I Love My Child AND I Love My Career
Being a working parent, particularly a working mother, is a touchy situation to be in. While pregnant with my daughter, I got all sorts of questions about what would happen after she was born. Many were rational, understandable questions: Would I stay home with her? Would I go back to work? Would she go to daycare or be cared for by a family member? Eventually the questions branched into judgmental territory: Why would you go back to work just to pay someone else to watch your child? Why do you need two incomes, can’t you run a household on one paycheck? And then came the most cutting, hurtful question of all: Do you really love your job more than your child?
My college education, my work experience, and my volunteer experience has all been focused around teaching and working with children. I love kids, and I love seeing kids learn and grow and experience new things. My career path started out as a broad one, but narrowed into working with kids and adolescents with autism. I am passionate about the development and wellbeing of the kids I work with and I am fulfilled by my job. I have had incredibly difficult days that resulted in injuries, frustration, and crying my entire drive home. But I have had more days that have filled me with joy, excitement, and pride for the wonderful kids I work with and the things that they have accomplished. I knew once I got pregnant that I would be returning to work. I had worked so hard to get to where I was and I had formed such strong bonds with my clients and their families, and I couldn’t just give that up. But the decision to go back to work still wasn’t an easy one.
My daughter’s birth and the ten days following were difficult and scary. Between pre-eclampsia, feeding struggles, postpartum depression and anxiety, and just the hurdles involved with having a newborn, we were thrown into a whole new world. Once we began formula, increased my antidepressants, and got into a routine, things settled down and I looked at the twelve weeks ahead of me. I kept asking my husband, “What am I supposed to be doing?” I knew that I was taking care of our daughter and recuperating from a c-section, and that is more than enough to fill the days. But I struggled without my To-Do list; I wanted to feel at the end of the day like I had accomplished something. My husband and I would brainstorm – listing all the things that I could do if I had downtime and wanted to get something done. I have practically a fully stocked craft store in the basement, there is a beautiful park just half a block from our house, and there’s always mall walking! My anxiety would settle once I had a list in my mind. When my husband went back to work, my daughter and I settled into a routine of our own and I loved the time I had with her. I took hundreds – literally hundreds – of pictures in those first twelve weeks. I loved cuddling her and watching her sleep. I loved just walking around the park or Target and seeing everyone smile and coo over how cute she was. I loved being home with her. And I didn’t love it at the same time.
Being home with just my daughter, while wonderful in its own way, caused me to isolate and feel stuck. As the weeks went on, I left the house less and less and I started to feel worried about going back to work. Inertia had set it. Maybe we could live with just one income, I thought. Maybe I’d be happy as a stay-at-home mom. We had many discussions about it and with each discussion it became clearer that the best thing for me, and for our family, was for me to go back to work. And so, on Monday of that thirteenth week, I dropped our tiny baby off at daycare and went to work.
And I loved it! I was glad to be back, glad to be talking to other adults, and glad to be doing something separate from being a mother. I missed my daughter like crazy, and I missed our routine, but I was energized by having my passion back and when I got home, I enjoyed my time with her even more. I still struggle with my decision and there are days where I would much rather be at home with my daughter than at work. But my mental health depends on me getting out of the house, interacting with other adults, and being Julia instead of being Mom. My daughter loves daycare and loves being with other kids. She gets restless, bored, and fussy on days where it’s just the two of us at home. Every family is different and every parent is different. What works for my family might be just terrible for the next family. But I know that my daughter, my husband, and I are happier and healthier with me being a working mom. So, to answer the question from the beginning of the article: No, I do not love my job more than I love my child. But part of loving my child (and loving my family) is loving myself – and I am a happier person, a better wife, and a better mother because of my career.