I recently went back to work after a maternity leave. While I was expecting to feel sad about leaving my baby behind, or long for afternoon naps, I was not expecting to feel how I felt when I got back. It’s very difficult to sum up in one sentence, but let me try: I feel useless.
Professionally, I left a job I loved where I had worked incredibly hard to get to. I left being the person people would go to with questions about my Department, the decision maker for many areas and while very nice, I was known as being a tad bit scary when you got on my bad side. Let me tell you, ladies, instilling a degree of fear is paramount in success when you reach senior levels. It’s critical to prove you are just as strong as a man and therefore as respected. I don’t work in a very female friendly industry (finance) so this is pretty much the lifeblood by which women live and die.
I came back, on the other hand, to the exact same job but in a completely different way. I’m considered to be someone’s mother and therefore more accommodating, less ambitious and worst of all less competent. I’ve had senior management ask me if I wanted to work part-time to make sure I spent enough time with my son, colleagues tell me I have a motherly air about me and a general urge to smack anyone who looks at me like I’m incompetent, which is seemingly everyone. I spend my days trying to get back the fear I used to instil but wind up looking like a hormonal mess. (direct quote from one of my employees) I had a baby, people, not a lobotomy. I’ve missed out on job opportunities and am not even being considered for promotions previously discussed. I’m paid well and still enjoy parts of the work I do, but it was a massive blow to the ego.
On the personal side, I’ve had a major challenge with a broken ankle, but I’m also looked at differently. I’m chastised for staying late at work and missing time with my son, I’ve been asked how I can possibly bear to have my child being raised by someone else since he spends his days at daycare and I feel resentful about needing to put in hours at work without loving it when I should be spending it with my son. It doesn’t help that as I write this I am still unable to drive myself anywhere and require a ride everywhere I go… But I get judged for going back to work full-time as harshly as if I had agreed to send my baby for medical experimentation on Mars.
So what have I come to realize? Well, ladies, as depressing as this is… You can not have it all. I don’t care what anyone tells you or what a New York Times Bestseller says, but you will always be forgoing something. If you choose to only have a career, you will forgo the joys of having a child; and if you have a child, you will forgo some of the career advances you could have otherwise enjoyed. No one ever sat me down and told me this, no one even mentioned that it was going to come up. Up until I got pregnant, I had never once felt treated differently than the men I worked with. Times have changed.
Let me show you an example of how I naively thought I’d go back to life as it was before, just with a small person tagging along. I refuse to be the kind of mother that spends no time with her children (what’s the point in having children if you don’t spend time with them? I don’t get it) so I spend the time when we all get home (530-630pm) to play with him until he goes to sleep, which if you know babies, is also their crankiest part of the day. This also means I get to start “decompressing” at 7-730pm, and have to then make dinner, spend time with my husband, shower and have some level of personal time in the 2-3 hours before I am asleep. Weekends I do get to spend time with him, happily, but then also have chores/errands/obligations.
I realize I sound whiny. I am fortunate to have a job, a family and my son. I chose to have a baby and I love him very much. I am fortunate to have gotten to stay home for a year, even more fortunate that he’s healthy and happy.
It’s the underlying guilt that makes me 100% sure you can’t have it all. I’ve often thought “What if I did X as a job instead, then would it be different?” and I have come to the conclusion that the answer is no. For me, an ambitious, type A, dedicated person I can’t just sit back and take a mindless job. I also can’t sit back and be a mindless parent. Even if I ran my own business and worked from home, there is a level of dedication required to have your business succeed which requires you to not spend all your time with your kid. Financially, I can’t just walk away from a job, but that’s not even been an issue I’ve considered. I need to work, get social interaction with adults and contribute to my family. It’s who I am.
Who I am; a newly interesting concept. I’m a mother. I’m an emlpoyee.
I can be both, absolutely, but not in the same way I had initially thought I would. I’m going to have to pass up career opportunities while my son is small to continue a fantastic relationship with him, and I’m going to have to leave work on a schedule in order to make sure that’s realistic. I’m not the parent who says that I miss their kid when I’m at work (Numerous smackable people have asked me that though, daily) but I refuse to be the parent who misses her child’s childhood.
At the end of the day, here’s what it boils down to for me. Will the company I work for comfort me when I’m old? Will it tell me that it loves me? Will it be able to give me toothy grins just when it sees me? Will it give slobbery kisses and wrap its tiny arms around my neck when it wakes up in the morning? No, and the little person who can? Wins every time.