The other day I spilled breast milk on my laptop in my hurry to get to a work meeting.
That’s just one of many sentences I never imagined saying before I became a mom. It’s unexpected on a couple levels—one of which being the idea that I might have a work meeting to get to in the first place.
I never expected that motherhood would include counting milliliters of breast milk and hoping I had pumped enough to last eight hours apart from my child. I never expected that when the pediatrician asked how much my baby was pooping, I’d rely on information from the nanny. And I never expected that I would be back at the office six weeks after giving birth—let alone ever.
I never expected to call myself a working mom.
(On a tangential note, isn’t it funny how we have to add that qualifier in there when we talk about a woman who wants to pursue her career, but a man with both a job and offspring is simply referred to as dad?)
In high school if you’d asked about my career plans I’d have said I wanted to stay at home. In college I may have offered a few alternatives (professor, editor, etc.) but I would have certainly clarified that my top choice would be to care for my children full-time and write novels at home.
Somewhere along the way, though, things took a turn.
I found out I was pregnant around the same time I was offered a full-time job at the company I was already interning for. Suddenly I saw a giant question mark when people asked whether I still intended to work, when they asked what we would do for day care (no one asked Alec any of those questions, in case you were wondering).
I was 99% sure that I still wanted to work, but I felt compelled to leave that 1% of uncertainty. Not for my own uncertainty—for others’.
I felt compelled to make other people comfortable.
Not that anyone has said anything to me directly about their disapproval. Nope. Instead I can see it in their faltering smiles and raised eyebrows. I can hear it in their concerned, “Who’s going to take care of the baby?” The assumption that my working is only a worst-case scenario. A last resort.
And I’m sure that a huge part of the insecurity I feel comes from within. I know what traditional society demands of me. I compare myself to other moms, full-time nurturers and homemakers who bake fresh bread and snap gorgeous photos of their babies at each milestone and don’t have to ask their nanny how much their child pooped during the day because they were the ones wiping it up. I wish I knew how to be like them.
I love my child. I love her fiercely. I am thrilled by every smile, every coo that she makes with tiny, rounded lips.
But I am not built to be a homemaker.
(I know that moms who stay home full-time don’t love every second. I know that it’s challenging and rewarding and difficult and frustrating all at once. I never want to imply that stay-at-home parents have it easy. We just have it different from each other.)
I compare myself to these other moms and I feel the weight of expectations and disappointments and self-doubt and guilt. Yet I know that in the long run I made the right choice for myself.
So how do I reassure myself?
I’m still learning. This list, to be honest, is just as much intended to help me as it is intended to help anyone else who faces the same self-doubt.
Here are a few ways we can help ourselves feel better about making the unpopular choice:
1. Write a list of all the reasons you decided to work.
Post it somewhere in your office or at your desk so that you can look at it for a reminder whenever you start to question the choice.
2. Print a poster of Rosie the Riveter.
Keep it somewhere close to your list of reasons for working, or maybe somewhere you will see it while you’re getting ready for work in the morning.
3. Make a lady power playlist.
Listen to mine for inspiration, if you want. But a lady power playlist can have any kind of music you want, as long as it leaves you feeling capable and confident.
4. Make an effort not to apologize for working.
It can be tempting to offer explanations or indirect apologies when you talk to other people about your situation. When people ask how I feel being back at work, I often say things like, “It can be hard, but I think it’s better for me,” yada yada yada . . . offering more information than the question merits. What’s so wrong with just saying, “I feel good,” and leaving it at that?
5. Take five minutes a day to cuddle your child.
Take longer if you like, if you can. Just take time to snuggle. Snuggle and do nothing else. Whisper “I love you,” even if she’s so young she doesn’t know what you’re saying.
6. Talk to other parents.
Working parents, stay-at-home parents. Tell someone else about your insecurities and let them tell you about their insecurities.
Remember that you’re not the only one who feels like you’re doing everything wrong. Remember that you’re not in this alone. Remember that only you can know what’s best for you, your family, and your baby.
Do you have any other coping methods? Like I said, I’m still figuring things out myself, so let me know if you have other ideas.
Click here to download a couple of printables that hopefully will help you stay motivated and confident as a working mom.