The decision to work outside the home once you've become a parent can be a complicated one. Some people don't really have a choice, and go back to work because they're either a single parent or can't sustain their family on one income. Some choose to return to work for the benefits, like health insurance and retirement. And others go back to work simply because they love the work that they do. Personally, I don’t think I could survive motherhood without my job. And while there isn't a "wrong" or "right" choice or set of circumstances, it seems that, even in 2018, working mothers are still chastised, judged, and made to feel as though they're "bad parents." Well, to that I say: Ha! And no. My job makes me a better parent, no doubt about it.
I’m a professional freelance writer, which is to say I am constantly writing for money. I have a number of clients I write for, and while it can get tedious at times I mostly enjoy my work. When I got pregnant I was starting to foray back into the writing world after a brief hiatus. Like many mothers-to-be, I worried about what having a child would do to my career, but I didn’t really have much of a career in those days either, to be honest. I had dreams and aspirations and goals in mind, but I didn't really have a direction or a set plan. So when I decided it was time to become a mom, I figured I would simply wait and see what happened next. Maybe I’d go back to an office, or maybe I’d stay home and get really into Sesame Street.
Fast forward a few years into the future, and I realized I could find a way to work and still catch an episode or two of Sesame Street. So now I work, but I work from home. The decision was, like many decisions parents make, driven by my family's financial circumstances. While I suppose we could've survive on just my partner’s salary, I knew it would be stressful for him and our entire household in general. In other words, I work, in part, to make sure there’s some supplemental income coming in every month. I don’t make nearly as much as my partner does, but the extra money helps us maintain a semi-comfortable lifestyle.
Working on something by myself, for myself, makes me feel accomplished. It’s nice to know there are people out there enjoying the work that I do.
But money isn’t the only reason why I work. My work helps me maintain some kind of independent sense of self. While I’m more than happy to work on my own and do my own thing, I’m the sort of person who also enjoys direction. I could write on my own whenever I want, sure, but I enjoy the concept of assignments and deadlines and set schedules. I like having new things to research and write about and I like learning about new topics. I like the feedback, the back and forth between my editors, and the challenges writers face on a semi-daily basis. Writing gives me a sense of purpose. Working on something by myself, for myself, makes me feel accomplished.
Motherhood simply isn’t something I feel like I was “born” to do. It’s more like something that I am doing. It’s another part of my life, another adventure, another journey, and another life choice I have made. It’s an addition to who I am, and supplementary to what I do, rather than who I am and what I do. That doesn’t make me a bad mom. That doesn’t mean I ignore my child or only give him five percent of my attention. It just means that I am a multifaceted person who enjoys a wide variety of things, namely writing and being in the presence of the awesome little human being I once grew inside my body.
While I don’t think I could've worked in the first couple of months of my son’s life, I can’t imagine not working now, and despite my unrelenting exhaustion.
Plus, I don't love every single aspect of motherhood. The isolation, for one, is a part of parenthood I could do without. I felt alone as soon as I got pregnant and faced the undeniable reality that while I had a partner in parenting, I would be the only person experiencing the pregnancy. And that feeling of isolating grew even more intense after my son was born. For example, my child-free friends, for the most part, fell out of communication with me. They were around, sure, but they always left it up to me to reach out to them. As a new, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived mom, reaching out was a lot of work, so, after a while, I didn't.
Motherhood is hard. It’s exhausting and, at times, can suck ever fiber of fun out of your being. While I don’t think I could've worked in the first couple of months of my son’s life, I can’t imagine not working now, and despite my unrelenting exhaustion. When motherhood exhausts me, my writing energizes me. Coming up with new ideas, the feel of my fingers clacking away at the keyboard, and a positive comment from an avid reader all inspire me.
I don't have to rely on my son to make me happy. I can make myself happy all on my own.
Hitting my deadlines, getting a few pitches accepted, and maybe even posting to my blog or finally writing a new issue of my newsletter are the things that give me joy. I don't have to rely on my son to make me happy. I can make myself happy all on my own. And when I'm happy and fulfilled and feeling the joy my job provides, I’m able to bring that happiness, fulfillment, and joy to my parenting duties. I am suddenly up for racing monster trucks while on a hike, or helping my son with mazes, or simply cuddling on the couch to watch Finding Dory for what must be the millionth time.
Working also benefits my mental health. When I was a new mom and only had my son to focus on, I became obsessed with milestones and sleep schedules and eating habits. I fixated on his time in the NICU. I worried, constantly, about his future and his health and whether or not I was "screwing him up." When my son became my entire world, I was incapable of seeing just how vast, beautiful, and exiting the world really is.
I love the sense of accomplishment and peace I feel, and the fact that I can bring that feeling to my son at the end of every day.
I also focused entirely too much on my relationship with my husband. Any little bump, perceived or otherwise, in our marriage felt like the end of the world. Without a job I had all this extra time to replay certain situations over and over again in my mind. We could have an argument, or a simple disagreement, and I'd build it up in my head until it caused additional arguments and, before I knew it, I couldn't remember what I was upset about in the first place. My mental health, and my relationship, suffered when I didn't have an external outlet to focus on. I needed something for me, and only me, in order to be the best version of me for my husband, my child, and to the betterment of my mental health and wellness. My work puts things into perspective, allows me to process minor family stresses, and provides a mental escape from the otherwise mundane responsibilities of parenthood.
While I love my son, and love the time I get to spend with him, I also relish the hours he is away at school learning new things. I appreciate the silence of my home when I am at work and writing. I enjoy my interactions with fellow writers, with my editors, and with my sources. I love the sense of accomplishment and peace I feel, and the fact that I can bring that feeling to my son at the end of every day. Every mother needs to make the choice for herself, but for me there is no doubt: motherhood just wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t be the same, without my job.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.