I missed my daughter’s first steps. I saw a picture sent by her daycare teacher that she had walked for the very first time . . . into someone else’s arms.
I’ve missed a lot of things as a working mother.
From the core of my heart, I wish I could say I was the one who had taught my daughter her ABCs or helped her learn the lyrics to songs like “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” or even that I had helped her paint her first picture of that chubby pumpkin handprint that still hangs on our fridge.
But I wasn’t there for those moments.
And this realization of lost time has, at times, formed a dangerous vault of bitterness in my heart. The pain of knowing I spend only three hours a weekday compared to the eight or nine the daycare caretakers get to spend with her every single day is enough to shrivel me up inside.
While I’ve been a working mom for over a year now, there was a precious short period of time where I actually got to be a SAHM, aside from maternity leave. Ironically, this was during the spike of the pandemic in March of 2020. It was a terrifying reality for many people, trapped indoors and separated from family and friends in order to stay safe while COVID-19 swept through the country. While I was also afraid of this sickness reaching my loved ones, especially my 4-month-old daughter at the time, my college had made an announcement that all students were to learn virtually for the remainder of the spring semester, so from the end of March to August, I was a SAHM for the very first time in my life. I will never, ever forget those months I was blessed to have at home with my baby girl.
I was there to see her sit up for the first time and the sheer joy she had after she did so, laughing and clapping away as I praised her. I was there to watch her eat solid foods while making funny faces with all the strange new textures, smells, and tastes. And I was always there for naptime. It was our favorite part of every day. I’d rock her warm body back and forth in my arms, listening to the loud and peaceful snores humming from her small body and it soothed my soul.
There were no goodbyes when I was there.
Granted, being a SAHM is not all butterflies in sunshine. There were days I wanted to pull my hair out in frustration, especially when she would go through periods of being ill. I had very few hobbies, and I rarely went out. There were days when loneliness gaped in my heart as a SAHM.
But that pain did not compare to the growing realization I had at the end of August when I knew I would have to let her go. The memories we’d been blessed with together all day every day would never be the same.
The night before she would head to daycare for the first time, I remember thinking my husband was heartless because he hardly comforted me. It drove a small wedge between us for a few weeks afterward. What I realized, later on, was that he had understood my heartache all too well. He’d only been able to stay home one week with us before he went back to work after our daughter was born. He’d cried on the couch in pain, too.
The only way I can stop the bitterness from welling up in my heart every time I see her sweet photographs from daycare is by focusing on gratitude.
If my daughter hated going to daycare rather than loving it as much as she did, I would have an overwhelming sense of guilt and pain I don’t know if I could face as a mother. Deep down, I know jealousy and selfishness are not qualities welcome in God’s kingdom. So on the days I carry this pain of separation a little heavier than others, I make my way out to my car from the school building and shed a few tears. But when it’s over, I thank God for the fact she is safe and full of joy as she learns new things. I wipe those tears away and walk back into my classroom to care for my wonderful students who I know also need me.
And at night when my little dear and I are at home together, I hug her a bit tighter, smell her sweet hair a little longer, and read the extra book she begs me to read, to let her know I am here, and I always will be.