Friday, May 6, 2011

On My Working Motherhood

I've been thinking a lot of about motherhood lately, specifically working motherhood. Nothing concrete, and nothing I felt I could turn in to a blog post even if I'd had the time lately to write one (which sadly I very much have not), just a lot of circular, directionless thoughts. Maybe it's Mother's Day and reading the card in the flowers JP had delivered to my office yesterday ("Love, JP, Landon, and Claire") and realizing wow, I've been a mom of two kids for almost a year, or maybe because I've now been a lawyer for as long as I was a law student- which means I've been a working mother lawyer for three whole years, something I thought would be so Big and Hard and worthy of constant commentary- but the conclusion I keep reaching is something along the lines of: the kids are alright, we're alright, this is good. This working mother thing just isn't nearly as earth shattering as I expected it to be. It doesn't dominate my thoughts, I don't agonize over it, and I honestly don't give a damn what anybody else thinks about it. It is simply our life and my goodness is it wonderful the vast majority of the time.

Which isn't to say it isn't sometimes hard to drop off my Clairebear and think about all the cute things she's going to do that I'll miss, or that I don't sometimes get home at the end of the day and look longingly at the couch and fantasize about how nice it would be to sit on it, alone, instead of cleaning bottles and lunch boxes and directing traffic in the kitchen, or that I don't frequently wish the day was 28 hours long and all four of the extra ones could go to the kids, or, most of all, that I don't worry about how this will work as the kids get older and busier and it matters more that it is JP or I who spends the post-school time with them - because all that is true.

But what has surprised me since having children, probably because I grew up in a stay-at-home-mom dominated community and extended family (which was absolutely wonderful, but which nonetheless made the choice of the Working Mom seem like a Very Big Deal that needed to be agonized over and feared before ever having children), is that it just isn't. I work, my kids go to daycare, we come home, we eat together, we play, they go to bed, and I go back to work or snuggle on the couch with JP (or both) ... this is our day. And it's a day that is filled with more happiness and satisfaction and security and love than I ever hoped to experience- working or not. It's not a debate of quantity v. quality, or selfishness v. selflessness, or my future v. theirs. It just is. My kids are happy, secure, affectionate little people who have no doubt who their parents are and no doubt they are loved, and any time I hear some nonsense about the poor children of working mothers who are "stuck at daycare," I think of Claire excitedly clapping with her baby friends or banging on the guitar of their weekly musical guest or the way her teacher's beam when they tell me all the adorable and amazing things she did that day, I shake my head at the silly small minded person and think of how little my kids need their pity.

For us, daycare has become an important and very positive part of our life, and I am fundamentally okay with sharing my children with the amazing teachers who work there. It provides a structure and routine to my kids' day that they wouldn't have if I was home, and while I don't think socialization is at all necessary for babies, I do think Claire has enjoyed it (and Landon has absolutely thrived with it). And thanks to this daycare I trust, my kids have a mom who is happy and fulfilled and who honestly loves every single minute she spends with them. When I was home with Landon, and even on maternity leave with Claire, I spent so much time wishing they'd go to sleep so that I could do things- shower, eat, clean, sleep, be alone! But then the day would end, and I'd tuck my baby in bed and feel a crushing guilt for wishing away our hours together and not enjoying them enough. I constantly felt guilty for that. But then I went back to work and the guilt fell away. I know it's different for a lot of other working moms, but as I've said before, I feel no guilt for working and providing for my family. In my heart I truly don't believe my kids are suffering for it, and I'm not going to imagine unhappiness where it doesn't exist. While I do frequently wish for extra time together during the week, I know I am engaged and present in nearly every minute we do have, and the memory of our separation during the day reminds me to read that extra requested story or stay on the floor a little longer tickling the Biscuit.

I dropped Landon and Claire off at daycare today so I could partake in the Mother's Day festivities. Claire (who, by the way, is walking with confidence as of last night; she did multiple rounds of 10-15 steps with lots of pauses for clapping and to make sure everyone was looking at her) gave me a card with her little hand prints and a poem that made me cry (something about growing up and hands getting bigger and I don't know, my vision blurred and I slammed the card shut). Landon gave me an adorable little apron he made ALL BY HIMSELF (except, with help, though he did pick out the fabric and did the cutting and supervised the sewing machine action). Also, his teacher did a short interview with each kid about their moms and recorded all the answers. My favorite, and the inspiration for this whole post which has somehow eaten half my day (though sometimes you just need to do that), was:

"My mom's favorite thing to do is: to work at work for a long time."

