Facebook, TV shows and the media all portray how tough it is for moms to go back to work after maternity leave with proclamations of worry, guilt and accompanying tears. And the message is clear: Good parents want to be with their kids. But is that true 24/7?
Fight the fatigue
In reality, many moms feel relief when maternity leave is coming to a close—and the same feeling comes on Sundays after a busy weekend with their littlest loves.
Jessica O’Connell*, a mom of two in Brooklyn, New York, says she loves the life she’s created as a working mom and wouldn’t tip the scales so that she was home all the time. “At home, I am constantly looking for missing puzzle pieces, straightening up, trying not to trip and kill myself on toys,” she says. “I can end up feeling sluggish and uninspired.”
As an account supervisor at an advertising firm in Manhattan, O’Connell says her work acts as a counterbalance to the draining aspects of mommyhood. “My job really gives me a boost of energy,” she explains. “Plus, I am able to grab a cup of coffee and go to the restroom [whenever I’d like].”
The sluggishness at home she describes is a very real and legitimate emotion, one that goes hand in hand with being a mom (right along with learning to sleep, eat and balance your taxes during a 20-minute naptime).
An end in sight
Aviva Pflock, parent educator, child development specialist and co-author of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids, explains: “Being a parent can be exhausting as well as exhilarating, so it is not uncommon to look forward to a break from parenting responsibilities. In addition, the work of being a parent can seem endless, so it may be refreshing to do something with a definitive goal or end in sight.”
For O’Connell, the allure of attainable goals, in the form of work projects versus mommy responsibilities, rings true: “In comparison to my home duties, work feels like a vacation! You get to do tasks that are fulfilling and can actually be completed. Not like doing the dishes or cleaning up … things that are never done.”
Plus, any mother knows that toddlers tend to take the tyrannical approach to being a boss rather than the appreciative one. “I sometimes get validation from co-workers and clients for a job well done,” O’Connell says. “That doesn’t happen a whole bunch at home.”
The business hours for parents, of course, are 24/7. Want to get your nails done or send an email (or, heaven forbid, pee in peace) during the day? That’s a “bonus” that comes after a few years on the job as a mom. “At the office, I get to meet friends for lunch or run errands when there’s downtime,” O’Connell adds.
But for some moms, work isn’t just something they look forward to, and an eight- or nine-hour break from their kids isn’t enough. When life at home becomes too overwhelming, they may find themselves asking the nanny to stay later and their husband to do bathtime, so they can do just a little more at work than is really necessary. The reason? They don’t want to deal with what’s waiting for them at home. If that’s happening to you, it could be a red flag that you need more help than you currently have.
“When it gets tough, it’s easy to think you are all alone, and escaping to work may be easier than asking for help,” Pflock says. “If you find yourself making excuses to remain away from home, this could be a signal that you need to reach out. Knowing your limits and asking for help is a very important part of being a parent.”
As for O’Connell, she’s grateful for the balance she’s found and happy to talk about it with friends (although she did decline to use her real name for this article).
“I always wonder what is so shocking about a woman wanting to have a set of professional accomplishments, adult conversations on a daily basis, her own income and a sense of self outside of her family,” O’Connell says. “Working gives me time to be me and do stuff for myself. It keeps me sane and lets me be a better, more attentive and patient mom.”
There are days we all get frustrated and overwhelmed—at the conference table and the changing table. Whether you choose to return to work or stay home with your littles, what’s important is that you find the emotional balance you need to be the best mom you can be for your babes.