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Pew Research on Stay-at-Home Moms: Statistic or Choice?

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My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time. ~Steve Jobs

Did you ever consider what you like or what personal values you hold dear? Do you measure life in terms of inward happiness or external -- and often-changing -- markers?

A report released this week on stay-at-home moms provides timely reason to consider these questions through a woman's lens of work versus career.

Pew Research Center, which releases "numbers, facts and trends that shape our world," indicates a surprising upward trend in stay-at-home moms. But Pew's numbers also reflect today's recessionary job market. Some women just can't find employment. Others have realized that increasing child care costs nullify their incomes. They have decided to stay at home rather than hand over most of their paycheck to a caregiver.

Pew's research statistics have sparked a fresh round of debate concerning the progress and/or setbacks for female empowerment in the workplace. But I'd like to view the report from a central issue I often contemplate.

Are we responding to outward expectations or to inward desires?

Many of us are sensitive to external messaging and social expectations. We spend time, effort and limited resources running after what others claim to be of value.

Powerful impulses from peer groups, culture and the media frequently determine how we view our relative worth. These ideas alter what we do, what we purchase, what we look like and who we become. If we're not paying attention, such messaging can cause us to drift away from peace, happiness and personal identity.

Depending on your persuasion, you might find the above image endearing or reproachful. If you value careers, you might consider mom-and-child downtime a waste of talent or productivity. Conversely, if you value home and hearth, you might assess this time together as a priceless investment.

The picture was taken from my days as a home schooling mom. It captures a moment as my daughter and I walked along a Swiss countryside and happened upon a gentle animal known simply as Cow #62.

Home schooling was a role I would have derided years earlier, had I known home schooling even existed. My own childhood, filled with personal experiences as well as news and views from nearby Manhattan, caused me to plan for a different future.

I scorned the idea of living as a dependent in a marriage relationship, devoid of my own financial resources. It's sad to admit, but I looked down upon women who chose to stay home and raise their own children.

Yet years later as I entered my mid-30s, I was prepared to leave the career, income and frenetic pace that previously defined me. When our first and only child arrived, I traded pride and self-sufficiency for personal growth of a different kind.

In an ironic twist, the financial independence I created became a false marker. In ways less tangible, I felt as valueless as the women I previously underrated. Would society consider me a nobody if I didn't earn a paycheck? In a world stoked by commercial progress, would I regard myself as unworthy?

With a bit of trepidation, I was ready to discover a sense of worth that had nothing to do with my annual W-2.

In choosing to leave work and raise a daughter, I surrendered a partial self and discovered another side of my identity. Surprisingly, my years as a stay-at-home mother caused me to grow and evolve in ways a career could not.

On balance, time spent at work and as a stay-at-home mom proved beneficial and valid. There were lessons to learn in each role, and I'm grateful to have gained from both sides of the work/home equation.

Today, I consider myself a beneficiary. Many relationships I cultivated at work continue in fresh ways. And the relationship I developed while at home with my daughter has transitioned into a new kind of bond. She's moved to London with her own career and considers me her close confidant and friend.

I'm no longer required to decide whether having a career or staying home with children is the more virtuous choice. Life has presented me with another day and different opportunities.

Now I find new ways to grow, new people to meet and new ways to extend the idea that, ultimately, only we can choose a prosperous life from within.

A wise friend once remarked, "I resolved years ago never to regret my decisions. I make the best of wherever I am." It was good advice.

Our lives may take some unexpected turns that often impress no one but ourselves. We can never retrieve moments once they've passed nor can we repurchase them with money.

The world around us will continue telling us what we should do, be and value.

Wherever you are by choice or circumstance, I encourage you make the most of the moment that's in front of you.

Today is all you have. Tomorrow things will change. Choose to be happy now.

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