my heart that this is the right thing for me and for her.

“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.

And 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 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.”