My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I grew up in the 1980s when the world was different, and my father’s income was more than enough to provide for our whole family. My mother cooked. She cleaned (well, sort of). She drove us everywhere. She was our primary caregiver all day, every day. In order to have my mother stay home with us, my father worked long hours. He was the best father in the world, and he never missed a single game. But there were a lot of dinners without him. There was a lot of my young life without him.
When I grew up and met my husband, I knew I wanted a different type of partnership. I wanted to have my husband around . . . a lot. I wanted a more balanced lifestyle.
I’m not saying my choice is better than my mother’s. Relationships and family dynamics come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. I had an amazing childhood, but I wanted something different for my own life. When deciding upon careers, my husband and I both picked careers that would give us a good quality of life but not an extravagant one.
Now let me tell you right here: I was meant to be a lady of leisure. I enjoy my work as a high school teacher and find it to be amazingly fulfilling and enjoyable. It has the perfect balance of service and intellectual stimulation. I could not have picked a better career for my value system and personality. That being said, if I didn’t have to work to provide for my family, I wouldn’t. I would enjoy my free time working in my garden, exercising, reading, writing, watching television, learning something new . . . the list goes on. I am a hobbyist—a connoisseur of free time. You get the picture.
After I had my first child, I had to go back to work.
I had to go back for financial reasons, and, in truth, I enjoyed my job and having medical insurance more than I thought I would enjoy being poor with a colicky baby. My mother had a different opinion. She wanted me to stay home, no matter the financial consequences. Her belief was that children should have their mother be the primary caregiver during the day, but she was generously willing to provide us free daycare. I listened to her opinion, but we moved forward with the decision we felt was best for our family. I went back to work after a 16-week maternity leave.
I felt tortured those first few weeks. Guilt wrapped itself around my sadness. Would my child still love me? Would her grandmother fill the mother-sized place in her heart? I felt as though I was burning the candle at both ends without giving enough light to any room. Eventually, I developed anxiety and had to seek professional help. Hormones and genetics obviously played a large part in my postpartum journey; however, my guilt didn’t help my mental or physical health.
Looking back at those months now from the privilege of recovery, I wish I could impart some advice to that exhausted new mother, trying to get it all perfect. It’s my advice to all exhausted new mothers who have to or want to go back to work.
Stop it. Stop torturing yourself. Stop worrying. Stop comparing. Just . . . stop.
Guilt does not make you a better mother.
In fact, it might do just the opposite. Research shows time and again that happy mothers make happy, healthy children. Guilt does NOT make you happy. It is a blister on your foot that makes the walk of parenthood unbearable. Let it heal.
Your child doesn’t need you around all of the time and miserable. Whatever time you have for your kid, make it a genuinely happy time. Quality, not quantity, is what matters. Take time for yourself in all of the craziness. You need that time. You deserve that time.
I made the difficult choice to go back to work as a new mother, and it was the right decision for my family. My husband and I have to split the household and parenting responsibilities, and I have to work.
But my husband, my children’s father, is home. He’s home for early dinners. He’s home for practices. He’s home for his children. He’s home for me.
After all that I went through, I would still make the same decision for my family.
You might make a different one for yours. And that’s OK too. We have to curb our desire to be perfect (whatever that means) and instead, be ourselves. Because we know what is right for our own families. And when we do what’s right, there’s no room for guilt.