Back to Work

Before I had Gabe I worried that work would feel meaningless once I returned from leave. I worried I would sit there at my desk and think, “What am I doing here? My child is at home! I should be there instead!” Some people feel this way. It is a totally valid way to feel.

While on leave I worried that work would feel exhausting. I worried that 2 months at home would make work feel like a marathon. I worried that I would be tired from disjointed sleep. I worried it would feel like torture.

Like most everything, my fears turned out to be not at all the reality. Staying home with my kid is not for me, it doesn’t make me happy and it doesn’t make me the best person I can be. I had no issues with being home for 2 months – those months had a purpose and I knew the window of time would close at a certain date – it was not indefinite.

Everyone keeps asking me how going back to work has been. And I say, enthusiastically, “Good!” And I mean it. This post feels weird to me because all I want to talk about is how empowered I feel as a working mom. How amazing it feels to get up at 530 or 6, take a shower, feed or pump one last time before I get fully dressed, blow dry my hair, scramble to get breakfast and lunch packed, tag team with Kamel on who is watching the baby while the other handles their morning routines, pack my bag for the day, and head out the door. How liberating it feels to sit alone on the train, reading. How invigorating it feels to walk the mile to work and head up in the elevator to the office full of kind people who want to share chocolate covered strawberries from the cafe down the street, or coo over Gabe’s goofy baby pictures, or share stories of their own crazy kids and their shenanigans. How powerful I feel to sit at a computer and work at a task that I know I am good at, to attend meetings and conference calls, to contribute. And how safe it feels to know Gabe is with his dad at home for the month of May, and then starting in June with our lovely caregiver at daycare. To receive picture texts of him sleeping, eating a bottle, playing on Kathleen’s quilt.

There is so much talk right now about, “Can women REALLY have it all?!” and I haven’t really weighed in on it because I think the discussion is too simplistic. I think the bigger question is: what do you want? I think the bigger realization is: we all, every single one of us (penis or vagina included) have to pick and choose our priorities. There are many forks in many roads and we all have to decide a direction every now and then. Where do we put most of our energy? Most of our money? Our time? Our selves? How thin can you spread yourself before disappearing altogether? How thin do you want to be spread in the first place?

It’s not about “it all,” it’s about the goals you have for you. I want to have an engaged family. I want to have a meaningful career. I want to have a partner, a true blue partner, who I spend the rest of my life with and who I could not do any of these things without. So far I’m on that path. I didn’t choose to chase my previous goal of teaching because it would have sent me off into the middle of nowhere America, in a very small school, for god knows how long. I chose to piece together a different kind of career. I chose to have a baby at 27, sacrificing parts of my 20s that could have been spent traveling the world and having adventure after adventure to be a young parent and give myself some reproductive options down the road. Things are not equal for women, motherhood is filled with expectations, shame, and supposed personal limitations, but I don’t totally buy it. I don’t feel limited. I feel awesome. I don’t feel exhausted. I feel purposeful.

I think this is what it feels like when you make the choices that are right for you, no matter what they are. Do I have it all? Right now I do. Tomorrow or the next day or the next I’ll add another item to the pile of checked off tasks I have on my 100 mile long, revolving to-do list. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that I’ll have some more work to do, another hill to scramble up, another puzzle to solve. Today, though, I’m enjoying where I stand.

24 thoughts on “Back to Work”

  1. So glad to hear that you are enjoying being back. I’m already getting nervous about returning to work later this year, and all I hear from others is how hard it is to leave them. It’s nice to hear from someone who has enjoyed it :).

  2. So happy for you, so glad to hear you made the right choice for yourself and for your family.

    I feel like I am approaching one of those forks in the road and need to make a decision. For the longest time, I always assumed that I would be going back to work after the brief maternity leave, but now I am questioning everything. Somewhat unexpectedly, I feel myself drawn to staying home longer with my baby, but I am having a hard time reconciling that with what it would mean for my career down the road.

    1. As someone who has not had a kid, my suggestion is to have open communication with your manager. See if he/she is open to you taking an extended leave of absence. If quitting would be unpaid anyway and your family can support you through that, taking extra time off is a good compromise over quitting and giving up on your career. Or try going back to work for a certain amount of time, say a month or two, and see what you prefer. You can always quit after going back to work!

