I am fortunate enough that I have a choice. Several of my close friends had no option but to return to work immediately following maternity leave. Most women I know struggle with the emotional pull to be home with their newborns, versus the satisfaction and economics that accompany a woman’s career.
Before Dani was born, I was certain I’d go back to work immediately thereafter. Then I held her in my arms, and couldn’t imagine handing her over to anyone else every day of the week to be loved, guided, and taught by a stranger. And fortunately my husband agreed.
So, we looked at our finances and figured we could make it work for awhile. We always planned that I’d go back to work full-time when the kids are both in school full time, so it wouldn’t be forever. Since Kara won’t be in Kindergarten for three more years, there’s still no rush to scan the want ads. And Patrick isn’t pushing. Yet a part of me still considers the option daily.
I don’t have newborns any longer, and have no plans to have any more children, so my personal conflict at this point is less about the emotional bond with my children. The girls and I are very close, and I know we’d continue to be, as I was with my mom even after she returned to work.
I definitely would miss the fun adventures the girls and I get to enjoy together regularly; the trips to , the zoo and aquarium, and even the periodic mid-week visits to Disneyland. Playdates and mommy-and-me dance class, Monrovia MOPS and MOMS Club would all disappear from our life if I returned to work full time.
But more than that it's the little things. Like curling up with the kids on the couch, or listening to them dress eachother up and prepare a tea party. It's kissing boo boos, taking impromptu pictures, and playing chase.
Plus there’s the satisfaction I get every day reading with the girls, coloring, working on writing and spelling. We work on skills all the time that influence who they are going to be and what they will be able to do for the rest of their lives.
I also get to determine what they can watch on tv and for how long, what they eat for each meal and snack and when. My routines determine their bedtimes, play times, and significantly impact their behavior. Too much fun or too many errands can ironically result in similar tantrums. Our daily activities are a balancing act of fun and rest, things that we want to do and things that we need to do, healthy foods and treats.
Writing this, it occurs to me that I am speaking about our children as if I am the only influence in their lives. I don’t omit my husband by any means, and his opinion and influence plays a great role in our family. But if this was an office place, as the sole provider for our family Patrick would be more of the CEO and CFO, overseeing the day-to-day from a distance, where I’d be more of a manager of operations, even COO, but definitely in the thick of it day in and day out. We discuss and determine decisions together, but it’s my job to implement our business plan. Some days I’m more successful than others.
Passing along that responsibility entirely to school and daycare providers while our kids are only two and four is a tough decision, though. It means giving up control over the most important aspect of our life. And I’m still not sure I’m ready for that.
The draw away from the home is also complicated. I like my old job, and have been fortunate enough to get to work there once or twice a week whenever I was able since Dani was a year old. They are a wonderful group of colleagues and clients, and with each visit to the office I miss my old responsibilities more and more.
Also, we’d like to buy a larger home. The neighborhoods, school districts, and homes we can look at vary considerably whether I will be able to contribute to the monthly mortgage or not. We'd like a nice-sized yard to play in, a safe neighborhood and a great local school. Plus a larger home where Pat could have a home office and we could have friends and family over more regularly, would all benefit our kids and family in the long run.
Finally, there’s the consideration of private school. Whether we buy a new home or not, if we choose to send our girls to private school, that will be 13 years of double tuition to pay for before college, let alone the expense of the top-notch universities we’d hope the whole private-school-extravaganza would be leading toward for our daughters.
And all the effort to get in and pay for the right schools would be so that the girls could get great careers. Which I had before I had kids. I firmly believe being raised by a woman who is a mom and satisfied with her career, as I was, would further motivate our daughters’ toward their future endeavors as well.
So, if I stay home, I influence them now, and potentially for the long run, but in less quantifiable ways. And we get to keep having a lot of fun. If I go back to work, I help provide for them now, and potentially help open more doors for the future. But our family would spend significantly less time together. We’d all go our separate ways each day, eating breakfast on the go and a rushed dinner before bath and bed. And that’s the part I have a hard time swallowing, especially for little Kara.
I have feet in both worlds right now, and feel blessed and fortunate to be able to do it all. It’s chaotic, but I’m living the dream. Whether maintaining this lifestyle is best, though, or if it would be better to take the next step for the sake of what could be possible by my working, is the conundrum I face regularly.
What to do?