Now I know some moms would read that and be sad, but it cracked me up and I immediately walked in to my favorite partner's office and read it to him (also, "My mom is really good at: doing work." I feel that should be included in my next review). Landon is 3, so I don't think he can imagine doing anything he didn't love for very long. So, since I work all day, I must love it. (Also, the "long time" thing probably means anything over 30 minutes.) But the thing that made me smile most about his little remark is that I really must never complain about my work or anything related to it. I don't assign any negativity to it (not when he's awake anyway), and neither does he. He just sees me happy, and how great is that?


  1. i'm in law school and my husband and i are trying to have a baby, and this post is so inspiring and wonderful and exactly what i needed. thank you!

  2. Thanks for this. When I had my little boy 8 weeks ago, I was okay with dropping him off at daycare but as th day approaches I am starting to worry if its the right thing. This gave me hope. I have the same thoughts about hoping he falls asleep soon so I can just get 1 thing done and then guilty about wanting a few moments.

  3. My advice to anyone contemplating the idea of becoming a working mother is to look at lots of daycares and fight the one that is the most perfect fit for you and your family. For me, that made all the difference. My daughter is 3, and we're on our 3rd provider. Finally, we found the right fit. I learned that the extra money you might have to spend for the right fit is definitely worth it. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the first two - one was an in-home provider who was great for her as an infant, but I had safety concerns as she became mobile, and one center was good, but just so big. She is now in a place where she LOVES to go, and where she thrives. And while I am sad at times about how much I'm missing and how fast it's going, I also know I that I enjoy her more with our break from each other each day. And, I know that she's happy and thriving and well-adjusted and... it works. But, you have to take the time to really find the right fit.

  4. I love this post. I just want to say "Ditto" to the whole thing. When my daughter was in Kindergarten they asked her what her Mommy did at work (ie: what's her job). Her answer was: "She eats lunch."

  5. Thank you SO much for this post. I really needed it today. It was my first day back at work after having had my second child. And though I dreaded it, it was....good. So much of this really resonated!

  6. I love this post LL. I wish I could have as much peace as you do with the whole working mom thing! It really is refreshing, as so many women feel tremendous guilt even when they enjoy their jobs. Your post about Landon's card definitely made me feel silly for being embarrassed that S said on her mother's day list that I'm a great mommy because I take her to stores. For some reason, I just pictured her teachers sitting in judgment of me because I have to spend the weekends running errands. The difference between our situations may be the fact that S goes to a traditional pre-school, not daycare. Many of her classmates (I'd venture to say the majority) have mothers who stay home. Thus, it is easier to feel judged in that setting. Sadly, it's even worse in public school. O's teachers constantly expect the mothers to volunteer and look askance at all of those selfish mothers who can't seem to make it to school on a regular basis to help out. So I really think it says something that you are able to shrug off the pressure and judgments from others. I really wish my skin were thicker. Anyway, like Landon, S views going to stores together as positive and fun and I should not feel guilty that I spend weekend time running errands.

  7. LT, I'm running out the door, but I just wanted to say that I totally think this will be harder as the kids get older and are out of the "everyone has two working parents" world of daycare. And I'm lucky that because my office is located in the suburbs so close to my house (though I frequently long for the corporate downtown environment), I run about 90% of my errands during lunch. And since the kids aren't old enough to have weekend activities (though soccer is starting this Fall for Landon!), our weekends really get to be all about relaxing and playing with them. I hope I am always as happy as I am now, but I do expect it to get harder pretty much every year until they go to college!.

  8. I like this post, but I like it for the reason I like your blog generally - that you have the take the most positive possible outlook on things. Had my daughter written that my favorite thing to do was work a lot, I would have cried, and not in a good way. :( I struggle with a lot of working mom guilt.

    I second the other commenters and your post that good childcare can make a world of difference.

  9. I just re-read my comment and wanted to clarify that I meant "find" not "fight." Fighting them wouldn't really make much sense, now would it? My other advice would be to not comment on blogs while at work and on the phone... ;)

  10. I'm so jealous! I wish I could feel this way. I'm constantly struggling with my decision to be a working mom. So many times, I've wondered if my life would be filled with much more daily satisfaction if I had not gone to law school so that I can be a stay at home mom without worrying about the law school debt.

