DanvilleSanRamon.com

Cover Story - May 11, 2007

Motherhood

It's a challenge, whether she stays at home or continues to work

by Christina Straw

Whether they spend their days in an office or behind the wheel of a mini van, mothers are always working.

Raising children is one of the most important and challenging jobs parents have. Regardless of whether they work out of the home or not, finding the balance as caregiver and provider is a struggle that women face every day.

For moms with other professions, companies have come a long way in terms of emphasizing the importance of work-life balance; some offer on-site child care, job sharing and work-at-home opportunities. These work scenarios provide a mother more time to spend with her children and help provide a better symmetry with all the different tasks mom juggles between her professional and personal life.

For stay-at-home moms, more and more women are not letting society or the media dictate what they should be doing when it comes to raising their kids. Women are saying, "This is where I want to be." When it comes to managing the household and driving to and from school and sports activities, stay-at-home moms are finding support through mother's groups, friends and family.

The stay-at-home mom

"I really like staying home with the kids. I enjoy it," says Kelly Sueksdorf, Danville resident and mother of four boys ranging in ages from 10 to 15. "I always thought I would work. After I had Brian (the oldest), I was planning on going back to school to get my nursing degree. But then I had the twins, Kevin and Alex (now 12).

"With all the costs of childcare, just trying to work seemed ridiculous, and then we had the fourth one, Kenny (now 10), so staying home just made more sense.

"My husband Mark always wanted me to stay home with the kids," she continues. "When I was talking about working, he kept saying, 'You don't need to.'"

Sueksdorf says that jumping from one child to three when the twins were born was overwhelming.

"I wasn't getting any sleep," she recalls. "My mom would come up and help out, but she worked. It was exhausting and time consuming. It was like having a daycare. There was no baby bonding with the twins. It was feeding and changing. You could comfort and take care of them, but there wasn't enough time to sit and coo at one baby, like you did when you had just one."

With a busy household, Sueksdorf says her laidback attitude helps her manage the kids as well as a marriage.

"Don't get me wrong, I do get mad and can yell, but maybe it was the way we were raised?" she says. "Mark was raised that you do timeouts and discuss what the problem was; we didn't spank. I've always been easygoing, even when I was a kid. Nothing really bothered me."

Both of Sueksdorf's parents worked when she was growing up, her mother returning to work after her parents divorced when she was 9.

"It was hard," she says. "Mom was always gone. When I came home from school, I was almost always alone as my older brother and sister were off doing their own thing."

Did the fact that her mother worked influence her to stay home? Sueksdorf says, without hesitation, "Definitely."

"You always hear how important it is to be home when kids are in junior high and high school and I think that's true," she says. "When I was home alone, I was bored. We certainly had the opportunities to get in trouble."

When the boys have problems they need help with, they go to mom. They'll wait to do homework with their dad. Plus he takes them fishing, camping and hiking. They do talk about personal things with Mark, but come to Kelly more with the day-to-day issues and questions that kids' face. She thinks this may change as they get older.

"I've had conversations with the boys where I tell them to ask their dad," Sueksdorf says.

"I really like being a stay-at-home mom," she sums up. "I want my kids to be happy, secure, love themselves, not to be lost and making bad choices."

What's it all worth?

If one were to pay a stay-at-home mother, her annual salary would be $134,121, according to compensation experts, Salary.com, in a 2006 study.

How did they come up with this number? Salary.com consulted with both stay-at-home and working moms and determined the 10 roles that would make up a mom's job description. Salary.com found titles that best fit a stay-at-home mother's definition of her work, listed in order of hours spent per week, to be: housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist.

"People recognize that both stay-at-home moms and working moms carry a heavy load of responsibility and work long hours," said Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at Salary.com. "It is an eye-opener for many people when they see the real market value of the work moms perform."

Both working and stay-at-home moms face the same types of challenges and sacrifices: keeping children happy and on track at school and in sports, keeping the house clean, and managing family schedules. Working moms give up things like more sleep and exercise. Stay-at-home moms give up working out of the house, career advancement, and a salary.

