I’d be lying if I said that before coming a mother I wasn’t nervous for the mom-shaming or mom-guilt that was to inevitably ensue. It’s a harsh world out there, especially with the behemoth that is social media (check this post for more on that). Any time a mama’s photo or video goes viral, there are thousands of comments from other women, bashing her for something – not covering up in public while breastfeeding (“have some respect!”); covering up in public while breastfeeding (#freethenipple!); the type of food she’s allowing her child to eat (omg, that’s not organic and grown in your own backyard?!”); not putting shoes on her kid while he plays outside (“have you not seen the latest information from the CDC?!”); taking her little one to the park (“ew, you let you daughter play in a public sandbox?!”); dancing in the living room with her kiddos (“your house is so filthy!” -or- “your house is too perfect to have children!”); YOU GET THE POINT. These days, it seems like no one can do anything without someone having an opinion about it – especially moms.
Since today is “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” I figured we should touch on a topic that gets a lot of attention and judgement: whether a woman “stays at home,” or is a “working mom.” I put quotes around those phrases because, like many other things in life, they are not black and white, and I don’t think they adequately describe the action they are attempting to suggest. A “stay-at-home-mom” doesn’t simply sit in the house all day, not working; and a “working mom” does so much more than earn a paycheck. In addition, the words we use to describe either role creates the perception that they are opposites, when, undoubtedly, they are not. As a side note, I hope this goes without saying, but I’ll make a disclaimer anyway: I think every mom is badass and I respect and support anything she has, or chooses, to do for the betterment of her family and herself.
My daughter is now five months old, so this subject has been extremely relevant for me. During The New Mom School newborn class series I was a part of, we spent one of the sessions discussing working vs. staying at home with your child. As a group, we went around the circle and shared what our plans were. I was one of the first moms to share, and I barely got five words out before I started to cry. I had already been working for almost two weeks at that point, and I was hanging on by a thread. I’m a work-from-home-stay-at-home mom, meaning, I work a full-time job from my house, and I also care for my daughter full-time* (asterisk is necessary because we will circle back on my full-time status watching my daughter). When I was pregnant, I was convinced that managing both jobs would be something I could do, while also keeping up with the household responsibilities I owned like grocery shopping and cooking dinner for my husband and I at least four times per week. Oh, and making time for exercise and social activities because, apparently, I thought there were 72 hours in a day. I didn’t want to hire a nanny or take my baby to childcare because I was at home every day – shouldn’t I be the one caring for her? Wasn’t it MY responsibility? It couldn’t be THAT difficult. Ugh, so naïve.
As I approached the end of my maternity leave, the anxiety I felt about going “back” to work was just short of debilitating. I went from wanting to quit and give 100% of my attention to my child, to telling myself I needed to contribute financially to our family because I had worked so hard to get to where I was, at least three times per day. Though you know how things ended up, I will say that I still question myself and my decision on a weekly basis (because that #momguilt is oh, so real), and that the transition to working again was the hardest part of my postpartum experience to date. Thankfully, I’m out of that fog, but it took a solid two months before I started to feel ok and comfortable with my new reality, and it is largely thanks to the incredible village of other moms that were in that room with me when I shed those tears. Alex, TNMS founder, was my class leader and she made it very clear that as moms we need to make sure we practice self-care, which means asking for help, setting boundaries, finding trustworthy childcare, and realizing that we can’t, in fact, do it all – and that is OK. In my extremely emotional state, this really struck a chord. I cried on and off for the rest of the day, and that evening I told my husband it was time to look for someone to help me with Avery during the week. Of course, as much as I wanted (and needed!) the help, I felt like a giant failure because I made it just two weeks before I “gave in.” I look back at those emotions and realize they are not rational and extremely judgmental, especially because I would never look at another mom in that, or any, position and think she failed.
Alex is spot on, regardless of what your employment status is. Practicing self-care is a major component to ensuring a happy, healthy mama. If you’re with your children 24/7, it’s important to find a childcare resource, even it’s just for a couple hours per week, so you can do something for YOU, and no one else. If you’re working outside of the home, it’s imperative you set boundaries with your employer so you’re able to find the balance that works best for you and your family. And since I can’t write a post without some takeaways or nuggets of information, I’ve compiled some tips and sound bites from other moms to help with the transition, whether it be back into the workforce, or if you’re saying goodbye to the income you once earned.
- Keep a set of back up pumping supplies at work – and maybe even a backup to the backup.
- When holding your baby in the morning, while wearing your work clothes, make sure to wear a burp cloth!
- Call EVERY reference a potential caregiver gives you – and don’t be afraid to grill them and ask every possible question you have. If all they can do is “confirm” the person worked for them and offer no details, that is a red flag and you should not move forward.
- It will get easier. Easier to drive away from daycare and head to work. Easier to pump throughout the day. It WILL get easier.
- Don’t pack guilt in your briefcase!
- Treat yoself: make time for that mani/pedi, exercise class, and happy hour with coworkers or friends.
- You are correct to think that no one else will care for your child as well as you do, but it helps to accept that everyone does things a little differently, and that the main goal is finding someone who shows your child love, trust, and security.
- The laundry and dishes can wait. When you get home from work, put spending time with your kid(s) and partner, if applicable, at the top of the priority list.
- As new moms, we are going through the major transition (physically, mentally, emotionally) of caring for a little one. Our hormones are crazy, and we are no longer the same person we were when we went on maternity leave, so you should expect that will likely be reflected in your working-life as well. Ask for help if you’re overwhelmed, say no to certain opportunities, and, most importantly, give yourself some credit!
- View choosing to stay at home with your baby as a career move. Women change careers all the time throughout their lives, and this is just one of those changes. The skills you developed in the workforce aren’t going anywhere, and you can go back whenever you want to.
- Try not to focus on the guilt of whether you leave your kids to go to work or you choose to leave the workforce to stay with your kids, but, rather, on the example you are setting for them. They are so grateful for the lessons you are teaching them, and they don’t even know it yet!
- It’s difficult to leave your little one in the care of someone else, but you’ll learn to enjoy the little bit of “freedom” you get!
- For moms who work in the home, make sure you have help at least once a week so you can have “me” time, even if that means just going to the grocery store kid-free! No one should be at their job 24/7, and that also applies to stay-at-home moms.
- Sign up for The New Mom School (or something similar if you’re not in the OC area)! The bonds you build and the support you receive from that community help with every new transition we experience as new mamas.
Thankfully, I’ve taken a lot of the advice mentioned above, and we’ve now found a wonderful nanny, who adores my child to no end, and helps me twice a week* (this is where the asterisk comes full circle, since I no longer watch my daughter full-time). It will probably never be easy for me to allow someone else to care for my child, but I know it’s what’s best for Avery and my husband and I, so all our relationships can flourish. I’m sure you know the saying, “you can’t love anyone before you love yourself,” and that couldn’t be more applicable to mamahood. We constantly put others’ needs before our own (our children’s, partners, employers, etc), but that means we’re the ones left burnt out, and sucked dry, at the end of the day. So, this is for ALL the mamas – the ones who get up and work 8, 9, 10+ hour days in an office; the ones who spend their days full of diapers, messes, tears, and meltdowns; and the mamas who live a hybrid life, like myself: You are capable. You are incredible. You are showing your child what hard work, love, and dedication looks like and you are their greatest role model.
Sitting on the struggle bus that is mamahood, right alongside you,