My decision to go from work-at-home doula mom to heel wearing, daily hair washing full-time corporate mom was not an easy one. In fact, it took me about a year to truly commit to going back to work. But after 2.5 years, it was time. It had become clear that staying home was not bringing out the best in me as a mom, and the desire to have more financial flexibility for our family led me to pursue career opportunities. I was blessed to find something very quickly (much more quickly than I had planned to be honest), and a new chapter of our lives was underway.
In the months leading up to my career change, I had a lot of worries. How could I go from seeing Etta Mae all day every day to only a few short hours? What if she hates daycare? When will I go to the grocery store? What if I’m terrible at my job? What if I hate it? What if my house is condemned because I have no time to clean? The list went on and on. Well I’m happy to report that those few hours find me wanting to be a better mom, she loves “school”, still working out the grocery store thing (oops), I think I’m pretty good at my job, I love it, and so far my rockstar husband has pretty much single-handedly kept the house from falling apart.
There is one thing, though, that I didn’t realize would cause me more stress than all of the above combined: germs. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that my toddler who had only had two sick visits in her life would likely need to adjust to her new surroundings. I thought it would be simple. She would be sick, she would stay home for a couple of days, she would go back to school. I should have known that life is never that simple. There is a gray area between healthy and sick, and my child has managed to straddle that line for the last few weeks, occasionally tipping on one side or the other. About a week in, the cough started, then sniffles. Then, one Sunday, there was a 102 fever. A Monday doctor visit told us it was the flu, and she spent the entire week at home. That amazing husband I mentioned before stayed home for three days and I stayed home two.
Aside from the fact that I felt horrible for my sick child, I was filled with overwhelming anxiety. I learned quickly the struggles that working moms go through. I had only been working for a few weeks. I felt confident that I was doing a great job, but how was it going to look? No one else in my group has children. Would they really understand? Would I be seen as less committed to my job than someone who doesn’t have children? After all, I was already the new girl who couldn’t stay late because she has to leave in time to get to daycare before it closes. Would I lose my job before I even had a real chance to earn it? And what if she got sick again soon? Could I really blame them for wanting to make sure they had someone who could be counted on to make it every day?
To make matters worse, I felt guilty about feeling guilty for missing work! This was my child. My number one job is to be there for her. To hell with anyone who can’t accept that, right?!?! If only it were that simple and we were all in a position to walk out in favor of our littles. But we know it isn’t. We have to work for a reason, and it’s hard enough to get a job in the first place. You certainly don’t want to have to replace one.
Luckily, my boss and co-workers were very understanding. But the situation reminded me of how little we value family in our country (and how highly we value work and money) and how many parents must not be as lucky as I am. How often do they feel the pressure to choose between caring for a sick child and paying for groceries? As a doula, I spoke to many moms (and I felt it myself as a new mom) about the struggle of the length of maternity leave and the lack of paid time off for new parents. This is just an extension of that same struggle.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that, among parents with at least some work experience, mothers with children under 18 were about three times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent made it harder for them to advance in their job or career (51% vs. 16%) – Kim Parker, Director of Social Trends at Pew Research Center (see her post here)
What do we do to support working moms (and dads)? I’m not really sure. Encourage our government representatives to support legislation protecting parents? Yes. Cut ourselves some slack? For sure. Raise our children to value families? Definitely. Like anything, it will take a significant cultural shift for employers to truly accept this new reality that more often than not, there isn’t a stay at home parent. For me, I’ll try not to feel guilty. To balance this new normal of mom and corporate rockstar (or something like that). And eventually I’ll try to figure out that grocery shopping thing.