Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ruminations on being a working mom

**Caveat: after re-reading this, I realize I meander a bit. Sorry about that. I DID title it "ruminations."

There is a tremendous amount of guilt associated with being a working mother. I try very hard to not allow guilt to creep into my thinking. It's a useless emotion. If one feels guilt, one should change the situation about which one feels guilty. If that's not possible, the guilt must be eradicated, as it is doing no good and quite possibly doing harm.

I love my daughter. She is the sun in my sky. I wake up every morning excited to spend the day with her, excited to see what new sound she'll make, or how she'll look when she's rocking back and forth in an effort to crawl. I take her to the grocery store with me just because I love her company. I think of things to do with her that will make her happy. She's pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Now, I'll say that I love my job. It's obviously a different sort of love. If I had to choose one or the other, the choice would be absolutely clear to me. That said, I still thrive at work. I'm good at what I do. I care about what I do. I have a great workplace that - while it has minor shortcomings - overall is a fantastic work environment. I do something that matters to people. There are days when I wish I could be a stay-at-home mother, and there are days that I realize just how difficult that job is. Spending all day, every day with a small person who cannot communicate effectively and who cannot hold an adult conversation, and further, who needs a LOT of care and attention, is exhausting. I admire stay-at-home mothers of kids, because it IS a job. And a difficult one to do well.

I work long hours. REALLY long hours. When I am away from my daughter, it is for long stretches of time. My shifts are around 15 hours typically, and I do several in a row. Thus, when I am home between shifts, I am sleeping most of the day. I "care" for my daughter by sleepily nursing her in bed, then turning her over to her father, so that I can rest more.

I am the primary breadwinner. I take a great deal of pride in my productivity - in the fact that I can provide for my family. Oddly enough, despite growing up surrounded by many family members with advanced degrees, I never really saw myself doing much in life. I certainly never envisioned that I would be a doctor. Financial woes were a part of my childhood, and ever since I was old enough to really understand finances, I was convinced that I would struggle with them. It's hard for me to believe even now that I own a house, provide for my daughter, have an IRA and savings, and am not in danger of a financial catastrophe. There are days when I still can't believe that my daughter will grow up with different worries than I did.

There are days when I realize that my being a doctor will be a fantastic model to my daughter should she decide she wants to have a career. If she decides to make her career being a mother and a wife, then I will be just as thrilled.

Those things make me feel good about being a working mother.

What doesn't make me feel good is watching my 8 month old daughter's face fall as I leave for a 15 hour night shift. Or calling to check on her around bedtime and hearing her wailing in the background, wondering where her mommy is to snuggle up against her and offer the breast. My daughter needs me in a very intense emotional way right now, and I am often not there for her. I wonder if this will somehow damage her emotionally, if she'll grow up not feeling safe and secure and loved.

Then I think how ridiculous that must seem to others. I breastfeeed my baby girl. I sleep with her. I wear her when the opportunity presents itself. I take her with me on errands, talk to her while I cook, kiss and hug her and stroke her face at every single chance. I don't take one day for granted with her. I watch her grow and I'm excited for the little girl, teenager, and woman she'll become, and my heart aches for the little girl that she is already leaving behind. How can a child raised with that ever be insecure? Not to mention that her father dotes on her as much as I do. Oh and don't even get me started on her grandparents - who are mad about her - and her aunts and uncles and cousins. And then of course, every single stranger we meet who has to come up and talk to my daughter.


I can't do it all. I can't do it perfectly. I can do it the best I can, and I can hug and kiss her every single time it crosses my mind. And she'll come out ok, I think. She'll know she's loved. She'll know she can do whatever she wants when she grows up - be it have a family and a career, or make her career that of motherhood.

It will all be ok. That's what I tell myself when I hear my daughter crying over the phone.


Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

It is never easy but many women seem to have to choose these days. I managed to keep working through all four of my children but not for those long shifts. Just 8.30-2 daily which was so much easier and kept an income coming in to live off .
The important thing is she is loved and cared for in your absence.... and you get time with her to enjoy these years because you never get them back.
I found the hardest years later when they really need an ear and a shoulder and a taxi....

Kerrie said...

I don't have any children so I can't give you a mother's perspective, but I can give you a child's perspective. I grew up in a household where both parents worked full time. My mother was a high school teacher and my father was a police officer. My mother would wake us up early to drop us off at day care on her way to school, and pick us up just before dinner after she had gotten off and run all necessary errands. My father worked crazy hours so he would usually be asleep when we woke up, sometimes he'd be home for dinner, but oftentimes he'd only just come home in time to read us our bedtime story. I sometimes think it was more difficult on my parents to spend so much time away from their kids than it was for us to be away from them. We had a wonderful day care lady who was very nurturing.. and our bond with her did not take away from our bond with our parents. I honestly cannot remember a time I wished I could eat breakfast with my parents as opposed to eat it at daycare. The time that I had to spend with my parents was that much more precious to me because I knew it was limited, but their love was limitless and I never doubted it. So all I can really say is even though it's extremely difficult for you, more than I can imagine, I'm sure your daughter knows she is always in the company of someone who loves her.

Anonymous said...

My friend is the primary breadwinner, a woman, and she has successfully raised two children to school aged in similar circumstances with their father being the one who is home most of the time. I really doubt you're doing any damage.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I meant to add to that, her children are happy kids who love both their parents and have no emotional scars.s

Mary said...

This is a timely post for me because my dream job essentially fell in my lap a few weeks ago. I absolutely cannot pass up this opportunity even though my heart is breaking at the thought of being away from Elsa after spending nearly every minute of her life with her thus far.

I haven't been offered the job yet, but I think my chances are very good. I know how lucky I've been to be at home with her all this time and I am making the most of every day I have with her. But, I think she is ready for daycare. She loves the playground, seeing other kids, being out in public. She is bored at home no matter how hard I try to entertain her. This is probably the only job I would consider doing full-time and I know that I will love it. Happy mom = happy baby, right? Though I know that, like you, there will be guilt. You just can't win, you know? If only I could do this job part-time, it would be perfect!

Elizabeth said...

It will be ok. Time with others is good for her, it will foster some independence (I know you don't want to hear that right now) but when you want a weekend away with your husband and she can easily stay with grand parents that will be a blessing to you. If you have a second child this is when this really seems to become important..
She won't be damaged because you work. Time away also makes the time you spend with her more important and you already know that part.