Is Staying At Home Greener than Working?

If both parents have demanding careers and multiple children, how do they manage things like washing cloth diapers, composting, making healthy dinners and spending time with baby? There are also some single parents out there who are handling full-time schedules and parenting while keeping the planet in mind. How do they do it?  I am utterly in awe of people who can juggle so much without feeling overwhelmed. 

My husband and I both work thirty-some hours per week and yet we find the balance of a two career family rather precarious at times. Over the last few weeks illness and injury has made the daily challenge of laundry and homemade dinners seem ever greater.   I often long for take-out, or look lustfully at the frozen entrees in the grocery store,  knowing that those convenience items are designed for the hectic, dual income family.  Even though I’m often overwhelmed,  I don’t want to give into the urge to buy disposable, convenience items, saving time while potentially harming the planet.  At this point it seems we should be able to handle some extra time for green choices since we have just one child, we both work equally hard on domestic tasks, and neither of us are working full time.

I’ve been wondering lately if it would actually be greener for one of us to quit working outside the home. It’s hard to say, but I do have visions of myself cooking up batches of homemade yogurt, biking everywhere with our son, and canning veggies that I’ve grown in our organic garden. On the other hand, I know from having summers off, that the reality of staying home is much more challenging and less productive than I imagine.  It’s WONDERFUL having lots of fun with my son, but I haven’t yet managed to weave organic clothing from the cotton that’s sprouted in my backyard. 

Since my teaching job provides our health insurance, I don’t foresee taking a leave of absence anytime soon. We just might find in the years to come that my husband is the one to be home with the children, which would still provide us with lots of family time to share during school breaks and holidays.

Really it isn’t fair to pick a winner in the working vs. stay-at-home debate since there are so many creative solutions available to families today.  Many parents have found ways to work at home, work part time, or take a leave of absence for a few years before heading back to their jobs. There is no absolutely right or wrong option, but it definitely seems like having more time at home allows parents to enjoy a more earth-friendly lifestyle.  Since summer is just a few weeks away, I’m counting the days until I get to enjoy a few months of stay-at-home motherhood—even if it’s just as a temp. 



  1. I work from home as a writer and am not as green as you describe – but I could be locked in solitary confinement and still not manage to make clothes from scratch orat make a garden thrive – I didn’t do so well in home economics:)

    Being at home has allowed me to make the greenest choices in my daughter’s feedings. We’ve been able to breastfeed longer and make most of her food from scratch. However, I know many determined (and more organized) women manage this and leave the home. To me they are gifted beyond belief.

    What you accomplish with more “time off” really depends on your skill sets, quality of life and state of mind. For instance, the ocean relaxes me. Unfortunately, I live in dry Texas, so I believe I’m operating at 75% of my capacity. I’d have to move to test this theory.

    What I have been able to accomplish without a commute is tons of research about healthy and organic living for my baby. And I’ve been able to share that knowledge with my busy, corporate working mommy friends through my like-minded website, Organic Baby Resource.

    So, Joy, I figure if you are using your talents in the classroom to teach others about the benefits of being green and also sharing your knowledge here with so many mommies, then your green-factor is being multiplied many times beyond the projects that you’ve put on hold.

    Having said that I hope you get time to relish in those things that bring you Joy this summer.

  2. It’s tough isn’t it? I do convenience foods sometimes, I will admit. One thing that I think helps make it easier on working parents is to let go of the guilt about doing everything. I mean, do the things that enrich your soul, but just remember that we live in community and we aren’t expected to be completely self-sufficient. I think that we need more “green” options for takeout – places where we can pay a deposit on re-usable containers, that type of thing.

    Also, I think we all can purposely slow down our lives. We don’t have to sign our kids up for every team or club that comes along, and same for ourselves. There is a neat story I read about a family in Portland who gave up their car and do strictly bike commuting – with small kids and 2 working parents. They found that it is very possible, but the biggest adjustment was limiting the extra-curricular activities – you just can’t get across town fast enough to do everything they had done before. But what happened is they were all happier, more relaxed and more connected as a family.

  3. Joy,

    I’ve done both and really the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. When I’m home fulltime, I want to be working. when I’m working I want to be home. I think you have to find your happy medium and do what works great for your family. Health insurance is pretty important and you get to be home way more than most moms. I love being home with my kids but I work from now pretty much full time with my blog and it is very hard to juggle the kids and get work done. It seems to be like everything else, there’s a trade off. We are more green because of it! Great post, as always.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this very issue. My husband and I both work part-time and we’re trying to get ourselves set up to have a small family farm on 6 acres in our free time (what free time?). Really, I think that making choices like starting a garden or putting up a clothes line paves the way into finding time to be “green”. If you make centered habits part of your life, like the biking family mentioned above, everything else adjusts to fit.

  5. “It’s WONDERFUL having lots of fun with my son, but I haven’t yet managed to weave organic clothing from the cotton that’s sprouted in my backyard. ”

    he he he

    I have yet to can my home grown tomatoes that I have yet to grow!

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