To Work or Not To Work: Be Grateful That is the Question

Today is typically Facebook Friday and for those of you who enjoy chuckling along with my friends’ status updates – I apologize.  Today, for very good reason, I am diverting from Facebook Friday to tip my hat to a woman whom I admire both as a mother and as a professional. 

Every day this week she has messaged me with words of back-to-work encouragement, offers to help with my children and perhaps most importantly a glass of wine at the end of the day. 

A few weeks ago I asked her to tell her own back to work story.  She hummed and hawed and told me she wasn’t a writer. 

I pushed back and told her I expected something in my inbox the first week of September.  That I was going to publish it on my blog.  But the first week of September came and went and I didn’t want to push again… perhaps I had over stepped a little.  I have been known to do that once or twice.

Then, last night as I was cleaning out my inbox I found an email.  With an attachment.  It wasn’t a new message so somehow I missed it (I blame the blackberry).  But there it was, sitting in my inbox for the last two days.

Sherry – thank you so much for all your support this week.  Knowing that others have come and gone before me and lived to tell the tale makes all the difference.

Hello my name is Sherry

“Hello.  My name is Sherry.  I have 2 daughters, 8 and 10 years old
and I am a working mother.“

Yes, I do sometimes feel like being a working mother has a social stigma attached to it like being an alcoholic.  It is something you chose to do.  It is something that you rely on for one reason or another.  It is something that not everyone approves of. 

I have been back to work for seven years now.  I knew when I went back to work after my second maternity leave that was it.  I would have no more maternity leaves, no more summers off, no more taking for granted that I would be home over the Christmas holidays.  I would work until I retired. 

Perhaps like many of you, I went back with mixed emotions.  The first day I dropped my daughters off at daycare I cried.  I cried because I missed them.  I cried because even with the expense of two in full-time daycare, I knew going back to work was our best option financially which made it feel like no option at all.  I cried because I knew I would be scrutinized for my decision to come back to work and for our decision to put them in a formal daycare environment rather than “a loving home daycare” environment. 

Mostly, I cried because of the guilt I felt; no, not the guilt of putting them in daycare so “someone else could raise them” but the feeling of guilt that comes with the relief of being able to take my Mommy hat off for eight hours a day, five days a week. 

Trust me, I don’t love my job.  I know it doesn’t define me.  I know I don’t wake up every morning bright-eyed, anxious to see what hell hath slain upon my Inbox.  I wake up knowing that there is a great possibility the next two hours will include bickering sisters, mismatched socks, lost homework and explaining for the one millionth time why one needs to brush her teeth and hair before going to school or summer camp. 

I know there may be raised voices, stress and chaos as we race to get out the door so I may get to work at a “decent time” (Decent is such an ambiguous term, isn’t it?).  I know all of this yet I continue to choose to go to work rather than give up the income, downsize our house or our lifestyle to be home when the bus arrives. 

But I also know I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom.  Putting my girls’ needs first was what I was doing when I decided to return to work fulltime after my second and last maternity leave.  I don’t believe I am alone in this feeling though it is not popular or widely supported when said out loud.  There are many other women who take on the challenge of balancing both work and home simply to have those few hours a day when your identity, your name, your self-worth is defined by more than your accomplishments as a mother. 

Don’t get me wrong, I believe being a good Mom is the most rewarding and important job of all and that staying at home is not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  I know that those who do choose to stay at home can certainly maintain non-Mommy identities and be filled with self-worth but for some of us, we need something different. Not something easier or harder, less stressful or more stressful, just something different and separate from motherhood and often going to work fulfills that need. 

Even more than a need to maintain my identity was the internal knowledge and belief that with work, I would be a better mom to my girls.  Work is like my own personal respite care. 

I am not the woman who gushes over others’ babies or delights in the cuteness of all toddlers, nor am I a tough high-power executive who thrives on getting ahead at all cost.  Anyone who has known me for half a second knows that I adore and brag too frequently about my own children and that I do have a solid career but for me to have chosen to be a stay-at-home Mom was not a good idea.  It would not have been good for me which in turn meant it would not have been good for them.  Since I know this, why do I often feel like a second-rate Mom?    

We have all had the “stay-at-home Mom versus working-Mom” conversation whether it be with our spouses, our families, our friends or simply with another Mommy at the park (which Maija blogged about see Truth be Told Sometimes) and what I find most disappointing with these discussions is the word versus.  Why must we compete with each other as if to divide and conquer?  I am not perfect in the regard myself. 

Why as women, as mothers, do we feel a need to defend our decisions to those who should be our best supporters?  Standing together is something our mothers and grandmothers understood.  Together, as a sisterhood, they fought so today we actually have a choice to make. 

So that is my return-to-work story.  Some of you will be able to relate, and some may not because work is purely a financial necessity or because you chose not to go back to work.  What matters here is that regardless of whether we are stay-at-home moms or working moms the commonality of being a mom should unite us, not divide us..

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  1. That’s a fantastic story of motherhood, identity and choice. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Thank you so much for commenting Cynthia! WE LOVE COMMENTS! I’ll make sure Sherry checks out the comment section of her post today. Welcome to Maija’s Mommy Moments! Hope to see you around again!


  2. Maija..thank you for sharing your honest feelings and thoughts. I can relate very much to what you are saying.


  3. I hate that so many women use motherhood as a competition of sorts. I’m a SAHM, but respect working moms. You have to do what’s best for you so you can be the best for your babies. And as a community of moms we need to always offer another mom a pat on the back, because no matter how you slice it, it’s hard work.

  4. Well written. You may “feel” sometimes like a second-rate Mom out of guilt, but as the saying goes, “proof is in the pudding”. All you have to do is look at those two beautiful, happy, confident young ladies you are raising to know that you are an awesome mother. I would say more, but I have to get back to work 😉

  5. I can totally identify with this post. Although, I think I am lucky because I am able to work FROM home, so I get the best of both worlds. I am able to maintain my professional life as well as be home with the kids get home from school and spend quality time with them in the afternoons. I am so lucky and so thankful that I have been able to have the best of both worlds. I’ve done both before – full-time working mommy (at the office all day) and stay-at-home mommy. I know, for me, I am happier when I work. But right now, I think I have it made.

  6. Just a quick thank you to say I have loved the personal responses and tidbits you have shared in response to my own story. In doing so, as moms, you have started make the line that I once felt divided us, seem more like a spectrum that unites us. A very heart-warming day for me!
    (Maija…I see why you do this…a community of support around you, my friend!)

  7. Tiffany Johnson says:

    Thank you for this, it was much needed today.

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