A friend and I met for coffee during her first week at work after being on maternity leave for two months. Before the baby came, she thought she’d be eager to return to work, but she soon realized that was not the case. Instead, she was distressed. She yearned to be home with her baby, even though she loved the adult interaction, feelings of accomplishment, and financial reward that came from working.
It tugged at her heart each morning when she handed her baby, who at eight weeks just started to socially smile, over to a daycare provider. It pained her because she knew that she would not see him for another 10 hours. She also realized that somebody else would most likely see his first crawl, find his first tooth and hear his first word. She said to me, “I feel like this other person is raising my son. What if he gets confused on who his mommy is?”
I related to her because I felt similarly when I first brought my daughter to daycare. I sympathized and told her the following.
Your son will always know who mommy is. Yours is the first face he sees every morning and the last face he sees before bed. When he cries in the middle of the night, you are the one who comes to him. When he is sick and feels unwell, you are the one holding and nurturing him. You are the most important person in his life and that won’t change for a long time.
My friend expressed relief and I realized how much I would have liked somebody to share those words with me when I was a new mom returning to work. At that time I struggled because I underestimated the emotional conflict that would ensure, and because I had financial goals that I didn’t believe I could achieve without working.
Emotionally I wanted to be home with my baby, but I am also really proud of my career and I enjoy most of the challenges it brings. I actively pursued my professional path for eight years before becoming a mom. Those years were filled with commitment and growth. I’m still moving with a lot of momentum that was built during that time. Furthermore, I want my daughter to see me as a strong and independent woman so that she does not limit herself.
Financially, I understand that my efforts contribute to the standard of living that my husband and I desire. While we long for financial freedom, we don’t want to downsize our lifestyle. I am confident we’ll get there, but we’ll do it taking the scenic route, so to speak.
I chose to bring my daughter, and now my son too, to daycare so that I can have, and provide my family with, the life I want for us. It’s a choice filled with caring but often pitted with guilt. Even so, I make that choice every day. Ultimately, I am sharing all of this to give solidarity to other working parents because we share this experience. Not identically, but I believe we have similar feelings rooted in our similar circumstances.
Here are some tips that have helped me cope with being a working mom.
- Treat Daycare Like Family – Recognize that the women who care for your child while you are working play a very important role in your family and in society. They have probably grown to love your child. To me, this makes them family. Celebrate milestones, birthdays and holidays with them. Your acknowledgement of their role is the right thing to do, and when you think of them as family it reduces your worries.
- Reorganize Your Routine – Find ways to get your chores like laundry and shopping done at night or during workday breaks. Consider using services like online shopping, grocery delivery, or a housekeeper. This can free up time to do special things with your children on the weekends.
- Talk to Other Working Parents– Form relationships with people who are coping with similar stress. They are understanding. Also, if their children are older than yours, they may offer insights on how to tackle various issues.
- Be Grateful – Remind yourself why you make the choice to work. Is it to sustain a lifestyle you enjoy or for the personal fulfillment? Whatever your reasons are, when you catch yourself dwelling on what you are “missing out on,” make it a point to shift your attention to what you are gaining.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of feeling trapped or like you have no choice but to work, however you always have a choice on how you react to your circumstances. Using these tips helped me embrace my decision to stay in the workforce. I own it and try hard to stay grateful during the challenging times. This level of personal accountability is the foundation of my personal power.