I’m an introvert. I’d rather write down my feelings than share them. My husband also plays it close to the vest, so we’re a good match in that way. But motherhood can be lonely, and it’s especially lonely for a working parent like me, who is one of just a few people in my department with children. There are things I wish my partner knew about being a working mom, without me having to actually say it. It takes a lot of effort for me to articulate my feelings, but my husband isn’t telepathic so when I seek him out for comfort, I’m often having to explain what’s bothering me. It’s not out of the ordinary, it's just exhausting for a quiet person like me.
I know that frequent and clear communication is key for a healthy relationship, but let’s fantasize for a moment about having our partners more tuned in to our needs, and never ever having to ask for help or support. I sometimes wish my husband could read my mind, as it would undoubtably save me a lot of the emotional grunt work of having to explicitly describe what’s bothering me. And the thing about being a working mom is that sometimes I don’t even have the right words to illustrate what my issue is. I know I’m sometimes confused or angry or feeling completely empty, I just can't always figure out a clear reason why. In fact, as a working mom it's often a jumble of causes that have made me feel like I’m floundering. If I’m collapsed on the couch, I probably don’t want to entertain my husband’s inquiry of, “What’s wrong?”
With all the chaos that having kids and having a career bring, I would appreciate my partner knowing what I’m dealing with, without me having to say it. Here are some things I wish I could telepathically communicate to him, because a working mom can dream (and write):
I Worry That My Maternity Leaves Affected My Career Trajectory
The distinction I need to make here is that I worry about the time out of the office, not the decision to have children. I don’t worry for a moment that being a parent has negatively impacted my career. If anything, I got better at my job once I became a mom. I am more efficient, more resourceful, and more mindful not to waste energy on low priority drama.
But it’s the time out of the office that makes me worry. I don’t know any working dad who has taken their entitled 12 weeks of (unpaid) family leave. My husband was back to work in under 2 weeks, and both times we welcomed a new baby to our family. But most mothers need at least six weeks to physically recover from childbirth (typically more if they’ve had c-sections), and at that point, how many of us feel mentally prepared to leave our newborns to return to our jobs? 12 weeks was what I got, but I would have taken more if I could afford it (since, again, it was unpaid). Even if it was a financial struggle, I would have felt better about taking it if our work culture embraced the idea of parents spending more than a couple of months with their new babies. Just when an infant starts to get interesting, it’s time to go back to work.
I Sometimes Resent Being The Default Parent
I am the primary contact for my children. When they feel sick, the school calls me first. I literally keep some body part in touch with my phone all day so I don’t miss any emergency call. I was on a business trip two time zones away from home once, and the daycare called me when my son bumped his head. I know it doesn’t make sense for two people to be on call all the time, but I wish there was an easy way we could take turns being the go-to parent, like we do when we alternate mornings taking the kids to the bus stop. But it’s too complicated for schools to keep that schedule. “OK, so on Mondays and Thursdays, we call your dad, but other days we call your mom… "
It would also help if I wasn’t so Type A about things. Maybe if I can work on that, my husband and I could work out a plan that felt like the daytime parenting responsibilities, while at work, were more evenly distributed.
I’m not sure if men realize how unenjoyable it is to pump, let alone pump at work when you’re squeezing your sessions in between meetings and urgent tasks. I’m sure my husband understood that I was not thrilled to lug my pump around and deal with using it and cleaning it. However, it would have been nice to hear that acknowledged without being prompted by my whining.
Sometimes I Feel Like A Terrible Mom…
Just the idea of me being at the office while we paid a sitter to watch our infant felt soul-crushingly wrong if I let myself think about it strictly in those stark terms. I didn’t actively want to be away from my baby, but it’s not something that my partner and I overtly talked about it. Of course I was going to go back to work after maternity leave; not only was it a matter of finances, but I wanted to continue to build on my career. It just felt like a selfish reason and I could have used more reassurance that the choice, and the necessity, of me working, was the best decision for our family.
...Or A Terrible Employee
I did plenty of venting to my partner about the stresses of working motherhood: being pulled in twice as many directions, trying to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings so I didn’t break out in a postpartum cry during a meeting, or feel obligated to check email during the baby’s bedtime feeding.
