Moms Debate: To Stay Home or Work?

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It's clear from the response to "Good Morning America's" series on the "Mommy Wars" that the decision to stay at home to raise children or continue working is a hot topic among parents, and the issues involved are numerous and complex.

In order to sift through all the different ideas "Good Morning America" recently invited several viewers to come to the Times Square Studio to share their opinions and to try to reach a consensus on the issue. The viewers were joined by three experts: "GMA" workplace contributor Tory Johnson, "O" Magazine contributor, life coach and social psychologist Martha Beck and Wendy Sachs, the author of "How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at Work Moms."

You can read about the issues discussed below.

Is It a War?

Many moms felt very strongly about the issues at stake. Debbie Cureton said she thought it was vital that mothers be home for their young kids.

"I want women that have children -- and I'm going to get pounded for this -- but I want women that have children to raise them themselves. I have older children and I know it's fleeting, and the bottom line is I think moms should be there for those younger years."

Kimberly Abram agreed.

"I only get one chance with them (my children), to nurse them... to be there for them for those formative years," said Abram, who is a licensed attorney in New York and New Jersey but chose to leave the workforce to raise her children.

Shelly Winters, a single mom, said economic factors complicated the issue, however.

"The bottom line is that there are a lot of women in this society who cannot (stay home with their children), myself as one of them, and I don't want to be looked down upon or made to feel guilty about the fact that I have to go out into the workforce," Winters said.

Martha Beck said mothers need to stop letting others make them feel guilty for their decision to work or stay home.

"I think society is going to continue to be polarized on this," Beck said. "I think there will continue to be angry, judgmental minorities on each side. So what I'd like to say to individuals out there who are struggling with this is, 'don't wait for society [to] stop judging you. Stop judging yourself.' Get away by yourself and ask, 'How today can I love my children, love myself, love my life?'"

Mom Shani Binkowski agreed.

"I think the underlying thing that bothered me was seeing the ... pitting against each other," Binkowski said. "I have friends who have ended a friendship because of all the judgmental -- you know -- about the way they mother, and being home and not being home."

Is There a Risk To Staying Home?

In the 1970s, Terri Hekker was a vocal advocate for the view that all mothers should stay home and raise their children. She even wrote a book about it -- "Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Glories of Being a Full-Time Housewife." But on her 40th wedding anniversary, Hekker's husband left her for a younger woman. And Hekker, who hadn't worked since her children were born, was left emotionally and financially blindsided.

"Most of us who are full-time homemakers [who wer] just supporting our husbands were left with nothing," Hekker said. "I mean the courts do not recognize a contribution to a marriage by a woman my age. I was 63."

Tory Johnson acknowledged the difficulty mothers face when trying to re-enter the work force.

"I meet with women, every single week who have phenomenal educations, but they've taken time off to raise their families because it's a decision that they and their husbands made for them to stay home," Johnson said. "Now because of divorce, they have to support themselves. Even if they get a phenomenal divorce settlement, there's not enough money to go around. The reality is they have to work and the jobs that they're qualified to do don't pay very much."

Hope Crosier was educated at an Ivy League institution, but decided to stay home after her children were born. Her mother, Dr. Cynthia Mackay, said she is proud of her daughter, but admitted she does worry about her sometimes. When Mackay was 60, her husband left her for another woman, and Mackay said the only thing that saved her financially was the fact she had continued to work after her children were born.

"Hope is a very capable lady," Mackay said. "Divorce would be devastating for her, a terrible thing. But she would come through it stronger and she would cope because she's learned how to cope with a 5-year-old and 3-year old."

Where Is the Balance for Working Moms?

The panel was divided over several issues, but everyone agreed there were steps employers could take to make it easier for parents to remain in the workforce while raising their children -- flex time, child care and better parental lead. Flex time generated the strongest response.

Corey Jamison was so overwhelmed by her responsibilities as a single mother of three and a vice president for a consulting company, she was ready to quit her job. But when she approached her boss, he hired a home care coordinator for her -- paid for by the company -- to help out lighten the load at home.

"Most organizations are frustrated and talking right now about the war for talent," Jamison said. "We're saying if we go as individuals and say, this is what I need as a woman, to be engaged and productive in this workforce, and you don't want to lose me, here's what I need as an individual."

Johnson encouraged other working parents to push for flex time.

"There's so many different things that you can ask for, simple things like, 'You know what? Can I convert my sick days that I get into flexible days? If I could use that sick day to care for my child when my child's sick, or to take my child to the doctor.'" Johnson said. "Simple things. We don't necessarily have to wait for a huge shift in legislation or a huge shift in corporate policy."

It is easier for some working parents to get flex time than others.

"If you're a lawyer you can negotiate with your employer," said Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization of Women. "If you're a grocery store clerk, you really don't have that kind of flexibility. Rather than individual negotiation -- which would certainly work if you're high-powered and you have the power to negotiate -- but the rest of us need to work together to change the policies."

Gandy said that employers were initially "freaked out" about the Family and Medical Leave Act when it was signed in 1993, but have since realized it is good for business.

"But first they had to be pushed into it by legislation," Gandy said. "Sometimes you have to start with the law."

Wendy Sachs, authors of "How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms," said corporate women should pave the way.

Binkowski agreed.

"We can be the ones to trail blaze and start to get these policies enacted," she said, "so that the grocery store clerk or people who don't have the flexibility aren't so afraid to approach their bosses and say look, it works for other companies, this is something that we could consider at least to try to find some kind of solution."

In April 2005, Rep. Lynn Wooley introduced the Balancing Act of 2005, which aims "to improve the lives of working families by providing family and medical need assistance, child care assistance, in-school and after school assistance, family care assistance, and encouraging the establishment of family-friendly workplaces."

The bill currently has 51 co-sponsors; it needs a total of 218 in order to be voted on by the House.

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