Before I had J, I had never heard of the so-called “Mommy Wars.” You know, the stupid, incessant, somewhat fabricated “war” between factions of mothers over the “correct” or “right” way to raise children today, mostly centering on staying at home versus being a “working mom.” I was raised by a working mom—who for a good portion of my upbringing was also a working single mom to three kids—who did a pretty darn good job as far as I can tell, so it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with working outside the home. In the culture of my youth, most women worked out of necessity. As a matter of fact, I’m having a hard time recalling any of my close friends’ mothers being traditional stay-at-home moms. Everyone either went to daycare, or to their grandparents house after school (which is what we did), or was a latchkey kid once we were old enough. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but that was reality.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with J and actually started to contemplate working vs. staying at home that I was faced with other moms who were actually…offended at the idea of sending your child—especially an infant child—to daycare. I remember one particularly, um, intense conversation with a friend who basically told me that if I “wasn’t there” for J’s oh-so-important formative years, he would (a) be clingy and socially inept, (b) have learning disabilities, and (c) would likely be abused or neglected in some way at daycare unbeknownst to me and would end up a mass murderer. Those weren’t her exact words, but that was the gist. I’m serious. So for a couple of weeks, I considered quitting my job and staying home for awhile. Then we considered TH quitting his job and being a stay at home dad. And then we remembered that even if I suspend my career for awhile we still have to pay off the student loans that paid for said career and we came to our senses.
I’d be lying if I said this was a super easy decision, and I’d also be lying if I said I ever seriously wanted to be a stay at home mom. I didn’t. I still don’t. It’s not because I don’t love my kid(s), or because I can’t stand to spend hours with him, or because I think kids are accessories. Other than TH, J is hands-down my favorite person to spend time with. I love being with him, listening to him talk, playing kids games with him. I’ve told TH that J is my best friend, and I meant it when I said it. It’s interesting, J has two parents who work full time, yet he still has never spent the night away from us. Ever. When he’s not at daycare, he’s with us. All the time.
I chose to be a “working mom” because…I love my job/profession. It’s that simple. Sure, it has its moments like any other job, but being a veterinarian is not just what I do, it’s what I am. Everyone who knows me knows this is true. If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you that I wanted to be a vet when I was in kindergarten. Not to mention the YEARS of schooling and money it took to get to this point. When I was on maternity leave with J, I was so torn. I loved being with him all day and watching him grow, and at the same time I hated being home all day. I missed my patients. I missed the mental challenge of trying to figure out a complex medical case. I missed talking to my clients. I missed doing surgery. I missed people calling me “Dr.”. At times I couldn’t wait to get back to work. But when the time came, like most working moms, I cried. The first two weeks I tried to keep up my old 50+ hours a week schedule, and it killed me. I only saw J in the morning on the way to the sitters’, and for an hour or two before bed. I felt guilty when I left him in the morning, and guilty when he would get sick and I’d have to leave more work for the other docs so I could go pick him up early. Heck, I felt guilty when I realized that a couple of hours had gone by and I hadn’t really thought about him, and guilty when a surgery became complicated and ran too long and I realized I had forgotten to pump.
That’s when I realized that although I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom, I had to make some changes. I reduced my hours at work—a move which was not met well by my manager or coworkers—and searched until I found my current job, where I work 4 days a week and never have to be on-call or at work past 5:30pm. If I need to take J to the doctor or stay home with him, it’s not a big deal. I truly feel like we have the best of both worlds now, I get to have my career, and J spends a lot of time with both of his parents and 4 days a week goes to an awesome daycare.
This time around, however, I can feel the internal Mommy War starting up already. I’m trying to work pretty much until I go into labor, which was fairly easy for me to do with J but for some reason (hmmm could it be my 3 year old?) the fatigue is getting the best of me with this pregnancy. And unfortunately, due to finances and work schedules and necessity, I’m only able to take 8 weeks off for maternity leave. 2 months, and that’s it. I’m starting to feel daily anxiety about how short that time really is. TH is going to take some time off after I go back to work so we can try to stretch it to 12 weeks before he has to start daycare, but it may not work out that way. 8 weeks, and my little precious may be thrown in with the other kids at daycare. Why is this so much harder for me this time? I love our daycare situation and know he will be well cared for, but I’m losing sleep every night when I think about it. Why is 8 weeks old so much worse than 12 weeks? I keep telling myself that the baby won’t care either way, but that doesn’t ease my mind. I think behind it all is the realization that no matter what, this kid is not going to get the kind of attention that J got. Less time with Mommy at home, and less of Mommy’s time when I am there. And in the back of my mind, I keep going back to that stupid conversation with my stupid “friend” 3 years ago, and I guilt myself even more…
Where is the Mothering Instruction Handbook when I need it?