    I think a lot of the problem is my state of mind. I can't control my guilt, even when I know my son is happy and healthy. It's just haunting and will not listen to reason!

  11. LL, I have commented before at your complete luck at reaching such a good balance.I am happy you're happy.(A little jealous, but hey...)

    In my part of the world, good day care does not just eventually happen if you look hard enough--- you have to figure out what qualities are important to you, and accept that you won't be 100% happy. After visiting about 40 day care situations, I put my older son in a fully licensed, participated-in-the-local-daycare-association home day care that had an enclosure around the floor furnace....but let the kids (ages 2 and 3) stand on the front porch unsupervised on Trash Pickup Day. The owner talked on the phone a lot, gave the kids doughnuts ("one for each hand!") regularly and, once my kid could really talk, and could explain that "L hit me" wasn't just repeating old news, but reflected daily, unchecked bullying....yeah. Licensed.

    Before that, we had a minister's wife, my fairy godmother, who had no work permit but talked to my son a lot, in two languages, and even spoke my dh's dialect; was a nurse and had raised 4 boys....and no, her stairs weren't enclosed, but she got on all fours and taught my then-crawler how to back down the stairs safely. She was as close to perfect as I ever found.

    My younger son was in family day care with a family who LOVED him, but if one of their kids was contagious I had to take off from work, and fortunately he reached school age before they had the opportunity to convert him to their ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian thinking, because we felt he needed to wait until he was old enough to choose for himself. (I never did find anything in the "how to find perfect daycare articles about watching out for xenophobic adults....) See? Ain't none of it perfect for always. Enjoy it while you can,sweetie, and revisit those contingency plans so they're ready on a moment's notice!

    And... not to be a total buzzkill here but.... it isn't EASIER when they're older; it's DIFFERENT. And it goes by too darn fast, either way.

    If I had the best of all possible worlds, it would be to have Sweden's right of parents to work a 45% schedule until the child is 6, and a "day mama" family day care, with a backup provider. I would have been a happy camper. Possibly rested, too (since I was trying to save weekends for family, nighttime was for...Target! And groceries!)

  12. I love that! I always wonder what their little brains think we do "at work." I remember when I was a munchkin, asking my dad what he did when he was at work. He told me that he "makes money." So, for awhile I literally thought he made money, like worked the printing press or something. Heh. I think Cora understands, sorta, that her dad works in a hospital and is sorta like a doctor. I'm not sure what Cora thinks I do, because a lot of my own work is done at home so she sees me working.

  13. I identify and agree with so much of what you wrote. I love daycare and am actually glad that there is a good reason for him to be there because he has learned so many wonderful things there and become even more adorable and loveable. Especially because I had 15 months to be a stay-at-home mom, I feel comfortable saying that my kids will probably always have two working parents because I have no desire to go back to that. But I do know that I want to work less (much less) some day when I can afford to and have enough experience to get the job I want.

    It might just be semantics, but I view this as completely a matter of my happiness, and down the road, my kids' happiness/well-being, rather than feeling guilty over other peoples' expectations or the idea that my kids might want me to be home more. Either way, it's a never-ending trial and error process to find what works for you and I'm happy that you've found a system that works for you and your family, even if it's not the permanent solution.

  14. I've put off reading this post in my google reader because I was afraid of what it would say.

    I am really hoping to have a family and now that I'm working in a fast paced, huge billing requirement firm I was worried that wouldn't be possible. This post was so uplifting and encouraging. Thank you for giving me hope!

  15. LOVE this post! Fist-pump!

    Also, since my oldest is in "real school" now, I have to share a story with you. While it is obviously true that there are more non-working moms at his school than at daycare, there are also a LOT of 2-parents-working families. The day I signed him up for after-school care, I was sad and nervous that he was going to be lonely and just wish I could pick him up at 3:15 in carpool. Guess what? That was the longest line at student orientation. EVERYONE was signing up for after care, or early-morning care, or both, just like us.

    His best friends are there with him, he plays and does homework and, OMG, READS so much, and we still have time for baseball practice. It's a miracle, but we do. It all works out. :)