When my son was still in diapers I recall lamenting to a small group of colleagues how torn I felt in leaving him every day to go to work. I was actually very fortunate to have my amazing mother-in-law care for him in our home - a loving, nurturing environment but one that I missed out on. I was pining to kiss his satin cheeks and cuddle close for nap time. One of these ladies, someone whom I respect and who also spent many years as a working mom before making it to the top of her field, asked me, "Does he like to eat?"
Confused, I answered yes and began considering what to share about his eating habits (pumped breast milk with rice cereal?) when she interrupted. "Because if he likes to eat then he'll understand why you have to work". Her words were direct, even harsh and obviously those words have stayed with me - and not in a positive way. I was deeply offended at the time. Yet even then I understood that, having raised her children twenty years before me, her choices must have been even harder than mine.
I do "have" to work. Not so that I can have a nicer car or a better wardrobe. Those things do not matter. I work to provide for my child and to save for his future. The teenage and adult children of my fellow working mom friends all seem very proud of their mother's accomplishments. It is very difficult to juggle a career with motherhood and it is never equal. I often envy the colleagues I have with stay-at-home wives - or husbands. They say the grass is always greener yet my fantasies revolve around not having to worry about Monkey feeling neglected, waiting to be picked up after a long, parentless day.
The days of staying in the office until 9pm several nights a week (I truly enjoy it. Quiet time without distractions.) effectively stalled upon my return from maternity leave. With a long commute, I must now strategize my work day with ruthless planning in order to leave at a certain time to collect my young. This might not look great to the imaginary critics I assume are haunting the halls after 7pm - but I am fortunate to work for a Company that is very supportive to women.
We also made personal sacrifices to ensure he received the best, most loving care possible (I have the world's best mother-in-law who lived with us for several years) when not with me. I could not have separated for those 10-12 hours a day with my sanity intact otherwise. I know many women who don't have that luxury. If a genie granted me a wish tomorrow I would use it to ensure quality childcare options that are better and more affordable for parents forced into minimum wage jobs. The future of the world depends upon bright, social and inquisitive minds.
I don't feel the need to justify my choices. They are the right choice for me and for my family. I am deeply satisfied to have a lovely, deeply bonded relationship to my son as well as to my husband - as well as a career I am proud of and that is very fulfilling to me.
There are SAHM (stay at home moms) that are wonderful and non judgmental - friends who inspire me and support me (as I do them) and acknowledge that I love and care about my child just as well as they do their own. And then there are the SAHMs that seem to judge working mothers as somehow inferior. They are very few and far between. Thus far my kid tells me I am his sweetheart and the best mom in the entire world and that is the opinion I care most about. I hope he feels the same in twenty years - I have a sneaking suspicion the answer will be "YES!" but I know all moms want the same.