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Child care after birth

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How do you decide between going back to work and staying at home after the baby is born? Jamie Principe, a 38-year-old mother of two who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., has done both. When her girls, now 4 and 5, were younger, she worked outside the home as an architect. Then, she made the surprisingly smooth and easy transition of becoming a stay-at-home mom.

And she loved it. “I was surprised at how much I loved being home,” Principe says. “Having more time to myself. Enjoying mundane tasks. Catching up with friends. But most of all, being there for my kids.” She had found it nice in some ways to “outsource” the laborious and often dull routine of caring for small children. “But now that the kids are older,” she says, “I feel my presence at home when their school or camp day is over is much more meaningful and important to both me and them.”

Still, Principe misses the professional interaction and stimulation she once knew.

Family psychoanalyst Jenny Stuart says, “You have to leave as many options open as possible through pregnancy and the first year of a first child’s life.” Stuart says it’s difficult to know how you will feel when you become a mother. “Some women who expect to love it are bored and angry and want to work,” she says. “Others are utterly taken by surprise by how much they want to stay home.”

“It doesn’t do children much good if you stay home and are angry and feel guiltily,” she says. “It also doesn’t do much good if you go to work thinking you are supposed to be home full time.”

It’s OK to stay at home, Stuart says, even if it is at odds with your professional training. It’s also OK even though you feel an obligation to the women of your generation and the next. And, “If you go to work and are unhappy there,” she says, “that’s not great for kids either.”

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