I have to admit that before I gave birth to Parker, it never occurred to me that I would not want to go back to work. I had worked for years for my education and then years more advancing up the career ladder; my career was a huge part of how I defined myself as a person. However, after actually giving birth, during my maternity leave, I felt completely torn. My family needed my income financially, but I loathed the idea of leaving that sweet little bundle of joy all day to work. I have to say for those of you out there who have not had your first child yet, it may surprise you how you are going to feel after having that baby. I knew a number of career women who planned on making the return to work, but ended up making the decision to stay home with their children in the end. I never thought I would want to be a stay at home mom, but my heart yearned for it during those weeks as my maternity leave was coming to an end.
Now, I am fortunate enough to work from home, but this is not a flexible, make your own hours work from home. I am usually in virtual meetings for most of the day and rarely get a break to eat lunch since I work for a west coast company who is rising at my noon. I don’t mean that as a complaint (I know I am fortunate), but rather as a statement of fact. However, it does mean since I do not have a horrendous commute each day, I get to spend time in the morning and evenings with Parker right up to when I start and end working. It is a quick transition between “work me” and “mama me”, but I wouldn’t give up that extra time for anything in the world.
I have heard from others that they were chomping at the bit to return to work for human interaction, to mental stimulation and to get a little reprieve from all the demands that an infant has, which I can completely understand. However, that was not my experience at all in the beginning. I dreaded going back to work, and had many tearful days leading up to actually going back. I will say that the first few weeks back to work were absolutely the hardest. I had to figure out my pumping schedule while at work, and I was constantly worried about what was going on with Parker while I was working. My manager was kind enough to give me leeway to take pump breaks as needed, and he made a conscious effort for me to me ease back into the job rather than overloading me on day one.
Over time, I did begin to appreciate that both working at a paying job and working as a mother are work, and at times, getting to hand over a grumpy little teething girl and go to the relative peace and quiet in my office had its perks. As far as work itself, I felt completely out of the loop and was surprised by how smooth things had gone in my absence. We always like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable; however, the world goes on! This again improved over time as I got myself back into meetings and caught up with people, but it was also a challenge at first.
Overall, I would say the biggest challenge to being a working mom is the guilt. I do feel like when I am performing my best as a mama that I could be doing more at work, and when I am killing it at work, I feel like I am missing out on things at home. I do think you have to learn to let this guilt go and realize that no one is perfect, and ultimately there are trade-offs you have to make both ways to be a balanced human being.
Realize that working outside of the home provides certain advantages to your children (just as staying at home provides other advantages), but also realize that work is not the end-all and be-all anymore. Decide where your boundaries are and respect them. Hold firm to them. I read Cheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, and I would highly recommend it to any woman out there with children or considering children in the future. It is an amazing read, and highlights the importance of having support at home and freeing yourself from the expectation of “doing it all”.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments below what your experience has been like!