Mommy, go to work.
I’ve been hearing this quite a bit lately. Both in the mornings when I drop my daughter off at daycare, and when I reappear in the afternoons – presumably to steal her away from her friends and drag her off to the wretched confines of the prison otherwise known as her home.
Kids. They break your heart, don’t they?
But while the phrase does invoke a certain amount of sadness, it also gives me a sense of comfort – and beyond that, pride. Because I know it conveys her feelings of security and self-assurance, even when not in my presence.
It was recently – and rather harshly – suggested to me that, as a working mom, I perhaps feel envious of and/or threatened by my stay-at-home counterparts for the extra time they get to spend with their kids.
I’ve since made my peace with the person who dealt the blow – a SAHM herself – and no longer begrudge her for it. But I won’t pretend it didn’t hurt.
Like a punch to the gut, it left me feeling a little breathless as a fresh wave of working mom guilt washed over me. The same guilt that led me down the rabbit hole of postpartum depression nearly two years ago.
As the guilt passed, however, I was able to objectively consider the observation. Only to realize that there was once a great deal of truth in it.
But not anymore. I’ve come a long way, baby.
I do, however, still struggle mightily in my role as a full-time working mother. A role I feel I’ve never quite come to fully balance, resulting in the unsettling sense that I’m juggling two extremely volatile balls, either of which I’m in constant danger of dropping at any given moment.
Furthermore, it’s a role that only allows me to spend, on average, three quality hours each day with my daughter throughout a five-day work week. Weekends aside, that amounts to a mere 15 hours per week - barely a part-time job. And not always the fun kind when you stop to consider that most of those hours occur at the end of the day, when we’re both tired and cranky and not exactly the most ideal versions of ourselves.
I realize, of course, that this isn’t necessarily an issue for some working moms – namely, those who derive a great deal of personal identity and satisfaction through their chosen professions. Unfortunately, I am not one of those women.
In truth, I have always worked more out of necessity than to fulfill any real calling in life – writing not withstanding. With a fair amount of shame, I will admit that I simply never quite figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And so I’ve spent my adult life wandering rather aimlessly down a meandering career path, with no real sense of where I’ve been or where I’m going.
So, it’s only natural that I should feel a certain amount of envy for the stay-at-home moms who spend their days with their children, while I in turn sit chained to a desk.
But I don’t feel threatened by them.
Though I may struggle to find my place in the working world, I don’t feel I’m necessarily suited to be a SAHM, either. Having endured plenty of sick days with Lil’ Bit, I’m well aware of the day-to-day drudgery the job entails – and tip my hat to those who do it full-time.
And while I often long for more than three hours a day with my daughter, I also find myself taking what feels like perverse pleasure in the daily reprieve from motherhood provided by my job – even as I bemoan its own fair share of drudgery.
Simply put, I’m an anomaly. A lost soul stuck in a modern-day feminist purgatory, unsure of which world suits me best.
But even as I wrestle with my own sense of identity, I observe Lil’ Bit becoming ever more comfortable with hers. For that, I must gratefully acknowledge, in part, the staff at her wonderful daycare facility, to whom I’ve written a letter as part of Tonya’s cathartic Letters For You series at Letters for Lucas. I welcome you to read it - even if writing it (or this post, for that matter) was by no means easy.
The simple fact of the matter is that Lil’ Bit thrives in her daycare environment – not only in terms of the socialization, language, and cognitive skills it’s helping to instill, but also in the sense of autonomy it fosters. From her eager requests to go to school each morning to the excitement with which she relays the high points of her day, she is clearly in a setting that makes her feel happy and confident.
Given that, I can’t feel threatened by the SAHM lifestyle, even if I do sometimes envy it. Because in spite of my own vocational misgivings, I know without a doubt that a well-rounded preschool environment is the best one for my child.
And so it is this knowledge in which I take comfort when Lil’ Bit abruptly dismisses me.
Just as it’s this knowledge to which I cling when, by contrast, she occasionally curls herself into my lap upon waking in the morning and tearfully speaks the only words that hurt worse than, “Mommy, go to work.”
Mommy? No go to work today.
Working mom or SAHM, what have you found to be the benefits of the path you’ve chosen? And the drawbacks?