I'm starting a new series here on The Parsonage Family: Working Mom Wednesday*, a forum to share thoughts and tips about working motherhood. I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments, and if you want to write your own post, feel free to share the link in the comments, and even take the badge if you want. (I'm trying to make it into a button, but am having technical difficulties!)
In the final weeks of my maternity leave last year, I grew more and more anxious and even depressed about leaving Kate. I felt like I would be abandoning her for ten hours a day (eight hours of work plus two on the road) and my heart ached at the very thought of it. When I came home after my first day back, I cried all evening, and Matt was worried I would soon be wanting to quit work. Surprisingly to both of us, I "recovered" pretty quickly. Within a day or two I was able to leave without much to-do, and I haven't really stressed about it since. I actually had to look back at this post from that time to really even remember what I was so worried about.
Back in those anxious days, though, I asked another working mom for her advice. How is it working out to work outside the home and put your son in day care? How do you feel about it? She gave me some good feedback, but I'll admit that at the time, I worried that most of them were just excuses we make up to relieve the perennial mommy-guilt. "A happy mommy makes everyone happy" is a biggie, of course, but the one that was hardest for me to swallow was that "the time I did have with my child would become even more special."
Sure. What a way to comfort yourself! Yes, I'm abandoning my maternal duty for ten hours a day, but those two short hours between my return and your bedtime--those will make it all worth it and you won't actually suffer horribly from my neglect! (Melodramatic, yes, but that's the way fear and guilt talk.)
The thing is, I have found it to be true. Not the neglect-and-abandonment part, but that our two hours of mommy-daughter time on weekday evenings is even more special because we aren't together all day long. Not because absence makes the heart grow fonder or whatnot, but because I approach the time differently. It makes me more intentional about interacting with Kate, getting on the floor and playing with blocks or going outside to push her on the swing rather than just crashing. Yes, I would love to kick back and watch an episode of "Friends," but I know that our playtime will be better for both of us if I leave the TV off and sing songs or read a story instead.
If I were home with Kate all day long, I would have no choice but to multitask, if not out of necessity (after all, I manage to do housework after bedtime and on weekends now) then for sanity's sake (I can only sit on the floor singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for so long). I would do laundry and check e-mail and pay bills while Kate played nearby--or, more likely, clung to me and screamed while I was forced to ignore her in order to get other stuff done.
Quantity matters--don't get me wrong. I love weekends where we can run errands and sort laundry together, less focused interaction for a longer stretch of time. But it's also nice to have the quality time that comes from being intentional with the limited weekday time we have.
* I want to offer the disclaimer right off the bat that I know all mothers are working mothers. I think stay-at-home moms probably work even harder than those of us who go to an office (at least I know I'm more tired after spending a whole day with Kate)! But for simplicity's sake, my use of the term is mainly referring to moms who work for pay, either outside the home or from home while tending to the kids too (which is arguably the hardest gig of all!)