I am a working mom. 95% of the time, I am completely comfortable with that decision. I’ve always been ambitious and I always knew that I want to continue working after I had children. I worked very hard in school to obtain the career that I have today and I enjoy my job.
It does mean that I ensure that my time at home is quality time, spent playing and cuddling. I get right down at her level, sitting on the floor playing ponies or dolls. Playing hide and seek And feeling like a kid again myself. It’s important to me that she has direct time with me and that she knows that those hours that I have between work and bed are hers.
I don’t think I’d be surprising any mother, working or not, when I say that this is not always easy decision to make. There is a great level of guilt that comes with being a working mother. I worry about the time she spends without me, about how much she misses me and about anything that I might miss out on.
There is also the struggle that although I love my job, I crave her throughout the day. I crave the feeling of her in my arms. I crave her smile and her laugh. She is all over the desk top on both my dual screens and her creative artwork is what decorates my office walls. I surround myself in as much of her as I can.
I know from connecting with and getting to know many other working moms, that this inner battle is a common one. I know this battle is also common for stay at home moms when they go away for a night or a weekend. I am beginning to realize that some guilt is a natural part of motherhood, no matter what we do.
The majority of the time the guilt and longing to be with her is easier to manage because she’s a very content and independent little girl. She enjoys being with her friends at day daycare and she adores her daycare provider. Most often when I drop her off I get a quick kiss and a very excited “Bye Mama!” and off she goes to play, squealing and giggling. However, that is not always the case.
Around 18 months old, Lilly went through a very rough stage of separation anxiety. She would cry every morning when I dropped her off at daycare. She would cry at nigh when I tried to leave her room after bedtime books/songs. She would even cry when I left the house, leaving her with Daddy, whom she has always been very comfortable with. My mom warned me that multiple bouts of separation anxiety are common in kids and that we would probably go through this stage again when she was close to three years old.
She is not quite three yet, but we are officially there. It started off as a couple rough mornings and has now developed into an emotionally draining three weeks.
This time around is significantly worse because she can talk so much more. She can vocalize her emotions, and it breaks my heart. The mommy guilt becomes so much harder to bare when she can articulately inform me that she misses me when I’m at work. Similarly to the past, she breaks down whenever I leave her. It doesn’t matter if it is at daycare or just home with Daddy. The sight of her standing at our front door, tears streaming down her face as she says “but I miss you when you go work” leaves me in tears for much of my drive.
We have talked many times about why daddy and I both go to work. She understands that we go to work to make money, and that we need that money to pay for our home, food and various other things. Of course, I think it most resonates with her is the fact that without money we can’t buy toys…
I have even tried preparing her as we head out of the house. We talk on the drive over to daycare about how Mama has to go to work, but I will be home in a few hours. That I want her to be a big girl and have fun with her friends. She will look at me in the rear view and calmly state her response.
Lilly: “I’m going to cry when you go.”
Mama: “I miss you too honey, but I always come back home right?”
Mama: “Do you have fun with your friends?”
Mama: “Do we have fun when we go home after work?”
Unfortunately, I don’t think any of these facts really ease the initial hurt when I actually have to leave.
My daycare provider is great and will often send me a text just moments later to tell me that Lilly is playing and having fun. That she is happy. There is comfort with that message, but often still tears in my eyes. Lilly has the distraction of her friends, crafts and games to transition her mood. I am in a car, picturing her crying and reaching for me and feeling my heart break all over again.
And that is when it hits me. When she goes through these struggles with separation anxiety, it brings into focus the anxiety that I have. Whether I want to admit it or not, I see how much I battle to let her go as well. I may handle it better, with a few quiet tears and a brave face, but it is there.
It is there on the countless nights that I tuck her in and secretly wish I could take her to bed with us and cuddle all night long. It is there in the times that I let her stay up 10, 15 or 30 minutes past bedtime because I am not ready to say goodnight. It is there when I am out with a friend and honestly can’t wait for the evening to end so I can go home. It is there in the mornings, when I turn around at the front door of daycare and go back for hug #5, the one that is to ease me more than her.
I would like to hope that this gets easier, but I have a feeling I already know the answer to that. I realize that just as she has multiple stages of separation anxiety, I will as well. I’m sure I will struggle when she starts school and is no longer in the private care of a friend at daycare. I’m sure I will struggle when she starts going out with friends and I have to put my trust in her and in the way we raised her to be smart and safe. I can only imagine how much I will struggle when she goes off to college and a life of her own.
Ideally speaking, just as my daughter overcomes her separation anxiety and adapts to her independence, I will as well. Admittedly, there will be a few later bedtimes and extra cuddles along the way. I’m ok with that.