When debating the merits of working versus not working I have come to the realization that neither is the perfect solution. No matter which combination of mothering and working you choose, you are missing something, struggling with something and/or possibly feeling guilty about something. Having spoken to both working and stay at home moms, I have noticed that mom-guilt weighs heavily on the decision to work or not to work. I want to preface this post with the idea that it is not about judging the choices other mothers have made, but rather about sharing my story because I have lived “on both sides of the fence” and understand some of the pro’s and con’s to this complicated issue.
Mama Brings Home The Bacon: My Experience As a Working Mom
Following my three months of maternity leave, I returned to my job as a NICU nurse on night shift. I was lucky enough to have a director that agreed to let me work weekends so that the baby could either be with my husband (if he was off) or my mom. I worked every Friday and Saturday night. Working only two nights a week might sound like a dream job, but I implore you to consider the details. I had a baby that ate on demand, every three hours or less, and then woke at 0600. I would wake with him and nap when I could, but essentially I was awake (after a terrible night of sleep) for the next 26 hours (yes 26…I was counting every single hour). Although I loved having the weekdays off, missing out on every weekend and many major holidays with my family and friends was a real bummer. Working while pumping can also be very stressful. No matter how rigorous my nursing assignment was, my body required me to magically turn into a dairy cow every three hours. The break was nice but making time to sneak away wasn’t always easy or even possible, which would leave me uncomfortable physically, stressed mentally and unhappy emotionally!
Despite the negatives, the positives of working were plentiful for me. First off, there was the money to consider. Having a second income allowed us to save for our upcoming move and provided us a better sense of financial security. I am pretty sure anyone debating working or staying home would be lying if they said money was not an issue. With my own colicky baby at home, safe and well taken care of, I also looked forward to working (when I wasn’t so tired that I was woozy). It was my time to be intellectual, help others, interact, eat dinner with my lovely co-workers and most importantly, use the restroom by myself.
One of the greatest gifts that I was given from my months back at work was one that I had not anticipated. It actually came from my husband’s experience during this time. Brave man that he is, he willingly and happily, took on the challenge of bottle feeding (our normally breastfed) baby on demand throughout his weekends as caretaker. He defrosted milk, he prepared bottles, and he packed a diaper bag for their daily outings. My job and absence allowed the evolution of my husband’s independence as a Father. More importantly, his experiences taught him exactly what it is like to be home with a baby. I am proud to say that, because of his experiences, my husband has never uttered anything like “You’re just home with the baby all day – how hard could it be?” OR ” What do you mean it’s Noon and you’re still in your pajamas?” In fact, if your husband ever says anything like this to you, I highly recommend that you pick up a little weekend work or pack your bags for a little vacation.
Transition To Temporary Stay At Home Motherhood
When we moved to Louisiana we made the decision that I would stay home with Weston for about six months. Moving to a city, where we knew not a soul, we just didn’t feel comfortable placing him in an unknown daycare or finding a nanny off of a website. I think it is fair and honest to admit that this decision was not based on smart finances. Instead, it was one based on the anxiety of being in a new city by ourselves and a personal desire not to put Weston in a random daycare as a six month old.
The transition to stay-at-home motherhood has not been all that easy. I miss making money, being able to save money, and striving to reach our financial goals. We have had to put that aside for now as we just concentrate on living within our means. I miss taking care of children and families in need. I crave the extreme intimacy of looking people in the eyes and knowing in my heart that I am helping them through what is hopefully one of their darkest days. I miss pushing myself intellectually to learn more about medicine. I miss working cohesively, side by side, with amazing and inspiring co-workers. I yearn to be able to shut the door and close my eyes while I use the restroom instead of remaining on high alert in case I need to try to deter a toddler from exploring the trashcan or eating the toilet paper. It is sad to admit, but I am actually jealous when my husband comes home and shuts the door to the restroom.
I also struggle with my own expectations of what stay-at-home motherhood should look like. With no job to attend, I thought I would be able to cook, clean, meet friends, attend playgroup, feed our child, and do it all while looking thin (my pipe dream) and stylish. Unfortunately this just isn’t all possible for me. No matter how hard I try, I have discovered I am no Stepford (read Pinterest) wife. Sometimes dinner comes in the form of frozen pizza and our house is never perfectly clean. The impossibility of this all is complicated by a 20+ lb toddler attached to my leg or throwing snow angel style tantrums as I try to move forward though my day. Any forward progress that I make as I begin to clean ebbs away as my toddler turns into a cyclone, distributing waste and miscellaneous belongings where ever he travels.
I would be lying if I said being a stay at home mom didn’t have its sweet spots. I wake up every morning whenever my child does and haven’t set an alarm in months (although I swear a beep beep of an alarm clock would be much more pleasant than early morning hysteria). When my boy is sick I don’t have to worry about disappointing my boss or a team. Instead, I carelessly stay in my pajamas and focus on holding my boy tight and making him better. We have grand weekday adventures to the Zoo and the Children’s Museum. I love experiencing the city, just him and I, on the least crowded days of the week. I delight in the spontaneity of our days and having the ability to be able to adjust our schedule to whatever it is that he needs (I also wonder if I am creating a less adaptable child by doing this, but alas that may be another topic). I adore seeing all his newest tricks for the first time with my own eyes. Just today he had his first hug from a little girl at The Palm Tree Playground. He closed his eyes and stretched his little arms tightly around her back. My heart felt as though it was melting with happiness to be able to see this for myself. I understand that even if I worked everyday of the week I would still be granted these moments. However, I recognize and appreciate my freedom to hoard all of these moments, this time, my days at home, for better oor worse. I file them away in my brain for some day later in life when I will certainly need them to bring me happiness.
The six months that I anticipated to stay home are over. I haven’t found the perfect nanny to sleep at my house two days a week so that I can work. Am I looking for her? The answer to that is: kind of. I am torn between a longing to be with my boy and a need to be myself, use my brain and make money. I imagine many of you reading this may be torn as well. I wish I was writing this post with easy answers for us all. Instead, I leave you with only questions, and confidence in the fact that as Mothers we are all just doing our best.