More moms staying home

Local women find camaraderie, support in Washington MOMS group

May 10, 2014
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Laura Suyasa and her two children, Mirah, 9 months, and Alan, 3, are shown at a stay-at-home play date party with other moms and children at the home of Bethany Schad in North Franklin Township Friday, May 2, 2014. Order a Print
Image description
Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Stay-at-home moms and their children pose for a photo while gathered for a play date at the home of Bethany Schad in North Franklin Township Friday. In front, from left, are Keaton Burnett, 1, Nancy Burnett and Colin Burnett, 3; Mirah Suyasa, 9 months, Laura Suyasa and Alan Suyasa, 3; Casey Smith, 4, Michelle Smith and Kaden Smith, 6; Solomon Goodman, 3, Dawn Goodman and Archer Goodman, 1. In back, from left, are Jacobi Jenny, 3, and Alexis Jenny; Bethany Schad, Lincoln Schad, 3; and Heather Livingston and Charlotte Livingston, 3. Order a Print

When Bethany Schad found out that she was pregnant with her now 3 ½-year-old son, she left her job at UPMC-Presbyterian hospital’s physician’s assistant department, where she handled billing and payment applications for six years.

It was a decision Schad and her husband, Tom, made before they got married.

Both of their mothers were stay-at-home moms when they were little, and the couple wanted Schad, 31, to be at home for her children, too.

“I was raised in that environment, where my mom was able to be at home,” said Schad of North Franklin Township. “My parents both made a lot of sacrifices to make sure she could stay at home.”

Schad, it turns out, is among a growing number of stay-at-home moms, who are among those who today are celebrating Mother’s Day.

According to a Pew Research report, the share of stay-at-home moms as a percentage of U.S. women with children younger than 18 had risen from a low of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012, reversing a decades-long trend.

The survey cited a variety of cultural, ethnic and social factors for the demographic shift, but the biggest one, analysts found, was money.

The findings suggest some moms, especially those without a college degree, might consider the costs of child care compared to their salaries (U.S. Census data shows the average cost of child care for working women with children under the age of 15 jumped from $84 a week to $143 a week, while wages for women have stagnated or dropped) and conclude that it “makes more economic sense to stay home,” according to the survey’s authors.

Schad organizes Washington MOMS (an acronym for Mothers Offering Mothers Support), a group of stay-at-home mothers with varying educational and cultural backgrounds.

The MOMS club provides a support network for stay-at-home moms and a play group for young children.

Activities often include park dates, play groups, moms’ night out, baby sitting co-ops, kids craft projects and weekend family activities. Schad has hosted Thanksgiving dinners for moms and their families who also don’t have family close by.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a dozen preschoolers and toddlers and their mothers met at Schad’s house for a play date. The kids clambered onto a swing set, climbing through a tunnel and whizzing down a twisting slide as Tom, home for the day, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and the moms chatted.

“It has been a great support group for all of us. Some of the best friends I’ve had are the ones I made in this group,” said Schad, who moved here from the North Hills. “I’ve been called in the middle of the night with a mother with a baby, not knowing what to do. A lot of us moms have been there,” said Schad.

“It was a change to be at home. It was lonely all of a sudden, with my husband working all day, and without the interaction of co-workers. Now, I look forward to our get-togethers and our moms nights out.”

The MOMS club now has 42 members.

Among them is Nancy Burnett, 30, a Peters Township mother of two who left her job as a certified public accountant where she earned more than $70,000 a year, to raise her two sons, Colin, 3, and Keaton, 1.

Leaving the work force wasn’t an easy decision for Burnett.

“I never thought I’d stay at home. I always thought I’d work. At first, I felt forced into staying at home. I did struggle with it for six months,” said Burnett, who moved to Washington County from Ohio with her husband, Tom, a physician, when Colin was 6 months old. The club has helped her maintain her identity, and has validated her decision to stay home.

“Initially, I went back to work part-time, and I put my older son in day care and I found it wasn’t worth it. He was getting sick more, I was only making a little bit. Now I’ve accepted it and I’m happy to be at home with them. I feel like you just can’t get these years back.”

Dawn Goodman of Burgettstown worked as a journalist for a decade and a half before she and her husband, Mike, an engineer in the gas industry, had their two children, Solomon, almost 3, and Archer, 1.

The couple had always planned for her to stay at home when they started a family.

“I feel like I got to have the best of both worlds. For 15 years, I got to be a journalist, and it was cool and awesome, and now I get to be a mom,” said Goodman, 40, a member of the MOMS group. “I want to be able to do field trips, volunteer at school, stuff like that. There are moments when I miss it, when there’s some major story going on, or on election night, but motherhood is amazing and I love being there to watch them grow.”

Many of the mothers in the Washington MOMS group are among the country’s 10.4 million “traditional” stay-at-home moms with working husbands.

But according to the Pew report, the biggest difference between stay-at-home moms and mothers who work was the level of economic well-being. One third of stay-at-home moms are living in poverty, compared to 12 percent of working moms.

The MOMS group stays out of the debate about whether or not it’s better for a mother to stay home with their children, but the Pew report does show that support for working mothers who parent their children reaches at least 70 percent.

Noted one mom, some women want to stay at home with their children, while other women either prefer to or have to work, and some choose to do both.

“Whatever works for your family works for your family. I’m cool with that. There’s more than one way to raise a family,” said Goodman. “If you told me when I was 25 that I would stay at home with my kids when I was 40, I would have said you were wrong. But we’ve been fortunate.

“I will say that one thing that works for me is that I’m a stay-at-home mom, but we don’t stay at home. We go to museums, the park, we do crafts, we socialize. I’m glad I get to be with them. Mike and I were there when Archer took his first wobbly steps, and I want to be here for those firsts. Every single one.”

Laura Suyasa, 27, stays at home with her two children, Alan, 3 1/2, who is blind, and Mirah, 9 months. Originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area, Suyasa and her husband, Agus, are part owners of Fusion Steak House, and she has earned degrees in childhood development and nursing.

The MOMS group has been a source of friendship and knowledge for her.

“I’ve met some great people through the Washington MOMS group, If it wasn’t for that group, I’d be pretty lonely. They definitely help a lot,” said Suyasa, of South Strabane Township. “We have a Facebook group, and anytime anyone has a question, usually within 10 minutes, there are at least five responses. I got great advice from them when my son was potty training. As for work, I’m sure I’ll go back at some point, but the money is not worth the time I have with my kids right now.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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