As I stood over Wade’s crib to say goodbye, I tried to not sob. I did not want to be that mom – the one who shares her tears of guilt with her child. (Those are not for a child to bear. Wade will certainly see my tears in future years, but they should only be my tears of joy or sorrow.)
The first day back at work after maternity leave was hell. Well-meaning coworkers asked how I was, triggering what seemed a continual fount of tears. The emotion may seem overly dramatic to some, but most mothers will relate. I am a thinker by nature (MBTI – INTJ). (Just ask my husband about my frustratingly intellectual argument style.) My mothers’ heart however, is non-rational. It thinks of separation, of death and disaster. It has no sense of time, seeing every moment apart from Wade as urgent, significant.
Before Wade I never minded working. I’ve had, and have a good challenging job. But having Wade changed my relationship to work. It became the obstacle that kept me from him. Some women love working – it’s fulfilling to them, it shapes their identity. All I could see was that I had a child and then gave him to someone else to raise. I calculated the math over in my head. What did I have, 25% of Wade’s waking time after work?
Some women have the freedom to choose work, or not choose it. Many women feel they don’t have a choice. Regardless of whether work thrills or saddens you, you are a working mother. Your reality is a bit different from those who stay at home. And I don’t mean a better or worse reality, because whether you work or stay at home, you are giving something up.
I had several fears when I returned to work, but two were foremost. From these fears and a desire to do more than survive, I singled out two truths to remember. I shared these with my best friend yesterday, as she returns to work from maternity leave this week. I want to share them with you too, regardless of how old your children are. This is what I wrote her. Personalize it for your son or daughter as you read.
As your leave ends, and you return to work, I want you to know 2 things:
Even though you will spend less time with your son –
- No one can take your place, and
- You are still a great Mommy
I worried much about Wade growing distant as I returned to work, or that he would replace his bond to me with one to someone else. The reality is that no one can take your place, its inherent. There of course will be days when he chooses your husband or another over you, but this is the expected fickleness of a child. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. I say that because I have to remind myself of this frequently.
Work is part of our reality. Many children are very close to their working parents. Remember – these first years are not the defining point of a child’s life. Attachment aside, this is only the beginning of our relationship with our sons!
You may be surprised or embarrassed by what you feel those first days back at work. So if you need permission to cry, here it is. Cry. Cry at home or at work. (And any other future time where you feel the sorrow of what seems a split life.)
I share these truths with you because I know the complexity of a mother’s heart. We are torn by wanting to do all things well.
I told my friend the first days and weeks will be hard. I also told her it gets easier. But my heart doesn’t long any less. In those moments, I pull out the worn, folded notecard in my mind and reread the 2 truths till I believe again.