Back to work after baby?

Roma Kojima debates the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Roma Kojima is a soon-to-be mom of a tiny, wriggly girl. Aside from growing a human, she works in business development at Rogers Media, loves to travel and cook, and obsesses about leather purses she can’t afford. Follow along as she shares her pregnancy journey.

I was recently in the US visiting a dear friend. I adore this woman, and we’ve known each other for about half our lives. We’ve managed to remain close despite our lives taking very different paths.

She always knew that becoming a wife and mother were a certainty and had her first kid in her mid-twenties. My priority was always my personal/career development first and family second. She has chosen to put her career on hold despite being trained in the medical field, and I have decided that I will be going back to work right after my maternity leave ends.

Read more: Career: How to get the job you want after maternity leave >

There seem to be two very clear camps in Mommyland. Hailing from India, I am much more familiar with the stay-home philosophy. Today, more and more new moms in India are choosing to go back to work after having a baby, but it’s still a relatively recent phenomenon among middle-class families. The stigma still skews toward a societal preference for the mother giving up her career to be a full-time caregiver. It also helps that most Indian households are busy with people—family, community and household staff—so it’s not as lonely a prospect as it can be in North America.

For me it was never a question—until recently. I still whole-heartedly believe in having your own interests and pursuits outside of motherhood, but I can’t help wonder about the real impact that has on the child. Is it actually better to make your child the sole focus of your attention for years on end? Or does seeing you have a well-rounded life, trying to balance career and home, actually teach them something and make them better equipped for the world ahead?

Whenever I thought about this question before, it was always centred on me. What would I want to do? What would drive me crazy and what would I find fulfilling? What would it mean for me as a woman? All of a sudden, it’s not about me anymore and that’s a daunting thought.

My friend cheerfully made the choice to be a (mostly) full-time mom to her kids, now six and two years old. She clearly enjoys it, despite the challenges. She has started to work again, a couple of days a week, but has set up her job to be flexible in case she has to alter her schedule. She has also quit jobs in the past because of family circumstances, and it was never a debate as to whether she would have to be the one to quit, or her husband. Her husband is the breadwinner and it seems to work for them. But she is definitely not the doctor she was educated to be.

She also talked to me about her experiences and observations with kids that were raised by stay-at-home moms versus those that went back to work. Granted, in the US parental leave is significantly shorter and obviously parenting styles can differ vastly. She compared the kids of a mutual friend, who chose to stay home, and those of a working mother she knows, claiming the difference in the children’s development and temperament was significant. Without any actual context as to what each mother did differently other than working/not-working, making a statement like that is a dangerous prospect for someone like me. Was it just giving up the career, or was it something else?

Am I going to break my kid if I don’t fully devote myself to her for the next few years?

I know that parenthood in general is riddled with insecurities, and women face their own series of challenges, both from society and within. Breastfeeding vs. formula. Nannies vs. daycare. Immunizations vs. Jenny McCarthy (For the record: Please inoculate your kids). Disposable vs. cloth. The list is never-ending.

All I know today is that I want to be the best mother I can be, but that I also absolutely love what I do. I want to keep doing it, and I want to get better at it. I also want my daughter to see that being a woman is about so much more than accepting a gender-driven fate.

I have to admit, I also have trouble with the concept of relying on a man to take care of me. I love the fact that my husband and I contribute to the household income, and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve taken care of myself financially since I was 17. I want my daughter to know that kind of pride and confidence, too.

Maybe I’m being selfish. Maybe, despite my best intentions, I’m signing up my kid for disadvantages. I honestly don’t know. Maybe I’ll no longer feel like this after she’s born and I won’t want to come back to work for awhile (probably won’t be the case, but who knows?). Maybe there will be special circumstances and I won’t have a choice. I guess all I can do is try and hope for the best.

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