Working Outside the Home vs. Staying at Home: Which is Harder?

Columnist Karen Green explains how she's become her own mommy war

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It has been eight months since I traded my full-time, work-outside-of-the-home job for some freelance writing work and the opportunity to be at home with my children full-time. This was something that I wanted—desperately wanted, so much so that we moved 300 km to a new town in order to make this happen. And now that I’ve been doing it for a bit, I keep asking myself (especially in the wake of the latest version of mommy-gate coming out of the U.S.), which is harder?

Is it a tougher job to work outside of the home full time, or is it a tougher job to be a full-time stay at home mom?

Well, some days I long for the (relative) peace and stability of my old office job, where I could socialize with adults, challenge myself mentally and drink my coffee hot. Especially when my kids are in a lousy mood, I’m tired, have a deadline, we have to be 50 places at once and then the school calls because somebody just threw up. So, working full-time is easier.

But some days, I recall the stress that was literally making me sick while I worked full-time—not because my job was so terrible, but because working there, then coming home (too late) to spend time with my kids (too little), make dinner, make lunches, alleviate guilt and try to do something with my life besides fall on the couch every night, exhausted, was killing me. Some days now, I don’t even have to get dressed. So, being a stay-at-home mom is easier.

It was harder working full-time. It is harder staying home.

I am my own mommy war.

Without even having to get into philosophical or feminist or political debates here, the idea of comparing the two, of saying that one group of mothers is working harder than the other, is simply a ridiculous way to pit women against each other. Attacking a woman’s choice to stay home or to work—which, by the way, is rarely a choice, so let’s get off of our high privileged horses in assuming that—serves only to assail the attacker’s own sense of self-righteous worth. And that? Is boring as well as hurtful.

There is one other thing I can say about my own experience, and I think it is pretty universal—there are many ways to take care of children; to ensure their happiness and well-being and that their needs are being met. And as long as a mother focuses on that, everybody wins.

Karen Green recently traded life in the biggest city in Canada for life in the biggest cornfield in Canada. Freed from her full-time job as a writer and editor, Karen now spends her time…writing and editing. And frolicking in the leaves with her two small girls. Karen is a speaker, the founder of Mom The Vote and the author of the blog, The Kids Are Alright, where she has been writing about the humorous and poignant moments of family life since 2005. She is thrilled to be a part of

5 responses to “Working Outside the Home vs. Staying at Home: Which is Harder?”

  1. Julie says:

    Well said, KG. As a working mom (who does not really have a choice) and who also stayed at home for 2 – 1 year mat leaves, I agree with both sides of your conversation. Neither is easy and no one should judge anyone for how they spend their weeks as long as, as you say, the best interests and needs of the children are being met.
    Miss you at the office though….!!

  2. Maria says:

    I struggle with this all the time… some days when I’m really frustrated, I think I should just get a full-time job outside the home. Other days I’m grateful for being able to work from home. Is the grass greener? Nope. Either way, both are tough.

  3. Sheila K says:

    I just wonder why this debate always has to be framed as which is harder. I made much the same switch as you, from full-time, at the office work to part-time at-home work so I could be at home with my son. I have no problem admitting that being at home is MUCH, MUCH easier and I’m much, much happier. I know one other SAHM who also says staying at home is easier. For some women, of course, staying at home would be a nightmare; they are happier working in an office. Personally, I think women and mothers should focus on their own happiness and making their lives as easy as possible and shouldn’t be afraid to admit what they are doing. I think miserable mothers make miserable kids.

  4. Angela says:

    As the mother of 3 under 5 years and veteran of 3 maternity leaves (& 2 return to works) I will soon face the ‘return to full-time work blues.’

    For me I am happiest with ‘some’ part time work outside the home. But back to full-time work I must go. Honestly, faced with the costs of childcare (x 3!) and stress of THREE different childcare drop-off/pick-ups EVERY DAY it doesn’t make a lot of sense to work outside the home. We are considering having hubby take an unpaid year off work, rather than try a crazy-making cycle of childcare stress.

  5. […] that I’m a stay-at-home mom with a manageable freelance schedule, I’m enjoying the breaks even more. Yes, it may mean a few […]