Is it easier for mums to go out to work or stay at home?

Andrea Mara tries to figure out: which is easier, going out to work or being a stay-at-home mother? Other mothers weigh in

Andrea Mara with her three kids Elissa, aged 9, Nia, aged 7, and Matthew, aged 5. Picture Fergal Phillips

IF you have children, which is easier — work or home? Before I had kids, I remember one dad in the office used to say work was a break — easy compared to home. It made no sense to me at the time; we worked in a busy IFSC bank. But a few years later, with three children of my own, I knew exactly what he meant. And yes, for me too, work was indeed a break.

I used to start early, meaning my husband dealt with the kids each morning while I scarpered to the office, and I can still remember the blissful feeling as I sat at my desk and opened my email, sipping coffee and savouring silence. Then on Fridays, my parental leave day, I spent my time scraping Weetabix off high-chairs and refereeing fights over toys, wondering if I wouldn’t be better off at work.

But while at any given moment, being at work was easier, the logistics of working were difficult — managing childcare and commuting, sickness (theirs) and guilt (all mine). And when the chance came to take redundancy and work part-time from home, I jumped at it.

So which is easier, work or home? I threw out the question, and got a wide variety of responses.

Jill, who has three children, says if she had to pick one, she’d say work. “I get credit for completing tasks; people say thanks for your hard work!”

She acknowledges that working full-time means home life can be harder. “You’re trying to squeeze everything into less time. Staying at home can be thankless on a bad day, and wonderful on a good day. But life runs more smoothly for the family — meals are better, laundry is done day-to-day, grocery shopping isn’t a grim Sunday afternoon task. Staying at home is definitely better for the rest of the family, but maybe not for me!”

Mum of two Avril also picked work. “Although there are great aspects to both and I’m so grateful for the time off I had, I definitely find working easier. There’s adult conversation, actual breaks, no audience when using the loo, and having an identity outside of being mam.”

Kelly works full-time while her husband stays at home. “We joke often about which is harder, but I’m not sure you can really compare. Some days my work is way more draining than a day at home. Sometimes it feels like a vacation. Also I would say my worst day at work is far worse than my worst day at home. I’m not 100% sure my husband agrees and I have no desire to switch places with him so maybe that means I think staying home is harder.”

Dad of two Ross gave up work to become a stay-at-home dad and says it’s much harder. “Those who think it’s easier clearly haven’t done it! Contrary to belief, I don’t just play the XBox all day. It is by far the busiest ‘job’ I’ve ever had. Demanding? Absolutely! But the joy, happiness, closeness it brings is just phenomenal. Work can wait, ‘cause time won’t. This time is precious.”

For mum of two Louise, it’s a straightforward answer. “I love my job, I’m independent, I like to provide for my children, and my free time is my children’s time. I found being at home on maternity leave nice but very lonely — I’m glad I have work- life balance now. Plus I hate doing housework! Being at home is harder.”

Beth feels like I did — the logistics are the challenge. “Once I’m at work, it’s infinitely easier than being at home with the kids. But the logistics involved in having to get four people out the house and to where they need to be for 8.30 every day, as well as all the admin and planning that’s involved in running a family is beyond stressful.”

Anna who has worked full-time, stayed at home, and now runs her own business, says time makes it easier. “It’s very hard when the kids are young but much easier to work when they’re older. Like all mothers I feel guilty sometimes but have learned to slap myself and say I need to do things for me as well!” So does anyone think being at home is easier?

Rachel who has two children says she does, but explained it’s not that it’s easy, but that she feels better about being there. “I find staying at home and being a good parent — carrying a bottomless bucket of patience — difficult. But every time I went back to work, I felt terrible, and every time they were sick, it was so hard to juggle work and time off. Work was easy as I knew my job well, but I felt like I was being eaten from the inside by not being at home with the boys.”

Mum of three Lucy says it’s difficult to choose, but if someone put a gun to her head, she’d pick home. “I think physically going to work is easier, but emotionally and mentally it is easier at home.”

Sarah is one of the few women I heard from who is emphatic that for her, being at home is easier. “My job was so demanding, with no flexibility, though I begged for years. Home life really suffered. Within weeks of leaving, our whole family was happier, especially me. Days at home are still so busy, but in comparison to juggling both, it’s a privilege.”

And for me, two years in to working from home, the gap has narrowed. Work is still easier, but the contrast isn’t so great; my kids are older and my commute is gone, so home is sometimes easy now too… emphasis on the “sometimes”.

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