Sorry if I'm raking up old leaves - I joined the club after this issue was thrashed out, but I have my two cents to put in. Before I begin, I apologise for boring the pants off anyone who has read through the debate/ heard it ad nauseum. Honestly, I don't know why this issue turns into an us versus them debate whenever it comes up - online or off. Maybe both sides feel vulnerable and get extra assertive to prove that they're in the better position.
I've been on both sides of the coin. I had to quit when I was 3 months pregnant due to having a job that required lots of travelling which I couldn't do due to complications. I didn't see the sense in joining a new place only to go on mat. leave in 6 months, so I stayed home for the duration. I did enjoy it for a while, loved the fact that I could sleep in and laze about, but it got old fast. All my friends were working women so it was very difficult to find someone to hang out with.
I've never been an overly maternal type of person, so it shocked me when I turned maternal after my son was born. For 6 months after he arrived, I stayed home, mostly because I couldn't face the thought of leaving him at home with a caretaker all day. Even though I was bored and longing for adult company. Somehow I just didn't want to only hang out with other moms, because I felt the conversation was too focussed.
Eventually a wonderful half day job fell into my lap and I thought - ok, let me try this out. Initially it was hard but eventually I got used to it, and he got used to having me go to office. After my daughter was born, however, a wonderful full time job, an opportunity I had been looking for, came my way. The office was (is) literally a 5 minute commute. I made sure we got another carer, so there would be enough hands on deck. And I began working fulltime after 5 years.
It's been just about a year since then. I have times when I'm so swamped by work that I don't even see my kids when they are awake. I hate that. Then I have times when I make a good presentation or a client likes my work. I love that. There are days when my husband is flying into town and I'm flying out and we meet at the airport. I miss PTA meetings. I like seeing my bank account grow and having money I can call my own. I enjoy the arguments and debates that form my work. Every day my feelings regarding working vs. staying at home change. On good days, I think - Yes! I can do it. On bad days, I type out my resignation letter.
When I look at my kids objectively ( and I am quite good at being objective, even about my kids), I don't see two neglected kids. I see kids who may spend a little less time with their parents than other kids do. But through his playschool career and even now, my son gets complimented on his great manners and the fact that he's rarely rough with other kids. I'm more finicky about their diet than many of the SAHMs ( I've posted a blog on this issue at http://foodandlaughter.blogspot.com/2007/10/indian-breakfasts.html.) I am very strict about how much television they watch, and what they watch. Even when I'm not home, my son knows what he is not supposed to do and why not - which is again something many of his friends who have SAHMs don't ( and I've blogged on that at http://we-are-like-this-only.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-do-kids-do-today.html). My son loves reading ( he's just learning) and my daughter looks like she'll follow suit. My son is trilungual and has an advanced vocabulary in all three languages. My husband is wonderfully supportive and he really wants to be an involved dad, so he does tons of stuff with and for them. On my days off, we paint together. We both tell him stories. I teach him the names of all the plants in our garden. We go to the park and play together. We have fun.
I have several friends who are SAHMs, and are doing a great job with their kids. They've put in the time and effort to spend quality time with the kids, teaching them stuff, playing with them and bringing them up to be good human beings, first and foremost. Sometimes I envy them their time with the kids, especially when my son has vacation from school and I have to go off to the office. That really hurts!
I think it's not a question of whether one is a working mom or a SAHM, it all depends on what you do with the time you get. I'm someone who honestly doesn't fully buy the 'quality time' argument so I constantly have guilt pangs about the quantity time the kids aren't getting. But contrast that with the non-quality but quantity time that many SAHMs provide, and I guess my kids are ok. I'm lucky to have my parents live nearby ( 5 houses away), so when they're in town, it's a great source of stimulation and family affection for the kids and a reassurance for me. But despite all the support systems, ultimately this is one debate that no one can win outright, because each one of us has to work it out for herself. And I'm not even sure you've won it even with yourself, because the feelings towards the decision ebb and flow with everything that happens ( at least they do for me.)
And so I've decided to take it one day at a time. Each day can be good or bad, and I'm just going to live with it. It doesn't sound like a very liberating, Hollywood crescendo of music decision. But it works. So far.