“Aren’t you nervous?”
“I can’t imagine leaving my baby with someone else.”
“I’m dreading going back.”
“Did you cry when you dropped her off for the first time?”
“Don’t you wish you could stay home?”
The short answer to that last one is, “No.” I’m not a stay-at-home mom. I just don’t have it in me. I knew that when I got pregnant, I knew that when Thea was a newborn, and I know that now, as I prepare to go back to work on September 15th.
I’ve been genuinely surprised by how solitary this opinion is among friends and family who are also recent parents. Everyone has their own reasons for their wishes, but I simply thought more people would be eager, as I am, to “get back out there”. The majority (though not unanimous) attitude, however, is that of strong reluctance. I constantly hear woeful tales of being unable to stay home, or looking forward to more kid-free time but really not wanting to go back to work. At times, I feel pressure to empathize and concur. I effectively lie by omission, leaving the impression that I, too, am being “forced” back into the working world for monetary or other reasons outside my control.
In reality, I am not, so much, being forced out the door as I am dancing my way to the office. I love my job. I like the people that I work with and the work that I do. I am proud of the reputation that I have cultivated in my department over the past seven years, and I’m excited about opportunities that lie ahead in the coming years. But my eagerness to get back to work is not solely tied to my enjoyment of my current job. Even if I didn’t plan to return to this role, I would still be actively seeking a new out-of-the-home job.
A few months ago, I battled a fair bit of guilt about my lack of interest in staying home past Thea’s first birthday. Am I a bad mother for not wanting to stay at home with my daughter? Should I not be dreading the end of my maternity leave as so many others do? Thankfully, I have an amazing partner who knows me nearly as well as I know myself. Luke never once suggested I should stay home, and instead supported and encouraged my wishes to return to work.
Don’t get me wrong, I have loved my year at home with my baby, and I am eternally grateful to live in a country that provides such an opportunity. But I do feel I would enjoy it less if it did not have an end date.
I will not say that I need something “more” because that implies being a stay-at-home mom is somehow “less”, which is ridiculous. It is not less than anything. It is a difficult, but immensely fulfilling role for those who choose it. I simply need something “else”.
Is this a selfish view? Perhaps, in that it is what “I” want. But I also firmly believe it is in the best interests of my daughter that I return to work full-time and she attend day care three days per week. I believe Thea will thrive being raised by happy, fulfilled parents who relish the time they do get to spend with her. For my part, I would not be either of those things if I continued to stay home full-time.
I also believe Thea will flourish through day care. I understand that there are conflicting studies around advantages and disadvantages provided to children who attend day care, so I speak only for myself and my family. I believe socialization is important, and I believe Thea would not be as well socialized if she stayed at home with me. I know that I am an outgoing person who enjoys spending time with other people, but I am also well aware that, due to a combination of exhaustion and laziness, Thea and I spent the vast majority of our days over the past year at home, away from other people. Similarly, we spend most unstructured days (when we don’t have preexisting plans or appointments) indoors, whereas the day care we have selected incorporates outdoor activities into their daily schedules (weather permitting, of course).
All this said – Did I feel a small knot in my stomach when we toured her day care a few months ago? Yes. Did I badly want to call every hour on Monday morning when she spent her first half-day at the daycare without me? Yes. Will my first week back be difficult and will I briefly doubt my decision? Probably. Do I still, in my heart of hearts, know that this is the right decision for our family? Absolutely.