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A parenting conundrum: Moms sound off on decision to work or stay home with their kids

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news Bemidji, 56619
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FARGO - After working as a nanny, Kimbra Amberman knew she wanted to stay home in Kindred, N.D., with her daughters who are now 8 and 5 years old.

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"I was in most of the homes for 10 hours per day," she says of her job as a nanny. "My husband and I knew that day care wasn't an option for us. I wanted to be the one raising our children."

She was able to watch them grow, take time to snuggle with them in the mornings and volunteer in their classrooms.

But there were also times when Amerman felt she wanted more for herself.

"I wanted an identity other than 'mom,'" she says. "You sometimes end up giving so much of yourself, and everyone is so dependent on you, it comes to a point where you have lost yourself. There definitely needs to be a balance."

That balance can be elusive. Many women struggle trying to weigh what's best for their families and themselves.

Whether to work or stay home after having children is a decision that can be wrought with guilt, anxiety and second-guessing. Women debate the issue with one another and, most often, within themselves.

Academic studies are just as polarizing, showing an array of conflicting "best-case" scenarios.

For instance, Columbia University researchers published a study in 2010 that found it did not harm a child's cognitive and social development for a mother to work during her baby's first year of life.

Meanwhile, Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent," said it's healthier for children under age 5 if their moms stay home to facilitate bonding and "consistently respond warmly and accurately to the baby's needs," in an interview on FlexJobs.com.

And two studies published in 2003 show that kids who spent all day in day care had more stress and aggression than kids cared for at home, but a 1999 study suggests kids in day care do better academically and socially, according to parenting website babycenter.com.

It's no wonder why women struggle with trying to determine which way of life is best for them and their families.

Often financial factors take the decision to work or not to work out of women's hands.

Melissa Skeen of Fargo is a single mom and has a 6-year-old son.

"There simply is no option," she says. "I have to provide for him."

Skeen says it's hard to juggle everything and miss so much of her son's life, but she is also happy and fulfilled working outside the home.

"It is really good for him, I think, to see me chasing my dreams and building a future for myself and for him," Skeen says.

Other women can relate.

Jennifer Johnsrud of Moorhead said that to stay home, she would have had to give up something drastic, like her house.

"In today's economy, there was no other way to even afford having a baby," says Johnsrud, who has an infant daughter.

Both Kari Dahlen and Carrie Stange of Fargo say that as much as they might have wanted to stay home, it wasn't the best financial decision.

"We could have made it as a single-income family, but we ultimately agreed that living paycheck to paycheck wasn't going to be for us," says Stange, who has a 2-year-old son and is pregnant.

And Dahlen, who also has a 2-year-old son, says, "I am glad that we can afford to give our child some extras that we may not be able to if only one of us was working."

When they do have a choice, women's reasons for working or staying home are as varied as the women themselves.

Colleen Lanners of Fargo has a full-time job that keeps her on call anywhere from one to three nights a week. But the issue of whether to work or stay home was not a struggle for her.

Lanners, who has a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, says she was an older bride who had gone back to school and graduated shortly before she was married. Since she wanted to have children before a certain age, she had to start a family sooner than later.

"Because I had put so much effort into returning to school and I had a successful career, I knew I wanted to continue with that and have children," she says.

After giving birth to her first child, Briannan Gahner tried to go back to work, but her daughter was constantly getting sick at day care. So after two years, Gahner decided to stay home full time.

"The doctor bills just weren't worth it," says the Fargo mom who stays home with her 4-year-old daughter and infant son. "I've been at home now for two years, and my daughter has had one cold."

Still, her decision didn't come without struggles and sacrifices.

Gahner says that while she feels blessed to be able to stay home with her kids and watch them grow, it is by no means an easy job.

"There are no sick days, you have your children 24/7, and adult conversation can be limited," she says.

While Lanners says she feels good about working outside the home because she was fortunate to find a wonderful day care, she does struggle with not being home as much as she would like.

Regardless of situation, the number of working moms continues to grow.

In 2008, 61 percent of mothers who had recently given birth were working. That number was up from 57 percent in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Furthermore, there were 5 million stay-at-home moms in the U.S. in 2010. That number is down from 5.1 million in 2009 and 5.3 million in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Though the issue often comes off as a black-and-white discussion, there is some gray area.

Danielle Odenbach of Thompson, N.D., says she's found the perfect balance in working part time two days a week.

"It would be almost impossible to do everything I want to do and spend time with everyone I love if I worked full time," says Odenbach, who has three sons, ages 5, 7 and 9. "Working more makes me feel pulled in too many directions."

Often, women want an identity that's more than being someone's mom.

Karen Syverson of Hawley, Minn., has four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18. She works full time and has spent time as a stay-at-home mom.

"I work because I enjoy my career, and I think it makes me a happier person to have a life other than just being Mom," Syverson says.

Johnsrud said that even if finances were not a factor, she would want to work at least part time.

"I love my daughter and love spending time with her and being there to watch her grow, but I also know it's important to live for yourself, not through your children," she says.

That's something Erica Cermak of Bismarck can relate to.

"I truly believe in order to be the best mom I can be, I would personally need adult interaction and something that stimulates my mind to maintain a balance," says Cermak, who has a 3-year-old and an infant son. "I worked hard to get where I'm at and am proud of what I've been able to accomplish with my family and career."

Tracy Frank is a reporter for the The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Pioneer and Forum are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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Pioneer staff reports
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