The End of Maternity Leave

Tomorrow will be a very difficult day.  It's my first day back to work since my son was born.

Before I go on, I'd like to acknowledge that "very difficult" is completely relative.  I'm fortunate to have a job, and fortunate that the most difficult thing I can think of right now is leaving my two children in the loving care of their paternity-leave-blessed-father while I return to a job outside the home that I don't hate.  I know that to some, this sadness will seem indulgent.  I realize there are many who are searching desperately for a job, and many who may have a job, but no reliable childcare.  Through those filters, I can see that I should only feel grateful.  But right now, in my un-filtered perspective, I feel sad.

I've been through this before, when I had to go back to work after my daughter was born.  It was terrible then and it's terrible now.  I know that moms need little breaks away and time to themselves.  But that's different from going back to work, outside of the home, after a new little baby is born.  He's nearly 13 weeks old, and I've never been away from him for more than 2 hours.  And I've only been away from him for 2 hours once, when my cousin babysat the kids while P and I went out for a speed date, literally down the street.

I'm fortunate that my husband gets 12 weeks of paternity leave.  I know he loves both A & E.  I know he is a great dad.  He's a better dad than lots of dads.  He's engaged, very loving, very playful.  He cooks, he cleans (yes, really!).

But I also worry that he doesn't get just how much work it is to be home with two kids.  I realize part of this feeling may be coming from a place of feeling unappreciated for the work I've been doing.  But a lot of it is genuine concern that he will be overwhelmed.  I have been repeating over and over to him how important it is that E get closely supervised tummy time, stick to his nap schedule, etc.  He's reassured me many times that all will be well, but I still just worry.  It's a lesson for me in letting go of control.  But the thing is, I'm not good at letting go of control, and I'm especially bad when it's about something like my kids' day to day lives.

Then there's the terrible feeling of sadness just because I'm away from my babies, no matter who they are with.  I want to be with them.  I want them to be with me.  I don't want them to be with someone else, no matter how competent and capable they are, no matter whether it's their own father.  And this probably is also a major reason that I am "worried" about them home with daddy.  It's more that I want them to be with me instead.  It's a terrible guilt feeling, really.  Not guilty like I will get caught by the mommy police.  Guilty like I feel I am doing them a disservice by not being with them.

Let me be clearer.  Our family's financial situation requires that I work outside the home.  In addition, I do get a lot of great things from my job.  I use my brain in ways that I don't use it while I'm home with my babies.  (I also will point out here that when I am home with my babies, I use my brain in amazing ways that I don't use it while I am at work outside the home.)  I have great work relationships that are very fulfilling.  I enjoy my job.  I am excited by the possibility of growth in my career.  I am proud that I am able to contribute to the financial well being of my family.  All of these things are great.  I am grateful for my job, my career, my opportunities.

But I love my babies.  It's more than a catch 22, more than a double edged sword.  It's nearly unexplainable.  It's so unique for each mother that I almost don't even want to attempt to explain it.  Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm sad.  Sometimes I think I'm sad, but I'm happy and sometimes I think I'm happy, but I'm sad.

I don't know how much (if any) of it is fueled by feelings of external expectations.  How much of it is fueled by the expectation that I should want to be "fulfilled outside the home"?  How much is fueled by the expectation that I should want to be home with my babies?  Sometimes I feel that none of these feelings are from external expectations and sometimes I feel that most of them are.

What I know is that I enjoy being with my children.  I enjoy spending my day-to-day with them.  I like that they will have memories of everyday, mundane activities with me.

What I know is that it is extremely difficult, and emotionally and physically taxing, to be home with them.  And I rarely feel that others acknowledge how difficult it is.  People say, "Oh yeah, that's hard!" but do they realize that it really is?  It's so much constant work that part of me is looking forward to the break that I'll get by going back to a rather demanding job.

What I know is that is is incredibly rewarding and wonderful to be with my children.

The point is not really whether I feel sad, happy, depressed, anxious, excited, energized or even confused.  The point is that I feel all of these things.

I know there's a perpetual debate about who is the better mom: the stay at home mom or the work outside the home mom.  That debate sometimes trickles into outright war territory.  But as I prepare to go back to work tomorrow and I prepare to learn again to navigate my own path, I have hope that all moms can find support in each other.  I hope that all moms can acknowledge, even if they themselves don't have mixed feelings about their particular choice (or lack thereof), that other moms are doing their best for their children, too.  Sometimes that includes doing things that we don't necessarily want to do, whether it's staying home when we really want to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or going to work outside the home when we really want to be home with our children.

I've been struggling to narrow the scope of this blog, and I think that I've finally figured it out.  I'm trying to figure out how to be the best mom that I can be.  For me, it's by being the healthiest mom I can be.  Not just physically, but mentally as well.  It starts with making the absolute best of whatever we have.  I'll continue to blog about our home (making it the homey-ist I can), our DIY projects (making the best of our resources for our home), our diet (making the best of food), our money (making the best of our finances) and our journey as a family (making the best of our time together).  I'll also be adding posts about how I personally am balancing my roles, as well as how I'm creating a healthy work-life balance.  It's all tied together.  And who knows... maybe one day I'll be writing a post about how wonderful it is that I've found a way to be able to spend the majority of my time with my children!  One can hope!

So, today is the last day of my maternity leave, and tomorrow begins the balancing act again.  I hope that by documenting it all here, I will gain a little more insight into our own lives.  And maybe I'll start to better appreciate for myself just how much work it really is to be a real mom.

Have you struggled with these feelings?  Any advice?  Leave it in the comments!


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