Mom to Ryan & Reagan
Maternity leave: 8-weeks
What did you struggle with most about returning to work after having your kids?
With my first child, I struggled with the idea that she wouldn't know me. She'd spend the hours I was at work with my mom. My worry was she would bond with her instead of me. My love for her was so instant. She and her brother are my world. It killed me thinking they wouldn't reciprocate my love since I worked.
I also stressed about missing the "firsts." First crawl, first walk, first word, etc. The major milestones happen long after maternity leave ends. I was upset that most of my maternity leave was spent being tired and anxious while my newborn primarily napped. I wanted to be home during that special newborn bonding time but also wanted to be home after that 3 month mark when they are really interacting, babbling, giggling, hitting those major milestones, and up for more of the day. I was angry I'd be at my desk all day while this new stage in her life was happening.
I also dealt with jealousy. My husband is a teacher so his day ends "in the office" at 3:30 pm so he can come home early. He also has long breaks and summers off. This made me resent him in the beginning for something that was such a beautiful thing: a dad being able to be home for his child. But my jealously that I couldn't be there as well ate me up inside.
With my second child, most of my struggles dissipated. My daughter couldn't be any closer to me so I knew even while working, I'd still have the strongest bond with my children. I also changed jobs so my hours became more flexible and I have summers off now so the resentment toward my husband's work schedule went away. However, it was still extremely hard going back to work after my son was born. They say it's easier with the second child and it is to an extent. I jumped back into the routine faster but my heart still ached to be home with my kids.
Finally, there's a phrase that still eats at me. When I see parents who don't work say they're "home raising the kids." Or when people ask me, "Who's raising your kids?" I AM raising my kids. My mother is watching them and keeping them safe. That's not to say she isn't playing an important role in their lives. But working parents raise their children. They teach them morals. They teach them values. They teach them to love. They teach them work ethic. But whenever I read or hear that phrase, I want to cry and scream at the same time. My struggle with that phrase has not gone away yet. But I do know in my heart my husband and I are raising our children.
What do you find difficult about being a working parent?
Balancing work and life is the most difficult part about being a working parent. I feel like I'm either sacrificing my work to be better at home or vice versa. I'm also so tired it's hard to have the much needed self-care time for working parents to regroup.
I go to bed after everyone to prep for the next day. I wake up before everyone to get ready so I can take care of the kids before I leave for work. There's not much rest for any parent but as a working parent, I go from one job to the next.
Luckily, my mom job gives me so much joy but that doesn't mean I'm not exhausted. Unfortunately, the beast of exhaustion for me means having a short fuse with the people I love like friends and family. There's days I long for a break and that's hard to come by as a working parent.
What do you enjoy about being a working parent?
As a working parent, I enjoy being an example to my kids. I show my daughter she can work towards her dreams. She puts on my work shirts (hilariously too big for her 2 year-old body) and my work shoes and says, "Mama goes to work." It makes me proud that she'll grow up seeing women leaders and define women as having the ability to contribute economically to a family.
For my son, I want him to see that women can be successful in their chosen professions. That he needs to respect women in all ways. My mother-in-law has been working for over 35 years. My husband has been nothing but supportive of my education and profession. He does the dishes, laundry, and goes grocery shopping. We split the house duties evenly and I attribute being able to do this to him growing up with a mom who worked. He saw that when two parents work, they also must work together at home in order to keep everything functioning. I'm happy my son will be able to have a similar upbringing.
I also genuinely enjoy working. That makes me extremely guilty at times but I like dressing up for work, I love teaching and mentoring students, and I love the personal satisfaction I get from my profession.
After being back at work for some time, have your views about career and family changed?
I thought I would be okay with going back to work. I didn't think I'd have any sadness leaving my baby. It sounds harsh but I didn't grow up around kids; I had no clue how strong a mother's love is. My mom loves us so much but she always seemed so put together even when working. I didn't know the daily sadness she felt leaving us.
When I returned to work, I had major anxiety. I ached to be home with my daughter. I originally went to school to be a college professor but then after working full-time, thought I would stay as an administrator in higher education and move up the ladder. However, my priorities shifted when I had my daughter. It actually made me motivated to fulfill my true passion: to be a college professor. I obtained my Ph.D. originally to do just that. However, in the hustle and bustle of my day job, that dream slowly went to the back burner. When I graduated in 2016, I was 20 weeks pregnant with my daughter, she "walked" across the graduation stage with me so I joke she has her honorary doctorate. She kept me motivated to the end of my program while she was growing inside me. Once she was born, she reignited the passion I had for teaching.
This occurred one day when I was sitting at my desk. I thought to myself, "I'm okay working, that's my reality. I want to work and I have to work. But I want to be at a place I'm happy at so it's worth leaving my kids." I started my job search that day, applied to my dream job 3 months post-postpartum and am now in year two doing what I love.
It doesn't mean I don't miss my kids, but the work day goes much faster when you enjoy what you do. So if you are unhappy in your position when returning to work, find something you are passionate about. See if you can do some flex hours. Find a job that works for you; it may take time, but it's out there. I have to work whether I want to or not and I understand that is many women's reality. But it's important to be happy in your job and if you're not, know it's okay to walk away and start fresh. Your mental health and happiness are so important as a mom.
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?
Your kids are going to love you. You are THEIR MOTHER. No one can take that title or role away from you. You will still be the first person they run to when they're hurt. You will still be the first person they go to for advice. You will still be their greatest love. There's something about a mother's love. The kids just get it. No matter who is watching them while you're at work, they will still run to you with open arms when you get home. I'd tell myself that you'll develop time management skills and learn to say no. I'd tell myself don't worry, everything at work and at home will get done. And don't be afraid to say no. If you need to reset. If you need a day with the kids and no other family, that's okay. Be intentional with your time and know it's okay to do so.
What did you choose for childcare, and how has it been for your family?
I love that my kids are being taken care of by my mom. My maternal grandmother took care of my siblings and I while my mom worked and I love that we get to repeat that cycle with my own mom. The pros include not paying for childcare, which is outrageously expensive. The kids get to play with their toys and be with their grandmother, who I trust all day. A con to having a family member be a main caretaker for the kids is ensuring that person follows your specified way of doing things. It's sometimes easier to not follow the "rules" if you are related to the kid's parents; it's easier to ask for forgiveness. My husband and I are strict with schedules and what not so sticking to them is important. I also have a level of guilt. My mom lives for watching my kids but I still feel guilty that we don't give her monetary support. I also want to ensure that I don't abuse the time she has with them by having her watch the kids too much, even when it's not necessary, simply because it's convenient to ask her for help. For me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and I don't take for granted how fortunate we are to have this arrangement.
I am forever grateful to my mom for being in my kids' lives this way and I love the bond they have built together.
Being a parent is not easy. Stay-at-home parents have their own trials to deal with. The grass isn't always greener.
So any working moms looking at their Instagrams and comparing their lives to moms who don't work (and vice versa), please be easy on yourself.
I compared myself to others so much when I first returned to work. It made me sad. It made me sad that we couldn't figure out a way to live on one income. It made me feel guilty. It made me feel guilty that I actually enjoy going to work. It made me angry. It made me angry that we haven't figured out a way to complete a strong work/life balance here in the US. So I unfollowed a lot of mom bloggers and stopped comparing myself. I focused on how I was providing for my family not just financially but by still being present with my children when I was home. That doesn't mean I'm not sad or that the guilt is gone, but this small action eased a lot of the pain I felt returning to work both times. Also talk to other working moms.
Knowing you're not alone in your feelings is essential to getting through the hard days.