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Working vs. Staying Home

Let's face it: most of us would love to work part-time. But few of us have that luxury. Instead, we must choose between staying at home or working full-time. Both scenarios have their pluses and their hardships. Here's a look at one of the biggest decisions you make as a mom.

Full-Time Job

For you It's gratifying to know your 6-month-old loves you and so does your boss. Although you cherish your family, you'll appreciate that not everything in life revolves around them. Working also keeps you in the game career-wise, helps you stay connected to the larger world, and satisfies your natural yearning for intellectual stimulation. Because, while you love your baby to bits, she doesn't read the morning paper.

For your kids Your baby won't understand the benefits of that extra paycheck, but there's another perk she will enjoy. "Our babysitter adores my children," says Holly Gordon, a New York City mother of a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. "And I am convinced that the more people who love them, the better." You may even find that your kid learns to do things for herself earlier and faster than the kids of stay-at-home moms (though some working moms feel just the opposite!).

For your marriage It's easier to stay in sync when you and your partner are both clocking hours on the job. He understands what you do all day and knows how hard it can be. He doesn't assume you should be on diaper duty after work, and he's less likely to take you for granted when you're on the home front. Keeping the spark in your marriage may also take less effort than if you stayed home, because part of you  -- the savvy working woman  -- still resembles the person he married.

Working moms: Drawbacks

You First, there's the guilt. Your heart will break on those mornings when your anxious toddler is clinging to your leg, desperate for you to stay home. And hearing the wonderful things your baby did while you were away will likely be bittersweet. Plus, shuttling from work to home and back again means you will be constantly shifting gears. Cramming in quality time with your child before and after long hours on the job can be exhausting, particularly when your baby is ill or fussy. But the area that will suffer most is "you time."

Your kids Your baby will miss you. There will be days when he falls down at daycare and will cry in the arms of someone else, wanting nothing more than to be with you. When he gets older, he'll complain that you weren't around enough (of course, if you'd stayed home, he might complain you smothered him!). Thankfully, your child will do the healthy thing  -- get very attached to the people who care for him when you're away.

Your marriage Things will fall by the wayside, and sometimes that thing will be your husband. Saying goodbye to home-cooked dinners and perfectly folded laundry may be okay for him, but he will have a harder time knowing that, at the end of the day, you're all out of hugs and want nothing more than a hot bath and a soft bed. When you're ready, hire the occasional night or weekend sitter. "Going out for a cup of coffee or a movie after the kids are in bed is a great way for working parents to reconnect without feeling like they're taking more time away from their little ones," says Claire Lerner, a director at Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit support group.

Stay-at-Home Mom

For you Babies are delicious, and watching them develop is miraculous. As your baby's primary soother and cuddler, you will know him better than anyone else, and you'll be around for every milestone, big and small. Staying home will streamline your life  -- it won't make things less stressful, but it will keep you focused. You can also make some of your best buddies during these early years. "It's an easy time for women to connect  -- even shy ones  -- because you have all that time to bond," says Lexi Welanetz, the director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in Los Angeles.

For your kids Having mom roll out of bed every morning ready for duty is a cozy situation from a baby's perspective. Even the most dedicated daycare worker or the sweetest sitter can't come close. There's no shifting gears in the morning, no daily separation anxiety, no confusing inconsistencies in routine, like when naptime is or what snacks are allowed. "I think my kids really benefit from the stability that comes from the same person disciplining and instructing them," says Lori Stepp, a mother of three in Durham, North Carolina. "It's not that I get on the floor and play with them all the time. It's just that I think they're very comforted knowing I'm there."

For your marriage Because it's your job to hold down the fort, when your baby gets sick, you and your husband aren't going to butt heads over whose turn it is to miss work. And while picking up the dry cleaning with a child in tow can be a drag, having the whole day to do it means that when your partner is off, you can be, too. "I'm not squeezing in housecleaning, grocery shopping, and errands after work," says Lisa Sinton, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York. "When my husband gets home, we can spend time together."

Stay-at-home moms: Drawbacks

You In a word: boredom. If efficiently ticking off tasks on a to-do list is important to you, then staying home may feel more like purgatory than heaven. At the same time, your job never stops. Even when the baby is in bed, it's tempting to sort through laundry or pluck toys off the playroom floor. Make sure to carve out some time for yourself every week.

Your kids Some stay-at-home moms feel their babies are clingier than those of working moms. There's no question that your child will be relying on you and you alone  -- a habit that can be hard to kick. Adjusting to preschool is sometimes challenging for such kids. After all, a classroom of toddlers is a far cry from the charmed life of Mommy and me. "Make sure your baby gets to spend time with other children," says April Nesin, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "That way, he gets a taste of life when he's not the center of the universe."

Your marriage Remember the good old days when you and your husband spent hours venting about your jobs? Well, if you stay home, the first thing you're going to want to talk about when he walks through the door is, When is he taking the baby off your hands? That can be cause for conflict, since after a day at work he wants a break, too. Couples say the best way to deal is first to give him time to unwind (30 minutes tops) and then take the break you deserve.