It’s been a few weeks since I returned to work full time from maternity leave, and I found myself struggling with the decision. Not much changed for my school-age son, so I never anticipated any trepidation from him. However, my daughter was just barely a year old, and aside from my husband and our immediate family, she had never been with anyone but me! When I saw how easily she warmed up to the day care provider, I was torn between thrilled and crushed. It almost brought me to tears one morning when she planted a big wet kiss on the sitter. After all, those kisses should be for me!
So, I did what most modern-day-moms do: I took to the internet for some Google Therapy. I just needed someone to endorse my decision; I needed verification that I’m not a horrible person for returning to work; that my children will still love me; that they won’t forget about me while I am gone.
But instead of support, I stumbled across some rather vocal naysayers who sternly warned against the "selfishness" of returning to work. They cautioned on the detriment I was surely causing to my children’s development, our bond, and the additional stress I’d be putting on my spouse. I was ready to call work immediately and advise them of the horrible mistake I’d made. I sat in my car weeping like a hysterical maniac. I texted my husband and warned him that I was fairly certain our daughter now hated me. I began to rehearse explanation to my boss. And then, I stopped myself.
Since when did taking into consideration your own happiness become the attribute of a bad parent?
While I know I would have loved to stay home with my children and absorb every second of their young childhood, it would mean abandoning my career. Something I had worked many years to build. It would also mean that in a few years when my children were attending school full-time and I was ready to return to work, I would have to start my career from the beginning again. I had to decide if in the long term this was best for my family’s financial future, my children, and—dare I say—my own happiness. Although I cringe to even outwardly acknowledge that I was also concerned about "my own happiness."
But, YES, it is a fair concern! Is it selfish to return to work? Maybe it is! Or is it selfish to stay home? One could argue both sides, but it’s irrelevant. I love my children as every other mom on the planet love her own. You have to be happy in order to be a good mother. If being happy means working full-time, part-time, or not at all, then that is what you need to do. My children love me. They are a part of me. I truly value every second I get with them, perhaps even more so because it is interrupted by work. I want my children to be happy, but I also want to be happy, and that is normal—not wrong! Moms who choose to stay home are also allowed to make that decision; if that is what makes sense for their family and their own happiness. But for the moms like me that are looking for a kind word of support, especially in the first few weeks that you return from maternity leave I say this:
It’s okay! I’ve been there, too. I’ve lingered in the doorway a little longer than I should. I’ve secretly wished my daughter would cry so I could rush back in and scoop her up—just a few seconds longer! I’ve worried that my kids will forget about me or look to another for comfort in my absence. I’ve questioned if I am making the right choice. I’ve been so busy that I forgot it was pizza day and popcorn Wednesday and purple shirt day. I’ve seen the "mom clubs" at the coffee shops and felt out-casted and envious. I’ve wished that things were different.
On the contrary, I’ve had mornings I couldn’t wait to get to work so I could get that annoying sing-song theme out of my head. I’ve had days when the kids were making me crazy. I’ve had great days at work and been proud of my accomplishments. It’s going to be okay. Tell them you love them; they will know you do. Tell them you’ll be home as soon as you can; they know you will. And surround yourself with supportive people who understand your decision and the reasons behind it. Ignore everyone else!
My husband put it the best when he said to me: “You are their world. Nothing will ever change that.”