My Choice

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The following is a personal story about the decision I made.

Quality of Family Life

Tough choices about working and raising a family

by Jennifer Arsenault

When my husband, Jim, and I started planning our family, I told him that I wanted to quit my job (in the Air Force) to stay at home and raise our children. At first he was resentful. We were just starting to get ahead, and he wanted to be able to reap the benefits of all our hard work. Then, while Jim was away from home on a course, he decided that he would support whatever decision that I made. He said that he wanted to have a happy home, and he realized that more money would not necessarily make that so.

I got pregnant and I applied for the Force Reduction Plan: an incentive package for taking early release. During the months that we waited for my answer, we crossed our fingers and dreamed of how we could spend the money: put some in RRSPís, fix up the car, buy a new fridge and stove, and maybe build a deck.

The answer came; my application had been denied. At first I felt angry and bitter and then I was depressed. I reviewed the budget over and over again. It would be tight, but we could live on one salary. I just hoped the fridge or the car didnít break down, and we could worry about a retirement fund later. I decided that I would put in my voluntary release anyway and get out right after my maternity leave.

I still had this little doubt nagging at the back of my mind. Jim knew, too, because I would always say "if I quit" instead of "when I quit." As the days went by, my 100% certainty waned and became 90%, and then 80%. Eventually, I was 50% sure and I couldnít decide one way or the other. I weighed the pros and cons. But, how could I compare money to raising my own children. Money was tangible, and the effect that a stay-at-home mom would have on my children was abstract at best (and certainly not immediately obvious).

I started my maternity leave six days before my baby was due. Three days later, Natalie was born. For the first three months of my six-month maternity leave we enjoyed each other and I ignored the decision that still hung over my head. Then, I had to start thinking about whether I would be returning to work, or not. If I was going to go back, I would have to start looking for a sitter. After a lot of soul searching, I couldnít deny it any longer; we couldnít live on one salary until we got some of the debts paid. I decided to return to work to finish out my contract; nine months. Everyone said that the nine months would go by so fast, but I thought it sounded like an eternity.

I thought that I would cry when I had to leave Natalie at the sitterís the first day. But, I seemed very matter-of-fact. Then I felt guilty all day; why wasnít I more upset? When I got home that night, it hit me. Natalie didnít seem to miss me or care that I was home again. I sat on the couch with her in my arms and cried and cried. The days passed and I learned to survive. Then, when Natalie started to get older, she started crying as we put our uniform on in the morning. At nine months old, Natalie knew that our uniform meant that we were going to leave her. Thatís when I knew for sure that being a stay-at-home mom would definitely have a good effect on our children.

People constantly asked me, and Jim, why I would want to quit such a good paying job. Some genuinely wanted to understand. Most just wanted to tell me how crazy I was. We found ourselves, all too often, explaining and defending our choice.

I recently signed the paperwork. My release is now official: 80 more working days. It is easier now that I have a goal in sight and a count down on my calendar. Now when people ask why I want to quit, I simply say, "To stay at home and raise my children" (we want to have another child). I donít explain or defend anymore. I know there are going to be bad days when Iíll question my choice. I also know that there will be moments that will make it all worthwhile and that I wouldnít trade those moments for all the money in the world.

I respect those that choose to work outside the home, feel for those that have to, and believe in my decision not to. It was a long process to get here, but I know that being a stay-at-home mom is the right choice for me and my family.

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