From Internet articles to TV shows and movies, there are a lot of portrayals of working mothers out there. No matter how thought-provoking, funny or poignant these portrayals may be, they all seem to be based on the same assumptions – that we’re all guilt-ridden, frazzled, tired but career-driven women. It’s not that these depictions are always false, but they certainly are not always true. To help combat some of the stereotypes out there, here are my five truths about being a working mother:
1. I don’t feel guilty about going to work. I feel guilty when I feed my son cold Pop-Tarts for breakfast. I feel guilty if I plop my son in front of the TV for three hours of Barney on Netflix. I feel guilty on those weekends we don’t leave the house. As a mom, I feel guilty about a lot of things, but going to work isn’t one of them. The very first day I dropped my baby off at daycare, I thought the guilt would hit, but it didn’t. Instead I felt an incredible surge of relief. I realized I was placing my son in the hands of people who knew a lot more about babies than I did. And now that he’s a toddler, I love seeing the confidence my son gains from spending time away from me. Sure, some mornings he cries when I drop him off at daycare, but some afternoons, he doesn’t want to come home.
2. I’ve never gone to work with spit up on my shoulder. When are movies and sitcoms going to ditch this cliché? This image is so pervasive, I fully expected this to be my life when I returned to work after maternity leave. I wondered if I should keep an extra shirt or blazer in my car just in case. I’m sure it’s happened to some moms out there, but not to every mom out there. Snot on my pants? Yes. Peanut butter crackers in my back pocket? Maybe once. Spit up on my shoulder? Never.
3. I have nothing but mad respect for stay-at-home moms. I don’t know where the idea came from that working moms and stay-at-home moms are supposed to be enemies, but because of this notion, it’s hard to give a genuine compliment without coming across as condescending. I’ll admit I used to think that giving up a full time job to stay home and take care of a kid was easy. I thought it the ideal situation, something any parent could do. Then I actually had a child and realized that taking care of him is really, really hard. It is back-breaking physical labor combined with 100% emotional investment. And that goes for any decent parent. But at least when I go to work I get to experience a mental shift. I won’t say that going to work is a “break.” Work is still work, but it is the change of pace that helps keep me sane. So when I say I have mad respect for the stay-at-home mom, I mean it in the same way that I have respect for our men and women in uniform. I want to shake your hand and thank you for your service. You’re doing a job I am not cut out for. Mad respect, I tell you. Mad. Respect.
4. When daycare calls, I let the voicemail answer. During the first couple of months my child was in daycare, I pounced on my phone every time it rang just in case something was wrong. Fortunately, every phone call began with the phrase, “It’s not an emergency, but…” and ended with one of the following: “We seem to be missing a shoe; Your son is starting to run low on milk; We may have lost a pacifier; Your son has had two loose stools; Your son slept a lot longer than usual today.” Yes, there have been times I had to cut my work day short in order to pick up my son because he had a fever, or pink eye, or diarrhea, but I learned that daycare workers will leave a message in those situations. So as long as I check my voicemail periodically, I don’t have to drop everything to take that phone call.
5. Picking up my son from daycare is the best moment of every weekday. So you probably already know this one, but I think it’s worth mentioning, because it’s important. I live for this moment. First, I like to peer into the classroom window before opening the door to see what the little guy is up to. I like to see him quietly coloring, or loudly banging a toy drum, or being pulled off of the table he just climbed on. Then, when I do open the door, and our eyes connect, he runs toward me with a joyful smile and open arms. Or, even better, he takes my hand and pulls me in the direction of something he wants to show me – a toy, a drawing, a sticker. I love the idea that he has a little life of his own, and even though he can’t speak full sentences yet, he wants to share that life with me.
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