Staying home can be isolating on a number of levels. Believe it or not, small children aren’t much for conversation, unless you count the minute-by-minute requests for everything from necessary-for-survival to ‘really?’ and ‘again? But I just cleaned that.’ And you can only bitch to your husband so much about how you think Wintertime may actually have something personal against you. I was warned, so I recognized it when it started to happen to me, and I acted by reaching out.
I talked to other moms.
As I started thinking about returning to work, the burning query on my mind became “do you miss working?”
When I asked the mother of two, soon to be three, who was born to carry and raise children, and throw designer birthday parties, and look like a J.Crew model even while 9 months pregnant, I didn’t even have to wait for her response. I knew her well enough to know that she’d left work as soon as she got the chance, and never looked back. Not even on her most frustrating day. Next to her, I don’t feel cut out for this.
When I asked the brand-new mommy, who probably only just returned from her first postpartum checkup to stare lovingly at her sleeping newborn, I was a little surprised at her response, at first. This career-minded go-getter who I once worked for surprised probably more people than me when she announced her expectancy and subsequent departure from the working world. I admit, I felt like I was on the winning team of a game of Red Rover when I learned she was joining the mommy sisterhood, and I was, and am, thrilled for her. But when she responded that she didn’t miss work one bit, I felt a familiar pain in my abdomen, the one second only to labor pain and escaped by no mother: guilt. Where had my desire to just gaze lovingly at my beautiful children gone? Where was the maternal inferno that had once turned me into a photo-taking, baby-talking, stroller-pushing, minivan-driving mommy? Next to her, I felt like a mother about to abandon her children to rejoin the greedy, material, superficial world of corporate America.
And then there was the query I couldn’t bring myself to make. The one to my working mom friends, who have never stayed home with their children beyond a 6-12 week maternity leave, if they were lucky. For some it was by choice, for others, not so much. Some of these women would give me evils just for writing this. Others would ease my mind by reassuring me that there are many ways to be a great mother, and staying home is only one of them. But if I asked if they would miss working, I’m not sure what responses I would get. Some, like I used to, would say they could never envision not working, giving up their financial independence, spending day after day trying to entertain toddlers and clean a house. Others, like my friend who left work after the birth of her second child, would say they would give anything to spend precious time with their children, and never look back.
And the final query is the hardest of all, the one to myself. The decision to work or not work, for me, is far more than just financial, though that is the driving factor. When I think about how I’d love to travel the world with my children and maybe even raise them in a foreign country, I see working as a compromise and even an opportunity to give my children something greater than what I can give them now. And then I wonder, what if I’m selling today to pay for a future that may never happen? Not to get all philosophical, but what matters more? Now or a lifetime? Either way, I know in my heart that I do not miss working. I may miss being financially comfortable, and maybe I miss goals and grownup conversations. I may even miss wearing clothes with accessories [hell, I miss clothes with buttons and zippers], but I don’t miss kissing my children goodbye at daycare and driving an empty minivan to the office, sobbing to Toddler Tunes.
Do you miss it?