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The options of either staying at home full time or working outside of the home both contain benefits and adversities for you, your spouse, and your offspring.

The options of either staying at home full time or working outside of the home both contain benefits and adversities for you, your spouse, and your offspring.

Tammy Lynn Carullo, RDH, PC

Those who refer to a child as the ultimate gift of life, a true miracle, are merely trying to find words to describe the incredible feeling of being a parent. I am almost speechless when I try to convey the love, happiness, and joy that I experience every day of my life because of my child. But coupled with the elation of these "parenthood" emotions comes an overwhelming sense of responsibility - more than in any area of life previously encountered. This tiny life counts on you entirely for everything from the point of first breath.

The impact of the decisions you make regarding this little one is astronomical. One of the most gut-wrenching decisions in every mother`s life is whether to be a working mother or a stay-at-home mom. I avoid the term "full-time" mom, because, let`s face it, every mom is a full-time mom. To suggest anything less would be utterly ludicrous. Besides the unconditional love and devotion, diapers, colic, fevers, illness, midnight feedings, the list goes on and on and expands with each day that passes in the life of motherhood. No, being a "mom" is a lifetime commitment. What is a mom to do who had a career prior to this vocation, one that she enjoyed and thrived on? As dental hygienists, our commitment to excellence is paramount, but is it possible or even conceivable to balance the two?

When I embarked on my dental hygiene career, I had no immediate plans of becoming a mother or even addressing this issue. Well, much to my amazement, this incredible miracle changed my life, taking life to such rewarding levels that there are simply are no words to describe it. After being married for eight years to a terrific man, practicing dental hygiene for almost five years, I had my miracle, my sweet, angelic daughter, Nicole. Those who tell you that your life will never be the same are beyond right; it truly is a life-altering experience, I cannot even remember what life was like before she came into ours. From the first moment you hold your little bundle of joy in your arms, instantaneous and unconditional love, almost overwhelming emotion fills your heart and soul.

I had planned, like many of you in this position, on taking the traditional time off for recuperation and then a return to work would be in order. Like most couples out there today, we purchased our home with the calculation of two incomes. The dilemma was quite simple. I needed to keep up my end of the bargain and work.

This had been a source of discussion during and after the pregnancy. I thought it would not be an issue for me. I was wrong. I love being a dental hygienist. I actually like my job, the duties, the patients, the camaraderie, everything. The hours were great, and pay was super. I just had one problem; I did not anticipate the level of emotion associated with being a mom. All rational thinking seemed to escape, and all I wanted to do was spend every waking moment and bond with my child. But in the end, I knew that my family responsibility had to include going back to work and providing my share of the household income.

After basking in the glow of motherhood, this pressing issue of "work" cropped up again. I reconfirmed this commitment after a heart-wrenching discussion with my husband. We knew what we needed to do. I needed to accept reality and go back to work. Then the unexpected happened. I contacted my employer to confirm the date I would be returning. Later that afternoon, he called me back and said I was dismissed from my job because my current position as a new mother would somehow interfere with my duties as a dental hygienist.

These two seemingly perfect worlds collided in that one moment. I was outraged, fought it with every legal means I could think of, but lost the battle. In Pennsylvania, there are no laws protecting the employee of a small business owner from this sort of action. After I got over being angry at how anyone could refer to my child as a "conflict of interest," I reflected on my position as both a mother and a career woman. How could I move forward and balance these two components of my life?

There was absolutely no question as to which aspect was more important to me - my daughter, hands down. I also learned a long time ago not to dwell on the negative, but to accentuate the positive. Although I was angry and appalled at my former employer`s decision to dismiss me, his action ultimately did give me more time with my daughter. I was able to collect unemployment compensation, after a grueling process of legalities when my ex-boss tried to fight it. Nonetheless, I won that battle, collected my due compensation, and remained at home with my daughter until she was seven months old. Then I returned to work for a great family-oriented dental practice.

Although things seemed to be good on the surface, I was not happy with this decision to return to work and leave my little girl. But I resigned myself to the fact that I had a family responsibility to do so. We placed her in a local daycare after thoroughly researching the facility, and so the saga began. There is nothing that can prepare you for leaving your child for the first time. The emotional stress and strain is almost unbearable. The cries that you hear as you leave this tiny person of yours with a complete stranger are absolutely the hardest thing in the world to reconcile. You are racked with guilt and utter despair. To leave her now seemed heartless and cruel. The subject caused feuds between my husband and myself. My mind knew all of the particulars and responsibilities, but my heart was literally breaking. The point of allowing you to see my vulnerability in this personal history is to let you know, one, that you`re not alone, and, two, that it is not easy by any means. The decision needs to be one that is best for you and your family, and it deserves all of the time and thought humanly possible.

