When Returning to Work Doesn’t Break Your Heart

I had to go back to work early after the birth of my son, by the standards of most people in my life. Not early compared to my yoga-teacher friend who had six weeks off, or my friend whose mat leave living overseas was only two months, but I went back at six months, which is early to many. Having talked with other moms, I know I was in a great position to return to work – I got to start back at only three-and-a-half days a week, and our parents were willing to do the needed child care until my husband could get pat leave (I know – lucky!) when I started full-time hours.

But in the weeks leading up to my return date, I was a wreck: I was jealous of my mom-and-baby-group friends, looking ahead to a time when they would continue to have play dates with their babes while I sat at a desk wondering what my kid was doing all day (turns out he was still at mom-and-baby group, just with Dad). I was embarrassed about handing my son off for care without a regular nap schedule, as if that would somehow signal incompetence in that I’d had him for six months and still didn’t know what I was doing. I was anxious that my absence would somehow weaken our bond – or, as my sister put it, I “kind of did” want him to stay a bit of a mama’s boy even though I knew meaningful relationships with other caregivers were important and good, and would make my life a hell of a lot easier in the long run.

The moms in my village gave me great support, encouraging me that John could help with the household duties more so I could spend more time with Arlo when I was home, assuring me that all mothers felt this way when they went back to work, and even telling me it was okay if I just cried all day in the bathroom for the first day back.

So imagine my shock when I had (dare I say it?) a wonderful day. Everyone asking about the baby and wanting to see pictures, getting to see friends I hadn’t seen much since Arlo’s birth, wearing grown-up clothes with no chance of food smears or drool? Of course I had a great first day.

But then the guilt-inducing thing was, I kept having great days. I like my job. I like my colleagues. I like walks at lunch by the river behind my building, bike rides with friends to work in the morning, and drinking a whole cup of tea while it’s still hot. Best of all, every day when I came home, Arlo was limbs-flailing, goo-goo-ga-ga ecstatic to see me (a reaction that had largely been reserved for working-Daddy or post-babysitter greetings until that point).

This is where assumptions about motherhood paint us all into corners. Here I was, with all the support in the world (online and in-person) to get me through a shit time, but I was actually having an okay time, and the fact that I wasn’t falling apart made me question a) whether I was a good mother, and b) whether I would still have the support of the mama-world or be marked as a deviant of the tribe. I haven’t really tested this theory in the online world (and I’m a little scared of the reaction I could get here, to be honest).  Among my friends and family, though, I was relieved to find that my unusual (or perhaps just less-oft-voiced) experience of being, in some ways, liberated by a return to work, hasn’t reduced the support I’ve felt at all.

We’re all going to have awful times as mamas – hair-tearing, heart-draining, insanity-inducing moments. But we’re also going to have hurdles that end up not being as bad as we thought they might be. For some of us, going back to work is in column A, and for others, in column B. Where we end up probably depends on a wide range of factors. But wherever you fall when you go back to work, it’s okay.

~ Lindsay

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1 Comment

  1. I hear you! Being the friend that was overseas and only had 2 months of mat leave, I still felt liberated. I needed to strategize more than a nap routine, organize more than a cloth diaper laundry process, and analyze more than breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. I needed to feel I had purpose beyond motherhood again, despite many lauding it as the highest calling in life. I agonized about going back to work in the weeks leading up to it, and missed our babe everyday I was at work, but I also enjoyed reclaiming a work/life balance that is so important to the person I am. Thanks for sharing Linds!

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