Each morning, our sweet little bug climbs into bed with us when she wakes up, and lays down to snuggle and nurse (yeah she is over three and nursing…some day she will wean, I swear). We lay in bed together, quiet, still half asleep. I inhale the scent of her sleep-mussed hair that smells of fading dreams and rub her toes, I tickle her back and enjoy her tiny little hands lazily running over my face. It is dreamlike. It is quiet.
But then the silence is inevitably broken..tic..toc.. an invisible clock counts the passing seconds in the back of my mind. Time. Time is slipping by. Alarms go off, reminding me that I’m supposed to be in the shower, that I’m supposed to be dressed and walking out the door. And each morning, with alarms buzzing as I try to pry myself from the warm covers and that sweet little face, I feel a pang of emotion cut through me. It twists, it pulls on heart strings, it creates empty hollows in the pit of my stomach, carving out spaces that ache to be filled with her sweet little words, her sweet little hugs. The emotion is like an animal, settling heavily upon my chest and prying at my shoulders, trying to pull me apart, trying in vain to split me in two. This feeling, this overwhelming emotion is guilt….the deepest guilt I know. It is mommy guilt. And it is horrid.
There is this sense of being stuck between two worlds, of trying to remedy the battle of wants vs needs each and every day as I try to explain to that tiny cherubic face with imploring eyes why mommy has to go to work. Every morning is the same. She asks where I’m going, begs me to get back into bed. Tries to distract me from brushing my teeth or getting dressed with silly antics, trying to get me to come and color with her or hanging onto my clothes and refusing to let go. It used to be easier to go to work when she was younger, before she really could communicate. She would cry, and of course that was heartbreaking, but these days with her ability to tell me exactly how she feels about me going to work….well I find it a lot harder, the mommy guilt inside of me is strengthened because she confirms each day that she doesn’t want me to go. As I get dressed, or brush my teeth, she will ask me the question she already knows: “Mommy, where are you going?”, to which I always answer, “Bug, you know where I’m going, mommy has to go to work”. Generally after I respond there are protests and often tears, and “Mommy you don’t need to go to work today, you stay here with me! Come in the living room and sit with me! Come play with me, Mommy!”. And I wish that I could. I wish that I could spend the day sitting with her and playing with dolls and talking about dragons and reading books about Seahorse daddies that carry their babies in their bellies or about a silly goose named Tilly who likes to wear pancakes as hats and take baths in apple juice.
This is the daily battle, the daily decision that I have to make. The decision to work, the decision to go to my place of business rather than stay home, to ignore that mommy guilt and push through. This is not a post about what is better, being a stay-at-home mom or a working one. This is not about them versus us or anything like that because there is no division, we are ALL just parents at the end of the day trying to do our very best by our loved ones. In fact much of the time I’m pretty positive that those SAHMs have a much harder job than I do in so many ways because parenting is EXHAUSTING and doing so day in and day out without a break…..I don’t know how you ladies do it.
So the question is why do I work if it produces such a deep, heartfelt guilt, but the answer is far more multi-faceted and complex than the question itself. I work so that our family can thrive, so that we have two incomes instead of one; living in LA where things are insanely expensive there really is no other option. I work so that we can take advantage of the amazing health insurance benefits that my company provides. I work so that we can afford to send Little C to a good preschool, so that we can buy organic food, so that we can live comfortably. But beyond the monetary side of things I work because it’s good for my soul. I work because even though it kills me and I have a lot of guilt, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t work I would lose a piece of myself, the piece that needs validation and that takes pride in my work, that defines some amount of self-worth based on being good at what I do. I think that working actually makes me a better mom in some ways…..but that statement pertains only to me, to the type of person that I am. I don’t think that working makes anyone else a better or worse parent, I just know that for me, myself, I am a better mother when I am able to have that time outside of the house. I am a better mom when I get to just be ME, to be Maya and not Mommy for a little bit.
So to all of my SAHMs, my hat is off to you. To all of my working mamas, big hugs and love. Know that no matter what you are doing, whether you are reading this while wiping baby spit-up or while relaxing on your lunch break at the office, that you are all doing amazing. That we are all just mommies who love our kids, who want the best for them. And if you are about to enter the work force again, after staying home for some time, know that it WILL BE OKAY. It won’t always feel like this. It won’t always be so terribly hard and scary to walk out that door. It will change, and the feelings will change, but know that you will be just fine, and so will your little ones.
My hope that one day Little C will understand, that she will be proud of me, that she won’t fault me for doing what I think is best for our family. I hope that someday she will say “My mommy worked hard to give me everything she could, even though she really missed me”. I so love the photos that I have of two of us together because on days when I’m missing her at work I can look through them, I can feel her hand in mind, can hear her voice in my ears. I want her to know that each day it breaks my heart a little bit to walk out that door. I want her to know that when I hug her goodbye in the mornings I always pause a little longer than normal to bury my face in her neck, to truly treasure those little arms wrapped around my back. I want her to know that I so value our time that we do get to spend together, that I am eternally grateful for the days where I don’t have to leave. That I can’t wait to come home each night to see her smiling face. And that I’m not doing this because I don’t want to see her, I’m doing it because she is the most important thing in our world and I want to give her the universe. I know that for me, for our family, I am doing the right thing. But there are those moments, especially in the mornings when Little C asks me once again where I’m going, that I wish I could say “I’m not going anywhere, babe. I’m staying here with you”.