  3. You nailed it so much.

    ” I think the bigger realization is: we all, every single one of us (penis or vagina included) have to pick and choose our priorities. There are many forks in many roads and we all have to decide a direction every now and then. Where do we put most of our energy? Most of our money? Our time? Our selves? ”

    “It’s not about “it all,” it’s about the goals you have for you. ”

    What gets me about the whole “have it all / feminist discussion” is that no matter what you choose someone will be out there letting you know that you are somehow doing it wrong and that you are letting everyone else down. While I think the true beauty is that we can make these choices and these choices can look different for everyone, and that these decisions are never black and white.

    I am so so happy for you too, that work (and your life) feels so good right now. (And chocolate strawberries are so delicious!). Nice colleagues really make a difference at work.

    1. Rather than paste the same quote as you, I’ll just add my strong agreement. You’re right about how regardless of your choice, someone out there will criticize you but, thankfully, there will also be someone out there supporting your decision and your right to live your life how you choose.

      As the sole commenter with a penis so far, I face the same decisions regarding priorities, although I certainly face very different expectations. However, compared to many of my coworkers, I choose to work less in order to spend more time with my family. They’re rewarded more in the workplace for their efforts but I’m doing well enough and I feel that the reward of my family is more than adequate compensation.

    2. The whole argument over having it “all” has always confused me, a little bit. Yes it’s harder for women to have everything they want than it is for men, and yes we’re all pulled in more directions.

      But it’s like the rest of life. You have a finite amount of resources and an infinite number of options. We all get to put together our own little package of what an awesome life is and everyone’s is different. We choose our priorities.

  4. This is the best thing. It’s everything that I hope to have one day. I’m so happy that you’re happy. And I’m so grateful that you’re honest. Your journey has been incredibly valuable to me and I’m so thankful for the chance to watch you live so beautifully and passionately. You’re one of the best of us and I love you dearly.

    1. You are incredibly kind. Thank you so much for your support. This made my day sunshine and rainbows. Seriously. Thank you thank you thank you.

  5. This is how I felt about returning to work too. I was so happy to be back. I felt so confident and competent (two things I hadn’t really felt staying home with Frances, even though I was so grateful that I was able to do it for as long as I did). I love watching our daycare providers love Frances, of watching her “village” expand. I know it’s hard for many women to go back, but it wasn’t for me, and I’m glad that (at least so far) it hasn’t been for you – and that you are planting a little flag here for the other women who also find going back to work to be GOOD.

  6. I’m *so* glad to read that your transition back to work is going so well! (And I have to say, your whole morning routine–aside from getting up before the crack of dawn–sounds very glamorous to me. Reading on the train by yourself? Yum! Staying at home is definitely the right choice for me/us, but you have reminded me that I need to make me-time a higher/more regular priority.)

  7. “What do you want?” is exactly the right question. When Slaughter’s article and that big brouhaha about “having it all” came up, there was a great article that aimed to shape the dialogue in terms of “having enough.” I don’t want it all; I just want enough.

  8. God, this is reassuring. I’ve always planned to work after having kids, but as soon as kids became a reality I became overwhelmed with fear that I would resent my job for taking me away from my home, that I would resent my husband for getting to be the one to stay at home, and that I would regret all the decisions that led me to this point. I’m only a few weeks into maternity leave now, and although I can’t k ow what it will be like to go back to work, I’m hoping that my experience will be like yours. Frankly, it’s nice just knowing it’s within the realm of possibility, as nobody in my circles talks about going back to work like it’s a good thing. I’m already getting a bit stir crazy, so I’m betting it will be for me.

    1. I don’t. Only because it is very out of site out of mind. And Kamel is so close to the daycare he can go check up on him whenever he wants to. It feels like a good place to put my baby, so that helps a lot.

  9. I really needed to read this today. I will be going back to work after our son is born too, and I grapple every day with already feeling guilty about it…but I love my job teaching! I love my students and interacting with adults and students all day. I am sure, like with most things in life, it’s always worse in anticipation. I am really, really happy to hear you’re doing so well. I love all of these posts!

  10. Like others have already said, these posts about your early motherhood journey have been really inspiring and empowering. As a Canadian, when I have children someday I’ll get to take a full year for each (or split the year with my husband if we so desire and are financially able to do so). It’s not very common to get to hear the perspective of women who are happy to go back to work and don’t feel guilty about it. Thank you for writing these posts!

  11. This is so great, Lauren – I’m 28 and worry all the time about what having a baby would mean for my career/travel/marriage/life, and I agree with you that “having it all” is not what most women are trying to achieve. We all make different choices at different points in our lives depending on what feels right, and you can’t always predict what you’ll feel in a certain situation until you’re there. Been a reader of yours for years and I’m so happy to see how well motherhood is treating you!

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