Mom to Max
Corporate Communications Sr. Specialist
Length of maternity leave: 12 weeks
What did you struggle with most about returning to work after having your kids? I had a hard time giving up (the illusion of?) control over all the little things that go into caring for a baby. Then there was the constant ache for my baby. It truly felt like grief for many months—the grieving of a stay-at-home life that I’m not living and time with my baby that—as much as it hurts to admit the obvious—I won’t be able to get back.
In the weeks leading up to my return and even as I walked the halls that first week back, I just kept thinking about how I had worked so hard to get to this point in my career, and for what? Just so I could spend my days missing my baby? That thought was hard to let go of, even though it wasn’t true. There are so many good things that came out of the work that got me to where I was, and it wasn’t fair to discount any of it. I’m happy and grateful to be in the role I’m currently in, working with a great team of people.
There was also fear that by going back to work I was somehow giving up my role as his mom or losing my importance in his life. My dad worked full-time my whole childhood, and my mom worked part-time on and off but was always home with us during the day when we were young. So to have a stay-at-home warrior momma as a role model and to then not stay at home with my own child was (and still is) challenging.
What do you find difficult about being a working parent? The constant thought that I need to rush. When I first went back to work, I was rushing to get ready in record time in the morning so that I’d have time to cuddle my baby, and also to nurse and pump. Now that I’m not nursing anymore I’ve eased up—if I have time to feed him in the morning then I do, and if I don’t have time, then my husband feeds him.
But I still eat lunch at warp speed at my desk while simultaneously checking emails so that I don’t feel obligated to stay late, and I rush through everything I do in the evening that doesn’t involve my little man so that I can have more time for him, and on and on like that. I’m sure the anxiety associated with the thought that we have to hurry is something parents experience regardless of whether they’re working outside the home—but for me it became worse when I went back to work and is something I need to work on.
What do you enjoy about being a working parent? I think another mom said it best here on The Returnity Project when she said that the time away makes her a better mom. For me, it really motivates me to focus on the quality of the time I am spending with my family.
When Max was four months old, I had to travel for work and stay overnight for a meeting at our company headquarters. I cried so much in the days leading up to having to leave him and was an anxious mess. But then everything turned out great: My husband and I had some time alone (he drove me the two hours to Indianapolis), Max got to hang out with his grandparents and his cousin Eleanor at my parents’ house (my mom watches my niece during the week while my brother and sister-in-law—another momma recently returned to work—are at work), and I had an amazing day of brainstorming with my team.
It helped me feel reenergized about my career in a way I didn’t think was possible after becoming a mom, so I think it was worth the pain of that first night away from him. If I’m going to spend hours away from him every weekday, then I want to care about what I’m doing.
After being back at work for some time, have your views about career and family changed? Nothing could have prepared me for how completely having a baby would change my perspective on every area of my life. When I was pregnant, I imagined it’d be difficult going back to work but that I’d somehow still keep my normal schedule, routine, etc.
But after just one week back I realized that for the next several years I would very likely be constantly reevaluating my schedule, testing new routines, talking to my manager about flexibility and working ceaselessly on what my days, weeks and months look like so that I can get as much quality time as possible with my family.
Knowing what you know now, what’s one thing you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself as you were preparing to return to work or getting ramped up in your role? I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing, so here are the many things:
Honor your sadness. You can always find reasons upon reasons to feel guilty. If it’s not one thing, it’s another—regardless of whether you stay home or go back to work. There’s nothing interesting or unique about this guilt—just a need to process it and move on with your life. Even when all you want to do is wallow in self-pity, know that you really do get to choose what you want to focus on. If you’re stuck in your head with the crappy thoughts that tell you you’re missing out or doing it wrong or not good enough for your baby, then you’re not focusing on your baby—the actual tiny human being in front of you. So choose as wisely as you can in every moment, be as present as possible and let the rest go.
And don’t forget—you always feel better once you have a plan in place. Having a plan you feel good about makes it so much easier to process any discomfort with your current situation. So figure out a plan for how you’ll make your time truly count, and then make the best of it.
What did you choose for childcare, and how has it been for your family? Husband
Pros: I get to go to work knowing that Max is safe and loved and having fun with his daddy. My husband is seriously amazing and is so good at taking care of all of us—our dog, Balto, included :-) In many ways he’s probably better at being home with Max during the day than I would be if I hadn’t gone back to work.
Before we decided on this arrangement, our plan was for Max to be with my Mom during the week, which would’ve been great except for the distance that would’ve had us getting home late and would’ve put Max in the car for quite a while every day—the thought of which really stressed me out in the beginning when he was so young. With my husband staying with Max, I ultimately get more time with him.
Also, between a full-time job plus the Army Reserves and part-time work on the weekend, my husband (who was able to be home for only a couple of days with us after Max was born) is thrilled to have been able to quit his full-time job and spend this time with Max.
Cons: Money, of course. We’re losing my husband’s full-time income. But we live well enough below our means that it’s possible to do this, and to us it’s worth it. Also, in my first three months back to work, I struggled with jealousy about the fact that that my husband gets to be the one to stay home. I’ve grown past that now, and most days just feel gratitude for our teamwork.
Anything else to share? Thank you, Lauren and Lindsay, for creating The Returnity Project. I discovered it about a month before returning to work, and it was great timing. It’s been therapeutic to share my story, and it’s been comforting to read other women’s stories and be reminded that I’m not the only woman going through this—that there are so many other women who love their babies fiercely and still leave for work in the morning.