My mother worked as a secretary when I was younger, despite her desire to stay home with my sister and me. My family needed her income, so she went to work and we went to daycare. I grew up in a small, rural community; the kind of community where you might assume the men would work and the women would stay home with the kids, but that wasn’t the case at all.
To be completely honest, staying home with my kids never really crossed my mind before I became a mother. I always assumed I would work, because I wanted to work. A college education and career has always been a dream of mine, just like motherhood. I always believed I could achieve both, and I did.
When my daughter was born, it was hard to leave her. I blame this more on inadequate maternity leave than the desire to be a stay-at-home mom. Simply put, I wasn’t ready to go back. I was a first-time mom, and everything felt so overwhelming during this time. I felt guilty returning to work so soon, and I questioned myself and my desire to return to work. This guilt was amplified 10-fold when others also questioned my decision to return to work.
I remember the faces they made when I told them my maternity leave was nearly over. “I could never leave my baby with a stranger” was a common response. Folks acted as if I was placing my baby in a basket and sending her down the river, hoping for the best. It made me feel like a shit-mom at a time I was already worried I was failing.
I find so much joy and fulfillment in motherhood, more than I ever imagined, but my work is also important to me. It’s part of who I am, an outlet for the stress brought on by motherhood. And oddly, motherhood is an outlet for stress brought on by work.
I’m fully aware that all working moms aren’t doing so by choice. I know how fortunate I am to be able to make this decision. I can afford quality childcare, and my kids love going there. For some reason working mothers are often cast as cold or unaffectionate because they “would rather a stranger raise their child than doing so themselves.”
My kids’ teachers and caregivers are part of my family, and in no way do I feel like strangers are raising my children. These types of inaccurate assertions are typically followed by, “and that’s what’s wrong with kids these days.” As if to say, I obviously don’t love my children, so they will likely grow to be a drain on society—part of the problem because their mom wanted (or needed) to earn a paycheck.
Well, sorry to burst your antiquated bubble, Norma, but you are part of the problem. There’s nothing wrong with my kids, or the kids of any other working mothers. They’re learning more than I could ever teach them at home, and they are loved beyond measure. I know my capabilities, and teaching small children isn’t one of them. Preschool teachers are basically angels on earth, and I’m grateful my kids are fortunate enough to have them in their lives.
Support for working mothers comes in all forms, but let’s start with the easiest and most obvious thing you can do–keep your opinions to yourself. You never know who you are talking to. Maybe that mother would rather be home with her children, but she can’t afford to be. If you’re an employer, adequate paid family leave is a great way to support working mothers, and let’s be honest affordable childcare would be a dream come true.
I love being a mother, and I love having a career. When it comes right down to it, motherhood always comes first. I’m there at class parties and award ceremonies, just like I’m there when they are sick and need to snuggle. The way I see it, I’m living both of my dreams at once. Sure, it can be difficult to balance at times, but nothing worth having comes easy.
I don’t think any less of mothers who stay home with their kids, because I support all women in whatever role they choose to be in. Mothers don’t have a place; we have many places, because we wear many hats. We belong wherever we want to be.
So, don’t feel sorry for me when I tell you I’m a working mom. The way I see it, I’m teaching my kids you don’t have to sacrifice one dream to have another—you can have both.