A 2006 U.S. Census poll found the United States had an estimated 5.5 million "stay-at-home" parents last year - 5.4 million moms and 98,000 dads. Obviously, full-time parenting is still predominantly female territory.

According to the U.S. census bureau, 51 percent of mothers of infants are in the workforce. In 2000, 67 percent of mothers of all-aged children had joined the work force, a jump from 1970, when only 49 percent worked for pay.

Ulf Lundberg, a professor of biological psychology at the University of Stockholm, found that age and occupational level don't make much difference in terms of women's total workload. In families without children, men and women both work about 60 hours a week.

"As soon as there is a child in the family, total workload increases rapidly for women," Lundberg said. "In a family with three or more children, women typically spend 90 hours a week in paid and unpaid work."

The working mom

Danville resident Lisa Sawires and her husband Sam have four boys ranging in ages from 13 to 5. She works four days a week at Walt Disney Elementary in San Ramon, teaching science in grades 2-5. Sam is a technical engineer.

"I was staying at home with them for a long time but needed to go back to work for benefits," says Lisa Sawires. "The science lab position seemed perfect because I could do all the activities with the kids but not have my own classroom. Hands-on activities were a good transition back into the field."

Sawires returned to work three years ago.

"My husband worked from home the first year I went back and we didn't have any child care," she says. "It was great because he could be home but he had a tough time trying to work and give the kids the attention they needed.

"The second year we had a nanny come in, and Matthew, the oldest, had a tough time because he felt he was too old for a nanny."

"The year I went back to work was the hardest transition ever," she adds. "I wanted to be home with the boys and felt I was burning the candle at both ends. We didn't see our friends as much. It was work, come home, take care of the kids, and catch up on the weekends. It wasn't easy and is still challenging."

"It's a hard thing to do," she says. "You want to be home with them. Sam and I make up for it by spending as much time with them as we can. We all chip in together as a family on the weekends and we spend a lot of time together."

Sawires also talks about what it was like growing up with a working mother.

"My mom worked as a teacher and was with us during the summer, and I had a great childhood," she says, "but in the back of my mind I always wondered how things would be different if she had stayed home.

"Teaching is a great job with kids because we're home at the same time, I have summers off, set hours, no after-hours work. On the days I have off, I can volunteer in the kids' classroom, which is really important."

Advice from the experts

Carol Wood, a San Ramon-based marriage and family therapist, sees stress regardless of whether the woman is working or staying at home.

"It's not so much whether these mothers are working or not working; it's more about whether or not they feel valuable, valued and if their connections are good," Wood says.

"Many times it reflects in relationships. These women may say that their relationships aren't going as well because they're at work all the time or 'I'm a stay at home mom and burnt out,' but it's about the relationships with themselves and their people closest to them (spouses and children)."

She goes on to say people spend too much time worrying about keeping up with others and not enough time focused on what's inside.

"People have to look inside of themselves and decide, 'What is it that makes my life a success?' and 'How am I connected?' A working mom can be just as connected to her children as a mom who is home all day," Wood says.

"It's not about measuring up to someone else's standards or measuring up by what you have, it's about how you feel inside and how that impacts your relationship with your children and your spouse. You can't have it all. You have to be able to say what's most important 'to me.'"

Wood says that stress in women is all too common when they're trying to focus on too many others.

"I do see stress in women who are trying to please, and they are trying to please too many different 'masters' (i.e. their husbands, children, peers, community), and the person they forget to try to please is themselves," she notes. "If you have a passion for being at home with your kids, go for it. I think a lot of women are terrified for standing up for themselves."

"The model of a stay-at-home mom and a working mom can both be very, very positive," she adds. "It's not about what you do, it's about who you are. How you're connected to yourself and how you handle relationships. If you're connected to yourself in a healthy way, you connect in your relationships in a healthy way."

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