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"These aren't somebody else's children, and this isn't somebody else's problem," Donna Shalala said in 1996, while addressing the 100th annual PTA convention.

Being a woman in the 90's is difficult; most women feel pulled in more than one direction. Some women want it all, and they attempt to have it all. Other mom's put their careers on hold until their children are older, which sometimes attracts the disdain of family members, friends, and peers.

This decision is one of the most important a woman ever faces. Some women have no choice; they are single mothers who must work. Other women do have a choice. These women are married with stable incomes, which allows them to exercise their freedom of choice. Who meets her child's needs for nurturing, attention, and education the best; is it the stay at home mom or the working mom?

Nurturing and caring for young children is essential. Moms must bond with their children at an early age. A mom who stays home with her children is able to share more than just time. She strengthens the connection between herself and her child. A mother who works must rely on other people to interact with her child. You are paying a person to love your child. That sounds a bit strange, but it is true.

Care and love are synonyms for what mothers have given their children since the beginning of time. Child-care has become a major issue in this country, which tells me that our children are in need of love. The optimum situation is a family member whom can provide day-care, but this is not always an option. In many cases, complete strangers are raising America's children.

America's children are crying out for attention, while drugs, alcohol, and teenage pregnancy plague our society. Aren't our children worth more than our careers? Mothers who stay at home fill an important need for their children. Simply, they are there when their children need them, not at work.

If children get attention when they are young, they are able to cope better as teenagers. Children who have a close bond with their parents are more apt to talk to parents about sex, drugs, and alcohol. The fundamental years - between birth and five years of age- have been lost to most American children.

The attention a child receives during these years is irreplaceable. The amount of attention a child receives influences his or her direction in life.

Our children's education is our responsibility as parents, not the people we pay to educate them. While working parents can afford better schools, their children may benefit more from being taught right from wrong. So many children from "good" backgrounds with two parents in the home have taken guns and shot classmates. These families normally have two parents working outside the home.

Teaching our children moral values is more important than sending them to an expensive private school. Mothers that stay home can, many times, do a better job of instilling values in their children.

There are studies that show that children in day-care interact better with their peers. Why on earth wouldn't they get along better with children their own age? They are in day-care and pre-schools all day long!

Studies also support that children of two working parents get higher grades in school, which makes sense. Children of career parents not only go to better schools, but they also are under more pressure to succeed. They are the children of professional people with high profile careers, which explains the higher grades.

These are our children; they are America's future. In Donna Shalala's words, "Make no mistake about it, if we don't act fast, we could lose an entire generation."

A major report released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1996 found that at least one-half of our teenagers are at risk for dangerous behaviors that could seriously diminish their lives.

Many of us have been both a working mom and a stay at home mom, which has given us the unique opportunity to see both sides of this issue. We may be happier when I work, but perhaps our children are not. Whose happiness should take priority? For many moms, children are more important than a career.

We have the rest of our lives to make ourselves happy. The window of time for America's children, our children, is growing short. Mom, tighten your belt a little financially, and your apron strings.