At some point in of our lives, those of us who are lucky enough to call ourselves “Mommy” will most likely have to decide if we will re-enter the workforce. For some that decision will be made for her due to loss of income by a spouse, or loss of said spouse or perhaps the absence of a partner to begin with altogether. For others, like me, that decision is made easier once it was determined that my “little ones” weren’t so little anymore and didn’t need their mommy on call 24/7.
Once my youngest started preschool, I found myself with extra time and a sense of needing to fill that time with something other than recipes on Pinterest and laundry. Lord knows laundry could have filled my days with work and busyness, however my heart longed for something more.
Upon returning to a full-time job when my son was four and my daughter was five, my children were shocked to see Mommy had pants other than athleisure or printed leggings. I remember the first time I came out of my bedroom in my business casual attire, my son’s face lit up, “Mommy you look so pretty! Where are you going?” I explained in that moment in words a 4-year-old could understand that concept of work. The next few days, my son was dumbfounded by the assortment of clothing he had never seen me wear. Every morning that first week back at work, my son would question me as to where I was headed looking so put-together. My answer always remained the same: work. By mid-week when I replied for work a third day in a row my son innocently responded, “Again?”
That was two years ago, and while I don’t regret my decision to go back to work, it doesn’t change how that one decision has impacted my children for better or worse. In more recent times, the decision was more of a necessity than a luxury as my husband was laid off, and I became the breadwinner for the family, albeit temporarily.
When Mommy goes back to work, she leaves a part of herself back at home. The part that worries dishes won’t get done promptly; laundry will continue to pile up; Amazon packages will sit on the porch longer than they should; organic groceries won’t be bought because that store isn’t on the way home from the office; Pinterest recipes get left unread and thus, unmade.
However, it isn’t just logistical; when Mommy goes back to work emotions are involved. The guilt of not being there every day to pick up your child from school. The heartbreak of missing “Muffins with Mom” because an important meeting at work rudely reared its ugly head on your calendar. The sadness when you have to drop your child off with Grandma when she’s sick because you can’t afford to take a day off, when all you really want to do is spend the day on the couch cuddling.
It isn’t all sadness and tears though; there are blessings that come when Mommy goes back to work, too. The special outings that wouldn’t have occurred without Mom’s income. The first time your daughter asks you what you do at work all day, and she tells you she wants to be just like you when she grows up. The satisfaction of knowing you’re providing for your children, even if they don’t see the fruits of your labor quite yet. The excitement and support only children can provide when you accomplish something at work and share it at the dinner table.
I would be remiss to write this and not address the exhaustion that comes when Mommy goes back to work. It’s been said that working moms do the equivalent of two and a half full-time jobs. The “second shift” has become part of the American vernacular referring to the mother who works a full-time job just to come home and start her second shift as mother and housewife. There is no denying that when Mommy goes back to work, she wakes every morning with bleary eyes and tired bones. It’s the love for her family and the passion for her work (and coffee, lots of coffee) that get her up and going every day. The weekend rolls around and she is plagued with the desire to sleep in, while at the same time spend every free moment she can with her family before the sun sets Sunday evening.
I think one of the greatest lessons I’m learning in this journey of balancing my career and motherhood is self-care. As one dear friend put it recently, a fantastically successful working mother herself, you reach self-preservation before burnout. I’m realizing that getting a massage, or taking a bath, or simply running errands alone is not selfish. It’s the “me time” my body, mind and spirit crave, and it’s those things I do for myself that keep me sane, which is ultimately the best gift I can give to my children.
Perhaps you’re reading my words and as a working mother yourself don’t relate, and if so, I’m very happy for you and also very, very jealous. However, for those of you working moms reading this and nodding, I raise a glass to you. When Mommy goes back to work it’s a rollercoaster ride of events and emotions, but just know if you’re also a working mother on this crazy ride, I’m in the seat right next to you hanging on for dear life.
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