Reaching a decision

The mission of this article was to determine the answer to the question: "Should I stay, or should I go?" I don`t think there is a clear-cut, absolute answer to this question. It needs to be decided based on your own individual belief system, character, and strength. The options of either staying at home full time or working outside of the home - thus needing to find adequate care for your child/children - both contain benefits and adversities for you, your spouse, and your offspring. So how does a couple make this decision? How do you deal with the emotions? How do you choose between something so precious and a responsibility so profound? How does a dental professional break the boundaries so these two worlds do not collide? As previously mentioned, it is an individual decision. However, you can rest assured of receiving endless advice on the subject. But keep in mind, only you know what is right for you and yours.

I struggled with the decision to place my daughter in daycare after weighing the pros and cons. Even now, I find myself questioning that decision. Was it right for her, or was it convenient for me? You must realize a point I neglected when I made the choice to place her in daycare. Daycare centers struggle daily with being a breeding ground for every childhood disease imaginable. My daughter had a cold almost weekly. She got chicken pox at 16 months old, and she contracted mononucleosis with severe spleen complications at the age of 2. This resulted in my needing to be home with her full time. Was it worth it for us? No, it was not. But, again, you not only need to ask yourself that question, but answer it honestly.

I took advantage of the time at home, starting my own business that is primarily run out of an office in our fully furnished basement. I am able to do my work, be home with my daughter (who is now three years old), and seemingly have the best of both worlds. But the issue of interaction with children of her own age became more obvious. And all of the guilt and worry I had when I placed her in daycare was replaced by a concern of whether being at home all of the time was truly best for her. She longed for friendship and playmates, something that I simply could not give her myself.

So the discussion was on the table again in our home. But this time, we weighed the options not based on our financial needs or convenience, but solely on what was best for her. No matter what decision you and your family make about whether to stay or go, give a great deal of thought about what is truly the best situation for your child. There are consequences both positive and negative regardless of your choice. You will never feel 100 percent right, for that is a characteristic of parenthood.

There are three main schools of thinking regarding the working-mother issue. The first and most controversial is that once you are a mother, all else ceases to exist and that is your only responsibility. If you have a home that requires two incomes, sell it. The purpose of this philosophy is to always put the child first, and it implies that those of us who need to or choose to work outside of the home are not good parents. That is absurd. There are many reasons for going back to work besides financial need ? personal fulfillment being at the top of the list.

The second school of thought leans toward providing your child with everything you did not have when you were growing up. It?s the classic workaholic/give-my-kid-everything-under-the-sun persona. It?s every human?s response to try to improve upon the past, avoid future mistakes, give your child the things you missed out on when you were a kid. It?s a normal human response. It also can result in a spoiled child. All across this country, Christmas is no longer the season of giving, but the Ohow many toys can I fit under the treeO holiday. The problem with this scenario is you end up working so much that you rarely see or interact with your child. But more importantly, it conveys a negative message that life is all material.

The third school of thought is a balanced approach ? a peaceful co-existence between work and home. It?s an existence that gives you the financial and professional aspects that define Oyou,O yet gives you quality time with your family. Does it sound idealistic? Maybe. Go with what works for you. What may be a blessing for one may very well be a nightmare for others. Life is full of choices. You simply need to find what works best for you and your family to create the best situation possible for all involved.

The decision to start a family and the act of doing so should be the happiest day of your life. Don?t let the other stuff get in the way of this miraculous event. We are forever forgetting that we only live once. I discovered a long time ago that I placed entirely too much emphasis on the future and Owhat-ifs,O and in doing so neglected to ravish in the present.

No matter what decision you make, to stay home or to go to work, base it on what you want, your family wants, and what is best for you and your child, not what is expected of you. There is only one person you need to listen to in order to make this choice. Your answer lies within your heart.

Tammy Lynn Carullo, RDH, PC, is president of Practice by Design Consulting, Inc. in Lebanon, Pa. She can be contacted by e-mail at jtncar@redrose.net.

Pros of staying at home

- Quality time with child/children

- Not having to juggle multiple hats

- Children not exposed as readily to colds/illness

- Plenty of time to get housework done

- A stronger bond between mother and child

- A stronger trust relationship

Cons of staying at home

- No professional development for you

- Getting lost in only one primary goal of motherhood

- Depression, resentment

- Financial burdens

- Lack of peer interaction

- Limited learning capability and atmosphere

Pros of working

- Income helps with household expenses

- Time for yourself

- Camaraderie you can only get working with peers

- Professional development

Cons of working

- Child is in daycare and away from you

- Child tends to get sick easier, meaning you get sick easier

- Finding a backup

- No catch-up on sleep or housework

- Feeling of overwhelming responsibility

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