Many of us have been raised to value a career and the status that comes with it more than being home and raising our kids. Then, when we end up having children, we often end up torn between the strong and deep bond we feel with our children and our desire for recognition and accomplishment (not to mention a paycheck!).
When my oldest was born, it never even occurred to me not to go back to work. And so I did, when he was 7 weeks old. It was emotionally hard to leave him with a babysitter, but that was the societal expectation and I never questioned whether mothers of young children should be working. Then my second was born seventeen months later, and again, I didn’t consider staying home with her, though I did stay home with her five weeks longer than I had with my son before returning to work. All I thought about was finding childcare arrangements that I found suitable, and how much less money I’d be actually making after paying for two children in almost full time care (7 am – 2:30/3 pm).
When I was about five months pregnant with my third, I started thinking about the purpose of working and the quality of my life. Why was I constantly running, running, running? I felt like I never could stop moving because there was always something more to do. That was part of having two children at different caretakers, running from dropping them off to my hour long commute, running in to the office, running back home to pick them up, and then trying to have relaxed ‘quality’ time with them before they went to bed three hours later. (I can remember being so exhausted at this time that I would sit on the couch reading to my toddler, and falling asleep between each page of the book. I would be jerked back to awakeness when he tugged on my arm and said, ‘Mommy!” And then falling back asleep after reading a few sentences.) I remembering thinking, “When am I ever going to have a chance to smell the roses?”
The irony was that I was the kind of person other working mothers would point to as an example of doing it all. My kids were happy and well-adjusted, my home was always neat, we frequently had guests, and I always seemed happy. It just goes to show that you can’t assume that what you see from the outside is all that there is.
As my toddler got older, his childcare arrangements grew more complicated. He attended a playgroup that was part of a larger school, but it began after I left, so a neighbor was responsible for taking care of him until the school van picked him up. And it ended before I got home, so I paid yet another neighbor to take him from his school van and watch him in her home until I picked him up. One day I found out that the neighbor lost track of time and didn’t go get him when he was dropped off from his van, so my then 2 3/4 year old son stood outside the building for ten minutes not knowing what to do (this was a very safe and small neighborhood) until another neighbor saw him and realized what had happened. When she told me about it, I decided that was it – it was already weighing heavily on my mind about the constant rush-rush, but it was unbearable to think of my child not being cared for and not knowing what to do, while I was over an hour away.
And on the spot I made the decision to quit working when my third child was born so none of my children would ever need to be in that situation again. That was just 3 months away….but there were other issues to then deal with – like my fears, finances…to be continued!