Two years ago today, I buckled my infant in his car seat, dropped him off with his grandma, and went to work at the conclusion of my ten week maternity leave.
The once warm and inviting summer weather turned bitter and cold, mirroring my emotions. My baby was just nine weeks old, three weeks older than a lot of babies who start going to daycare, but still too soon for me. While mentally I was ready to return to work, emotionally I was not. New moms are very tender-hearted, and I didn’t realize just how tender I was until stepping back into the “real world.”
I mostly felt weak, unsure, and unsteady in my footing as a working mother. Had it not been for financial pressure, I likely would have never left my house again, afraid I was going to miss out on my child’s life.
The first day back at work was the weirdest nine hours of my life. I felt overwhelmed and devastated, but also relieved that I could actually eat lunch and had an entire hour in which to do so. And then, of course, I felt guilty about kind of enjoying that hour. When I got home that evening, I tried to squeeze in a whole day‘s worth of time into the thirty minutes I had with him before he went to bed. It was calamitous knowing that my efforts were futile; there was just no way that I could get back the time I had missed, no matter how much or how hard I tried. Because on top of working full time, my schedule was 11am-8pm, which is just about the worst schedule a mom with a newborn could have. Trying to merge my pre-parent responsibilities with my new-mom life was vastly challenging for me; whenever I went anywhere without my baby I felt immense displeasure.
And yet, I survived. With a lot of inner strength and prayer, I got through those hard days. I was given the gift of wonderful coworkers at my workplace. Going to work everyday led to amazing friendships with some of the best people I’ll ever meet, who gifted me with moments in which I felt like my truest self. These friends saw me cry tears of deep sadness and laugh with great joy, all in the same day. That’s what being at work is like when you have a newborn. I missed my baby and doubted that I could be the kind of mom I wanted to be, the kind of mom that my child could count on to always be there for him. At the same time, I loved my coworkers and enjoyed the support they gave me, individually as a person, and not as a “new mom.”
Two years down the line, I understand that the transition into a “working mom” role was hard, but necessary. I am the type of person who needs to be challenged with work tasks, and I have an obligation to myself to use my work ethic outside of my home. I also have an obligation to my family to be the best version of myself, because if I am unhappy and unfulfilled then I cannot help my child feel anything more than dejected as well. As it stands, we are all pretty darn happy right now.
We have a marvelous routine in which we hang out in the mornings, in the evenings, and on weekends. Over time, our relationship has grown and exists even when we are apart. No parent can say that about a newborn, because it’s just not possible. But with an older child who remembers your face, remembers that you cuddle them each night, and remembers that they have fun at home and at daycare, well, it makes for a feeling of actual friendship.
My worst fear turned into my greatest accomplishment. I was afraid that going to work would prevent us from having a real connection, but being a working mom actually facilitated our bond because I knew that I had to make our time count and that I had to be sincere in my parenting efforts. At the end of the day, this is true of all parents, no matter their work schedule.