When I first went back to work over 3.5 years ago, I felt incredible guilt about being a working mom. I made it public knowledge how much I hated it, how jealous I was of stay-at-home-moms, how resentful I felt at having to earn a paycheck. I felt judged by women who did stay home; it felt like they were all saying I could "make the sacrifices" and stay home too. Except for us, cutting the cable didn't equal health insurance and I was the breadwinner. It was crucial to our financial health for me to remain working. I was angry at myself for not being able to adequately express the necessity and angry at anyone who suggested that I simply didn't want it bad enough.
The evenings when I would go to the grocery store or gym before picking up my son, I felt crushing guilt. Why would I spend one extra minute away from him? Didn't that make me a terrible mother? I felt the other mothers in their sneakers and jeans were eyeing my heels and suits with judgment and snidely thinking, "She leaves her kid in daycare longer so she can go grocery shopping solo." (In retrospect, I think they were just wishing the grocery store offered daycare so they wouldn't have to fight over cereal flavors and pop tarts.) I hated anything that identified me as a working mom, from my clothes to my employment badge to grabbing a frozen dinner at 5:30 PM on a Tuesday night. In my religious culture, I was told that God intended women to stay home and be caregivers, that it was my job to pray hard enough and God would provide. I ached inside thinking that I simply didn't have the guts to trust my faith.
The crushing guilt I felt for two years was my personal hell.
A few years later in January 2012, I had an unplanned chance to stay home with Harrison for a few months between jobs and while I adored our time together, I was back in the office not four months later. It took finding a new career path that fit my personality better (being behind the scenes in digital marketing rather than sales) and joining a great company to really find my groove as a working mom. By loving my job and my company, I began finding fulfillment in my days rather than resentment. I began feeling that even if I wasn't home with my boy, I still had purpose in society and for my family. The happier I grew, the less guilty I felt.
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And I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. I know there is controversy around it but oh, was it a game-changer for me. In the book, Sandberg encouraged me to stop thinking of my career as a burden, but rather an opportunity to grow our culture and myself. I started seeing the daycare tuition as an investment towards my future career rather than my paycheck flying out the window the moment I earned it. And I started asking myself, "What I would do if I wasn't afraid?" in regards to my career - and then I started pushing harder. I began truly "leaning in" to my career and by finding that fulfillment, I found it easier to lean in to my family and myself as a person.
So for any of you that may still feel that guilt, that may still wrestle with purpose in the workforce, here are all the reasons I love being a working mom:
1. Girl Power In the Workforce
You know what's going to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce? Other women in higher positions. By being a working mom, you're adding one more great female to the workforce that has compassion towards the obstacles women face as they balance career and motherhood. More power in the Team Women corner!
2. You're staying ahead of the game.
In Sheryl Sandberg's book, she encourages you to look at staying in the workforce during the baby years as an investment to your future career. By staying in the game those 5ish years, you're increasing your knowledge, salary, and value in the workforce. You're ahead of the game for promotions and raises rather than having to start all over again after a break in career. Your earning power is stronger and therefore, daycare costs become a drop in the bucket in the long run.
3. The kids are just fine.
Really, they're fine and studies show it. According to the NICHD, kids in quality daycare score higher on cognitive and verbal comprehension tests. This isn't to say that daycare is superior, every situation has it's pros and cons, but rather to reassure you that your hours behind the desk are not actively harming your child.
4. You become assertive.
Before having children, I was a doormat in the workforce because I had nothing to fight for. It was just me for awhile, then my husband and dog. Working overtime and rescheduling personal appointments was easy, but having a kid meant that I needed to learn to push back. At first I was afraid that I would get "mommy-tracked," but I've learned that if I show dedication and quality work, it's okay to ask if I can work from home when my child is sick. In return, I've also learned to push back with others - for example, insisting that doctors appointments be first thing in the morning or at the end of the day to accommodate my work.
5. Lots of things are done solo.
Like peeing and gynecologist visits. This week I had a mid-day run to the OB/GYN office to check a ruptured cyst and I kept thinking how unfortunate it would have been to have Harry with me, between the exam and ultrasound and general boredom of the office. And again, not having to fight over sugary cereal in the grocery store.
6. You can buy stuff (relatively) guilt-free.
In my marriage, it works best for us to have one bank account and shared money across the board. So while I don't have any money that is necessarily "mine," it is nice to grab a shirt if I like it and it's reasonably priced without any guilt. I contribute to our income and because I work, we have financial flexibility to buy "wants" on top of "needs."
7. You can look like a boss.
There is just something about a power suit and heels that makes me feel like roaring, you know? When I'm not at work, I'm rolling in jeans and no makeup but five days out of the week, I show up for the day. In return, my kid learned to say, "You look pretty, Mommy!" by his fourth birthday.
-By Beth Anne Balance
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