Recently, I met a lady at the pool. She wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea – very forward with her questions and far too open with personal information – but she wanted to know about Evelyn and I am not a rude person by any means, so I entertained her. The conversation naturally shifted from the baby to me. She asked what I did. I explained to her that I was a teacher, but after having Evelyn I decided to take a step back and stay home. Then the tone of the conversation changed. She actually started to shame me, making me feel guilty for wanting to focus on my own child more than someone else’s. This sparked a reflection within myself as to why I actually stepped away from work. Although I really don’t feel that I owe anyone an explanation (except maybe my ridiculously supportive bosses when I told them I wasn’t returning) it is a bit cathartic to explore the real reason behind my decision. Was it selfishness? Was it really the right move for my family? I’m the queen of self-doubt, and this decision was no exception.
Teaching is a demanding job. It’s physically demanding, mentally demanding, financially demanding, emotionally demanding. It demands your time, your thoughts, long after you’ve locked your classroom and driven out of the parking lot. Multiply that by a thousand if you work at school with a high needs population. Those kids become your babies. Sometimes you’re the only adult they have that cares about them; You don’t stop worrying about them or hurting for them when they walk out the door.
Being a new mom is also demanding in the same ways. The difference is the bond. It’s biological. It’s molecular. Atomic, even. Every fiber of my being was tethered to this little girl and walking out the front door every morning felt like tearing myself in half and leaving part of me behind. I cried every morning, either before I left, as I was leaving, or in the car on the way. Thank goodness for that thirty minute drive; I could compose myself by the time I put the car in park. Everyone told me it would get better. For me, it didn’t. The more time I missed, the deeper into sadness I got.
None of this is to say that if you are a working mother, you love your child any less than I love mine. Everyone is different, and some women thrive in motherhood when there is a balance between their work life and home life. I envy these women. I glorified the “career mom” lifestyle, but in the end, I couldn’t pull it off.
I wanted to extend my leave, but it was almost entirely unpaid and we were strapped for the coming months as it was. I had to go back when Evelyn was only 2 months old. For the record – anyone who is on the fence in their opinion on maternity leave in the United States – 60 days is not enough. It. Is. Not. Enough.
I felt immense guilt building with every passing day. Guilt for leaving my baby with a near stranger (even though she was great and Evelyn really did love her). Guilt for wanting to abandon the degree that my own parents sacrificed so much to help me obtain. And most of all, guilt for not being completely present for the children who show up, most not by choice, every day in my classroom. I felt as though I was doing a disservice to everyone around me.
One of my colleagues hit the nail on the head in a meeting one day. We were discussing… something, I still have no idea what.. and she asked for my opinion. My mind was at home with my daughter, but the question snapped me back to reality. I responded honestly: “Huh? I’m sorry, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about.” She chirped back “Ever since you had that baby it’s like you’re not even here anymore.” She was joking, but she was right. I just couldn’t keep my head straight anymore.
The final straw came on the day I saw Evelyn roll over for the first time. We were doing some tummy time and I gave her a toy to hold. I still love watching those tiny little hands grasp things, it’s just so cute! She grabbed the toy and rolled to her back to get a better look. “John! She rolled over! Evelyn just rolled over!” He popped his head into the living room, and very casually responded with, “Oh yeah, she’s been doing that for a while.” It was a completely casual and honest response, but it tore me to pieces. I told him I was going to grab a shower, but really I just needed a place to cry. I was missing out, I was missing everything.
All of my teacher friends returned to school this past Wednesday for preplanning. I’ve scrolled Facebook statuses, I’ve gotten “We miss you!” texts. While I do miss my work friends, I am so relieved. I know that the day July hit, I would have been an anxious mess counting down the days until the school year started once more. Leaving Evelyn again would have felt like impending doom.
For what it’s worth, I am still working. I didn’t quit my job just so I could sit around all day and make John do all the heavy lifting. I now work a couple of days a week, 6:30 am to noon. I probably miss 2 or 3 hours of Evelyn’s day – the rest of the time she naps. I show up, I do my job, and I leave. No strings attached, no work at home.
I am unbelievably grateful that John saw my pain and was willing to take the financial burden of having a family solely into his shoulders. He has never questioned or complained. Maybe it was because he just wanted me to stop crying, I don’t know. I do know that there are no words that can properly thank him for what he’s given Evelyn and I.
If you are a mama considering a stay at home option, or a dad whose wife won’t stop crying, open your mind to the possibility of changing your work situation. It’s probably not going to be easy, sacrifices have to be made, coupons clipped, date nights skipped. However, this change in our household has allowed me to be with my daughter for every milestone. That is what matters to me. It has created the opportunity to become, and continue to be, so much closer with my stepdaughter which is so valuable, I can’t put that into words either.
No matter if you’re working, staying at home, or doing a mix of both – you’re doing it right. There are no blue prints for what the “perfect family” looks like. You have to do what makes you happy in the end. Keep it up, moms and dads, you’re crushing it.
(Did you really think I could post without a gif? Do you know me at all?)