There was never a question about whether or not I’d return to work after I had each of my children. We were a two-income household, not just out of necessity — we live in Queens, NY, in a modest two-bedroom apartment — but also because we both defined ourselves a bit by our jobs. I had invested over a decade in my career before having children and I had no intention of off-ramping. I liked my job, and having a job in general, outside the home. So it there never felt like much of a “choice” to be made in terms of whether or not I would go back to work after having a kid. It was simply a foregone conclusion.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t sob the day I returned to the office from maternity leave, or that it was ever even remotely “easy” to be away from my kids for 10 hours a day. (Yes, there are nice parts about having some kid-free hours, especially when you spend them doing a job you enjoy as much as I enjoy mine, but still, you miss them and it’s never “easy.”) But as long as I felt fulfilled by my work, most of the time, I wanted to continue to be a person with a job, and a family — a “working mom.” (I use that term out of convenience, although I definitely feel uneasy about it; I can’t recall the last time I heard a male person with a job and a family being called a “working dad.” Hmmm…)
I find it fascinating that women who want to have careers and kids are still shocking everyone by attempting to “have it all.” I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who would categorize themselves so simply as to be all about one thing. Humans are complex, emotional, and multi-faceted. I would not be happy if I wasn’t pursuing my career goals, nor would I feel myself without kids. A lot of people are super happy doing just one of those things, or doing something else entirely (What do you do if you don’t work or have kids? Tell me your ways; I’m dying to know.), but I wanted both.
The problem with choosing any of the above paths in life is that there a million ways you’ll be judged and made to feel guilty and inadequate. No matter what you choose. There is no winning in the eyes of ~society~ when it comes to what you choose regarding motherhood and work. Do just one and you’re living a half-life, but if you try to do both, you leave yourself open to ceaseless waves of people criticizing how you choose to balance all those life pieces they said you’d be empty without. So until the world stops seeing working moms as selfish for answering to the many parts of themselves, I guess I’ll just have to put up with some of the things people say about my choices, which I am so tired of hearing:
“Are You Going Back To Work?”
It’s funny how often I was asked this question after the birth of my first child. Never had I expressed to anyone that I was considering leaving my job, even before I became pregnant. Having a child changes you in ways, but it never undermined my desire to keep building on a career I was excited to have.
“Are You Getting A Nanny Or Sending Her Daycare?”
Once people knew I was returning to work after my 12 weeks of maternity leave (a fraction of which was paid for by my company), they felt compelled to ask who would be watching my daughter. I was first asked this question when I was about 5-months pregnant, and just shrugged at the thought. But the answer is, it’s not always just one or the other; a singular caregiver or group care. For our first kid, we had a nanny, but then my husband’s company re-located so he went freelance. His hours were more flexible, our nanny didn’t like working when my husband was in and out, and so we switched our daughter to part-time group care. The childcare answer is never easy. Not only is it fraught with guilt (“Someone else is raising my baby!”), but the solution is not fixed. As our schedules and our children’s developmental needs evolve, so do our childcare scenarios. Right now, with two school-age kids, we have a babysitter, grandparents, and after-school activities filling in the 3-7 p.m. gaps in our day before my husband or I get home. And next year, we’ll probably have to figure it all out again.
“Don’t You Want To Spend More Time With Your Kids?”
Yes. And I want all of that time to be when they are clean, fed, content, wearing their listening ears, and acting like little geniuses for my social media fodder. I don’t feel that more time means better time. I am pretty sure, based on my conversations with mom friends who don’t work outside the home, that while they spend more time with their kids, the ratio of fun versus frustrating periods is equal to mine, even though I am around my kids for fewer hours per day.
“How Do You Juggle Everything?”
Poorly, to be honest. Working motherhood has taught me that multi-tasking is the worst tactic to getting anything done. My mantra is “one thing at a time.” I have dropped too much lettuce on my breastfeeding kid’s head while I was having my lunch to think that I’d be efficient at two things at once. Please don’t look at my career and my kids like they’re part of some circus act. I don’t juggle them. I pay attention to a singular thing, or person, although sometimes that can only be for five minutes before switching gears. I am not scattered or unfocused. Stressed? Yes, but I learned to ask for help, because I can’t do more than one task at one time. This is a useful skill to pass on to kids, too. While I spend time with both my kids at once, we’re involved in one activity. And I make sure to have one-on-one time with each of them as well, so they must learn to be patient and wait for their turns.
“Are You Able To Work From Home?”
I really like the idea of working from home. It would eliminate 90 minutes from my commute every day, and save me $27.50 every week. It would also put me in the same borough as my kids during the workday. But there is something about leaving my house to go to a dedicated workspace that just makes it easier to focus and make that “one thing at a time” technique more effective. If I never left my house to work, the lines between job and parenthood might blur, and make it harder for me to detach from a project and shift into mom gear. I know many parents work from home, and they have found success in that. It’s just harder for me to shut work off when home = office.
“What If You Have To Leave Early?”
What does anyone do if they need to leave early? If I have a personal matter I need to tend to during the workday, I let my colleagues know, prepare as much in advance as possible, and act like a grown-up about it. I am a human being, with a life, and work is a big part of it, but it co-exists with the rest of my world. We can’t perpetuate the myth that work and life are things to be “balanced.” It’s a constant ebb and flow. Sometimes I have to get back to work after the kids are in bed. Other times I have to leave early to pick up a sick kid or attend a parent-teacher conference. I deal with it just like a co-worker who has to leave work early because their dog-walker cancelled or they have a plumbing emergency. Life happens. We adjust. And we prove that we can get the work done.
“Would You Rather Work Part-Time?”
This is probably the most irritating question I could be asked. Everyone would like to work less. But most of us would not like to be paid less. And it’s really hard to secure a seat at the conference room table if I’m only showing up half the time. Work is not just something I do to earn money to support, along with my “working dad” husband, our family — work is something I do to fulfill my personal ambitions. If I’m a frustrated non-worker, how happy a mom would I be for my kids? I switched jobs a couple of times after my kids were born because I needed to find the right one. If I was going to be away from them 10 hours a day, it had to be for a good reason. I needed to know I was tapping into the strengths and talents I don’t get to employ when I’m mothering. I want to continue to grow in my profession. While my kids are still little and talk about being pop stars and karate champions when they grow up, at least realize that a job outside the home could be a rewarding experience. Even if they don’t choose to pursue a career outside the home, I hope they have learned that they must find what fulfills their own unique goals.
Images: AMC; Giphy(7)