American work culture doesn’t seem to embrace the idea that going back to work for new parents is fraught with anxiety, fear, and doubt. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that we may hate the notion of jumping back into work after the monumental event of welcoming a new little human who is totally dependent on you. So we all soldier on, in silence, because admitting we may not be entirely enthusiastic about our jobs is a dangerous move when there are tons of scrappy new graduates, ready to take our places at the office.
I Sometimes Envy Working Dads
Society puts much less pressure on men to prove they can simultaneously be good employees and good fathers. Though more working men are taking on more domestic tasks than in previous generations, the lionshare of caregiving still falls to women, including those of us who work. As much as my husband and I try to distribute the non-work aspects of our life evenly, it would be nice to be considered simply an employee at the office, like he is, instead of a “working mother.”
Part Of Why I Work Is To Make My Children Proud
Parenting is a thankless job. Kids do not give a sh*t if you’re raising them right. They will find something to complain about, usually because you are raising them right (yes, I’m the meanest mom ever because they don’t get screen time on school days). But they do take interest in my job. Part of it must be the curiosity of what I can be doing all day without them. And, since I work in TV, I’m able to show them my work: what I wrote, what I produced. For a while, I was at a job where I didn’t feel good about the work I was putting out in the world, and having kids made amplified that feeling. If I was going to be away from them for 10 hours a day, I wanted to make that time count.
Yes, in a way, it was enough to be employed and providing for them, but if I could also take pride in the work, then I would feel less guilty about working full-time. I know my husband takes pride in his work too, so he would understand my desire to have my kids be proud of me. It’s just something I think more partners should recognize about their spouses. We’re not all just working merely for the paycheck.
My Partner Is My Main Source Of Support
I had to find my own support system as a working mom. There weren’t any resources provided by my employer, or even among my friends. The neighborhood mom groups I joined when my kids were born satisfied some of my needs, but I wished there were more groups targeted for parents who work. So, by default, my husband is my support system. He’s the working parent closest to me. So, whether he realizes it or not, he is the one I lean on the most when the parenting and the working parts of life threaten to overwhelm me.
I’m Pretty Much Winging It
My mother went back to work when my younger brother was in school full-time. My partner’s mom didn’t work outside the home. So neither of us has a role model for how to pull off this working parent thing. Media depictions of working moms are a joke, so I’ve just been finding my own way, gleaning advice from friends, and taking cues from the working parents I admire at my office. It would be nice to have it acknowledged that I’m off-road here, charting a new course every day to satisfy the mother and the employee parts of me. It can be scary.
This Is Not How I Pictured My Working Mom Life To Be
What did I expect, really? Without a robust array of working mom role models displaying a kind of life I would aspire to, my pre-kids image of working mom life was probably grounded in fantasy. I didn’t imagine a kid’s separation anxiety at daycare drop-off while I raced to make a morning meeting. I didn’t understand that my commute home from work was going to be my only down time, because once I stepped into my apartment I was full-time working again, as a parent. I didn’t realize how I might look forward to Mondays, when I could return to an office full of grown-ups who were (mostly) self-sufficient, after a weekend spent (mostly) breaking up fights and sweeping up dropped food.
But my life is rich and fulfilling in ways I couldn’t possibly know I wanted it to be before I had children. While my children might have prevented me from making headway in certain aspects of my career, they have built me up in ways that totally pay off on the job. Having children has allowed me to really focus on work when I’m working. I get more done in less time. I am able to more easily sidestep the office bullsh*t because, as a mom, I have no time for that.
We don’t hear enough from working parents about the benefits of having children as it pertains to their jobs, and I think we need to talk about that more. Maybe then, we can galvanize a change in work culture that doesn’t marginalize or punish employees who care for others. Before having kids I thought 12 weeks of maternity leave was all I needed, because that is all I would get. It never occurred to me, until after I had that baby, that I’d still be thinking (even nine years later) how much I would have given for more time without having to compromise salary or tenure. I can talk to my partner about this, of course. But it would mean so much more to exchange knowing glances than to have to articulate all the complicated feelings about working motherhood.