I am a working Mommy. Always have been. Probably always will be. Right now, I am very comfortable in this place. But I have not always been. Before and after having my first baby I struggled with this idea. In fact, at one point, I became resentful of my career path knowing I could not wave good bye (temporarily) and be welcomed back.
I grew up with a SAHM. She was always around. To drive us anywhere. To run our errands. To take care of us when we were sick. Would I be a less of a mother if I was unable to do all of these things? Or would my work add to my children's experience and my own and make me an even better parent?
Jury is still out on this one.
Today I ran across this article by Lisa Belkin of the NYTs in her blog "Motherlode". Apparently, 8 years ago, there was some research indicating that children of parents with working mothers were cognitively delayed compared with those with SAHM's. Scary. Luckily, 4 years ago when I had my child, I was blissfully unaware of such research.
However, in light of the fact that about 60% of mothers actually work when their children are under 6, these same researchers decided to dig a bit deeper and follow these children through 1st grade. They did confirm the mild cognitive delay among children with working mothers in the first year of life. However, they go on to state that the other benefits of having a working mother offset this "harm", and the overall effect on development is, in fact, neutral. These benefits included "greater maternal sensitivity, a higher income, and that these mothers were more likely to find high quality child care."
But actually, that is not what I found so compelling about the article. At the end of the piece, she talks about a woman who is returning to work after maternity leave and is struggling with the decision. She decides to write her child a letter to explain her reasons for returning to work.
What a fabulous idea. If I would have wrote such a letter here's what I would have said:
Dear Precious Daughter,
Your life has changed mine in this very short time. I spent many a days wishing and hoping for someone as special as you to come into my world. I loved feeling you with me, knowing that I was never alone for the last 280 days of my life. Although I have continued to walk (quickly) through my ever so crazy life, I have never stopped thinking about your well being.
The day you were born changed everything. I am now part of my own family, forever bonded to you and your daddy. I have spent the last 8 weeks loving you, changing you, feeding you and nurturing you. And I have loved every (sleepless, exhausted) minute of it.
But now it is time for me to go. I promise will not leave you. I never would. But I must go back to this thing I call my career. It calls to me at night, albeit, differently than you do. It, like you, wants to be taken care of and nurtured. And although I may try to suppress its voice, its calling will not be muffled. And I cannot let it go.
Before you came into my life I made a decision to pursue a higher education. I have worked hard, shed countless tears and sat through endless lectures to get where I am today. I have a brain that is full of knowledge about the body and its inner workings. I can help people with the information I have learned. Through my work, I can feel fulfilled and challenged daily. I can have time to think. I will have time to read. And learn. And talk to other adults.
I can work to give you more in your life than you would have if I didn't. You can help keep me balanced and grounded. You will remind me of what is important. And no matter what, you will always be my first priority.
I know you will be better for it. I want to be a role model to you. I know you will have so much to give to this big world one day. I, too, have much to share. And I know you would not want me to give this part of myself up. And, luckily, I don't have to.
I have invested time and resources to ensure that you are well taken care of. You will be around other children and caregivers that will teach you. I hope that you see that a woman, a mommy, can be smart, educated, stimulated and balanced. I promise I will not waste these days. I will be proud of myself. I hope you will be proud of me.
If I close my eyes I can picture you as a mature woman. I see us talking about your path. I know you will have struggles just like I did. I wonder what choice you will make for yourself when that day comes. I wonder what kind of example you would set for your daughters. And I hope that you will make a decision for yourself that will make you feel fulfilled and comfortable.
And I will always be proud of you. Because you are my greatest accomplishment.