Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a working mother. When I was growing up, my mom stayed at home with us. She didn’t start working until we were all safely in elementary school, and even then, I only remember a handful of times when she didn’t pick me up from school. Later when we were old enough, we were the typical latchkey kids. I never thought growing up that my mom wasn’t there when I needed her or that she was sacrificing her time with us to go to work. And it never occurred to me that her working was any different than my dad working, except that he left the house before we woke up and came home just in time for dinner.
When my first kid was born, I assumed I would take the default number of weeks off that my company allowed (six, or eight if you had a c-section), find a nanny or daycare, and go back to work like nothing ever happened. But I couldn’t get myself to do that. I took as much time off as I could milk out of the company, and instead of finding alternative care for my baby, I thought I could work from home and take care of him at the same time. It was hard and I managed to get through it for 20 months before I started him in daycare. It was my guilty conscience that couldn’t get me to just put him in daycare from the beginning. It was the fact that my mom had taken care of my sisters and me when we were young and that I wanted to do the same, but also had this pre-existing job that I could not or would not leave. I wanted to have the best of both worlds, and every so often I felt like I had, but at other times I felt like I was barely surviving each day.
This is the plight of the working mother. The necessity to have a job, be it for the income or for the personal growth. The desire to be there for her kids, even if it isn’t always possible. The guilt that sometimes you need to choose between one or the other at times. Of course, this story isn’t the same for everyone. Some women don’t have the guilt that I have for putting my kids in daycare. Some women don’t have the luxury of working from home and being close to their kids. Some women realize they don’t have a choice and this is the life they lead; part time for work, part time for kids.
I just finished reading I Don’t Know How She Does It. I had seen a commercial for the upcoming movie and I thought, I could go for an easy, funny read. It definitely was an easy read. Not so much funny though. It was at times fairly realistic, at least from my point of view. The protagonist was definitely the kind of perfectionist that I sometimes tend to be, and I could see myself doing similar things. I’m that kind of annoying person that wants to stay up all night decorating cupcakes for my kid’s daycare class even though I still have work to catch up on and even though I complain the next morning when I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t do anything to change things (like cut back on the things I commit to doing).
Spoiler alert, in case anyone decides to actually read the book. In the end, the woman decides that in order to save her marriage, her kids, and her own sanity, she leaves her lucrative career and becomes a stay-at-home mom. Yes, some people don’t have the choice to do that, but I think it’s an important statement to women, even those who don’t have children yet. You have to find what makes you happy and what works for you. Sometimes it means losing out on income, or losing out on time with your kids, or losing out on getting ahead in your career. Whatever it is, you are in control of it.