“This is a cool time to be a girl.”
My former neighbor, and father of two wonderful boys, said that to me when he found out we were having a baby girl. That was nearly two years ago, and not a day has passed – not a single one – that I haven’t been encouraged by his simple statement.
This brief conversation came at just the right time. I’d already made the choice to return to my job full time after our daughter was born; but this once-easy decision was getting harder. Nearly all the moms I knew stayed at home with their kids, and I watched these warrior women spend their days navigating motherhood so beautifully. I longed for these days with my own baby girl but felt conflicted by a deep desire to remain focused, at least somewhat, on my career.
Most people who knew me well supported my decision to work, but I can’t count how many times I heard, “I just couldn’t do it. I could never leave my child,” from people who didn’t understand the internal struggle I was experiencing. With every comment, every time I heard the word “leave,” I caught myself wondering why I was excited to be a working mom. Was something wrong with me?
Although I didn’t realize I needed reinforcement, hearing my neighbor’s words sparked a lasting empowerment within me; because this cool time to be a girl is also a cool time to raise a girl and to be a mother, whether or not I work. My pregnancy made me feel strong, and whatever decision my husband and I made about work (out of passion or necessity) would be one made out of that same family-minded strength.
I rode the momentum of that conversation through the remainder of my pregnancy, proudly stating, “Of course I’ll work full time! I was made to work,” reminding myself of all the reasons this was right for our family:
1. We want our daughter to see both parents serving others through our jobs
2. Good teachers can do things for our daughter that we cannot
3. I want to contribute to my family financially
4. Women in the workforce are crucial, and I feel called to be a part of that
5. I get so much joy from work, and it’s important to share that with my daughter
The list could have gone on and on. My confidence had been restored, and I felt excited for the upcoming challenge.
…and then Amelia was born.
Suddenly I couldn’t think of a single reason to work other than the financial necessity. Comments about leaving my child didn’t ease up, and the way that they stung, now that I had my baby in my arms, was enough to make me fall apart. Although I remembered and acknowledged how fulfilled I was by my career, I began to resent it. Work was time away from my baby. Nothing more.
I sat in this place of uncertainty for months – so upset about my days away that I wasn’t able to be present to anyone. Most days I experienced moments of joy and fulfillment at work, but that contentment was immediately overshadowed by a strange guilt – how on earth could I be happy when I was missing time with my child?
There wasn’t a clear moment but rather, a distinct period of time when I started to notice that the actual moments I was missing with my family happened when we were all in the same room, not when I was working. I was so busy feeling conflicted that I never even considered my ideal balance. Much to my surprise, when I did open my heart enough to have the conversation about whether or not to give up on my job, I clearly wasn’t ready. Not at all. In fact, the thought of leaving work made me feel like I’d be depriving my daughter and husband of my best, most-passionate self.
Slowly, I allowed myself (and am currently allowing myself) to remember why we made this choice to begin with. I allowed myself to continue learning at my job rather than staying stagnant and growing discouraged. And I allowed myself to feel joy when I was away from my daughter – not because I was away from her but because I was working for her benefit.
The very real truth is that the internal conflict that comes with working full time still rattles me often, really often: dropping Amelia off at school on Mondays feels like a punch in the stomach, but my heart melts when I see her run and hug her buddies; I envy my friends’ weekday availability with their children and long for relationships with other moms, but it encourages me to use my time at work well and for the good of others; and I never, ever feel like there are enough hours in the day (I imagine I’d feel this same way if I was at home), but I’m able to give Amelia every bit of my focus and energy while we’re together.
Even still, more days than not, I love being a working mom. I love sharing this particular passion with my family – letting the day energize me so I come home full of joy and readiness to show my daughter all the possibilities she has in this life.
The struggle is ongoing, but I remind myself that this is a cool time to be a girl and a mother. This is a time when mothers are celebrated whether they stay at home or work full time. Working moms ARE hands-on parents, and stay-at-home moms ARE working their asses off every single day. As parents, we are doing our best for our children when engaged in fulfilling work, whatever and wherever that work might be.
Photo by: Tracy Eason Photography