It’s happening soon. Armed with subway tokens, I’ll be returning to work after my second and likely last maternity leave. In doing so, I’ve committed to the working-mom side of the so-called mommy wars – the debate between moms who work and moms who stay at home over which choice is best. Best for the kids, best for the family, best for the world.
I struggled and obsessed over this decision for months. I feel sick at the thought of turning my youngest, Camille, over to daycare where she will start growing up without me, even though a couple of years ago I survived the same transition with her three-year-old brother Darien. And I’m harbouring guilt fuelled by the fact that we could get by, albeit meagerly, on my husband’s salary alone. So I don’t even have the excuse of needing the extra money to support my family.
My choice to go back to work boiled down to a couple of factors. To begin with, I love my job. I'm a hydrogeologist and for the past couple of years, I've worked in an amazing position where I get to think about science all day. As I approach middle age, it’s become apparent to me that few people feel this way about their careers. Most people I know seem to work to live, and while I’m far from living to work, I enjoy my work. I like solving the problems that cross my desk every day and I value the opportunity to exercise my brain in a different way than I do at home.
The second reason I decided to go back to work was that I struggle with postpartum depression. With Darien it was mild and lasted only a few weeks. With Camille, I almost derailed. The depression came on almost seven months after she was born. It was September and we'd had a fantastic summer. I don't know if it was the shorter days, the threat of being indoors more or something else, but suddenly I went from being okay to crying for hours. I felt incapable of taking care of my kids.
Fortunately, a fabulous psychiatrist and antidepressants got me back on track and now keep me healthy. But the truth is that when I start to wean off the medication, I know I will need the added distraction and mental stimulation of work to be successful.
Finally, I don’t think I’m a particularly understanding or attentive mother. Probably because I'm not particularly understanding or attentive to people in general. But I’m pretty sure these characteristics are mandatory for a full-time parent. I don’t need to look beyond a recent morning for an example. Within half an hour of waking up, I lost my cool and shouted at my son: “Darien! Stop telling me what to do!” Meanwhile, Camille threw up a sticker.
My outburst at Darien was prompted by a tirade of demands after I outfitted him in a smart sweater and corduroy pants. I managed to dress him entirely without his knowledge by hypnotizing him with the TV. Evidently, this ensemble wasn’t cool enough for him. Upon his return to reality after shutting off Bob the Builder, the screams of “Get my shirt with the motorcycle! Get it now!” led me over the edge.
And the sticker? Camille managed to suck that off the carpet and ingest it while I was distracted by trying to speed-read a few pages of my book. And this is business as usual at our place.
While my reasons for going back to work seem reasonable to me, I feel an intense despair when I think of what I will be giving up. One day I spent 45 minutes watching Camille discover a new book, investigating it by smashing it on the floor and licking it, then becoming quite irate when she inadvertently shoved it under the couch.
I could spend hours rolling around on the ground with my kids, listening to Darien’s emerging thoughts and ideas and rocking them both to sleep. I hate the idea of losing this closeness and seeing them for only a couple of hours on weekdays and on weekends.
With Darien, I was comfortable with going back to work after a year of maternity leave. I couldn't understand why a woman would choose to be a full-time mom. I also felt like stay-at-home moms judged those of us who worked, like we were selfish or careless parents.
Looking back, I think my confidence was partly because I knew my situation was temporary and I’d be pregnant again in the near future. This time, I feel completely different. Maybe I’ve matured as a person or maybe it’s the antidepressants (more probable), but I clearly see both sides. I desperately want to be both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. But for me, the scales are tipped ever so slightly in favour of going to work.
I now take offence to the whole concept of the mommy wars. As mothers, we have the most scrutinized and criticized profession in the world. Entire books are dedicated to convincing us that no matter what we are doing, we are doing it wrong and our children will be forever scarred by our ineptitude.
The way I see it, moms have to stick together – whether at home or at work. The entire debate over what is better for the kids is ridiculous. Interesting, intelligent, productive adults have been raised by both working and stay-at-home moms. The kids will be fine regardless. We moms need it to be okay to make the decision about us – what works best for us and our families. No matter what our choices regarding employment, we have plenty more in common than not.
So what do you say ladies – truce?
Christina Trotter lives in Toronto.