I had been preparing for this moment since before my son, now 6 months old, was born, but as I handed him to his new daycare provider my heart was breaking. Questions flooded my mind. How could I leave my beautiful son with someone else for 9 hours a day? Would he know how much I love him if I wasn’t there to play, comfort, change and feed him everyday? Would his attachment to me lessen? Was I making the biggest mistake of my life?
I thought I had prepared myself for the pain of separation but, like childbirth, nothing could really prepare me for reality. I felt like I was being ripped in two. I almost called my office and told them that I couldn’t do it; that being a mom was going to be my full-time job until my son was in kindergarten. Instead, I gave him a final kiss, attempted a reassuring smile and hurried to my car where I sat and cried my eyes out. I had struggled my way through 6 years of graduate school and taken on tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to give myself a fulfilling career. I owed it to myself and to my family to give being a working mom a chance.
Two months later, I am still struggling with dropping him off. It has become easier but I still have my tearful moments in the car before turning the ignition. I have developed mantras that help me through the day. “I am setting a good example for my son.” “Being at daycare is fun and enriching.” “I am not alone.” “I am making the right decision for my family.” “We need the money.” Telling myself these things helps lessen the pain and guilt that I feel. Yet, it is there hovering in the background.
Not that I didn’t feel pain and guilt when I was a stay-at-home mother. I loved spending time with my son, but the part of me that loves to work in an office, the part of me that desperately needs adult time and an identity outside of ‘mother’ was crying out for attention. I was lonely, worried about money, frustrated and at times bored when I wasn’t working outside of the home. And I felt incredibly guilty about having those emotions. Being a stay-at-home mother did not work for my personality and, because of that, was not the best solution for my family.
So what is the solution? The truth is, I haven’t figured that out yet. I am still trying to find the right balance between motherhood and career for my self and my family. One thing I know for sure: I need to let go of the guilt I feel for working outside of the home. My guilt isn’t helping anyone, least of all my son.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Dr. Anne McMunn of University College London, found that working mothers have better health than non-working mothers. Dr. McMunn also found that having a mother who works outside of the home does not harm children's social and emotional behavior. This information is balm to my working-mother’s heart. It gives me external validation for my choice that I can cling to when I am drowning in guilt and missing my son.
Until I find the right balance, I plan on doing this. I will be fully present when I am with my son. That means putting my smart phone down, turning off the TV, getting on the floor, reading a story, reveling in the weight of him in my arms and the sweet smell of his hair, and not worrying about what’s for dinner or the bills on the table or the presentation I have to make at the end of the week. I will give him my best and fullest self, and that will be enough.
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