For as long as I can remember, I always thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. Having been raised by a stay-at-home parent, I think it was always a concept that was just ingrained in me to some extent, something I felt was the “right” thing to do for my child. But, as you may have already guessed from the title, being a stay-at-home parent wasn’t in the cards for me.
When it came time to decide whether or not I would return to work after maternity leave, I chose to go back for a few reasons. The big one was money. When my husband and I worked it out, we realized we could make it work on one paycheck…but it would be tight. To give our daughter the best life, two paychecks would be necessary. And that’s what leads me to the other big reason I returned to work. And it’s the one that I feel like people don’t want to talk about it as openly: I wanted to return to work.
Three months after my daughter was born, I returned to work. And honestly, it was a mess to start with. We loved our daycare, but I felt like she was still so young to be there. Every cold she got (and, oh, there were so many) and every “first” I missed hurt my heart. Add to the fact that I was at a toxic job, and you have a recipe for disaster. I thought I had made a huge mistake returning to work and was left feeling guilty more often than not.
Enjoying Being a Working Parent
But then, a subtle change started to happen. As she got a bit older, my daughter started enjoying her time at daycare. Yes, the sicknesses were still constant. But by the 100th cold, they got a bit less scary. I also quit my toxic job and started working somewhere where I was respected as a person and a parent. As these stresses started to ease, I started to realize something: I liked being a working parent.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my first year of being a working parent (and how I’ve learned to enjoy it).
The beginning can be tough, but it gets better
When my daughter first started daycare after my maternity leave, I cried every day after dropping her off. It felt like I was just getting to know her. And I was already spending hours away from her each day. If you’re going through that right now, I know it won’t make it easier to hear that it gets better from a stranger on the internet—but it does.
As the weeks went on, I started feeling less and less of a pit in my stomach every time I left my daughter at daycare. In fact, within a few months, she was starting to enjoy her time there, reaching for the teachers and getting a big smile on her face when she’d enter the classroom. While it didn’t make the guilt go away completely, getting through that early phase was huge. Speaking of guilt…
Guilt is just part of being a parent
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this first year is that you will feel guilt no matter what you do—it’s just part of being a parent. I spent (and continue to spend) so much of this past year feeling guilty for various parts of working. Missing out on time together, missing milestones, wondering if I’m doing enough together during her time at home…my mind is basically a hamster wheel of worry.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is to reframe your way of thinking. If I’m feeling guilty for being at work while my daughter is at daycare, I try and reframe it to think about how I’m providing for my daughter and that the time away also gives me the chance to feel like my own separate entity. I’ve learned that feeling guilt is, unfortunately, just part of being a parent, not something exclusive to working parents. So grant yourself some grace and try and reframe your thinking as much as you can.
FOMO is real—and it’s okay to feel that way
There is no such thing as having it all when it comes to being a parent. As a working parent, I quickly learned that many child-geared activities are geared toward families with stay-at-home parents. While I had originally planned to sign up for various classes and memberships for us to enjoy as a family on the weekend, I quickly discovered that my area mostly offered options that were only available during work hours on the weekdays.
No matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent, working parent, or somewhere in between, you are always going to feel like you are missing out on something. While it doesn’t make it any better, there is some comfort in accepting that that will always be the case.
The right job makes all the difference for a working parent
Now, here’s the one where I know I am incredibly privileged. If I had stayed at my previous job where I was unhappy, I likely wouldn’t be here writing this. Between the stress of being away from my newborn and working in a place that looked down on parents, I was absolutely miserable in my first few months of being a working parent.
Finding a job that respected me as both a worker and a mother made a world of difference in my mental health and quality of life. That doesn’t necessarily mean finding a job that isn’t demanding but one that genuinely values its employees and recognizes that they have a life outside of work as well.
Separate work and life boundaries are also key
One of the hardest changes I had to make to enjoy being a working parent was also far and away the most beneficial. It’s easier said than done to keep a work-life balance—even if you have a job that emphasizes the need for one.
For me, maintaining this balance meant I had to place strict guidelines for myself. When I’m working, I’m working, and when I’m with my family, I am with my family. Sure, there will be times when those lines are blurred. If my daughter is sick and has to stay home, it’s impossible to give as much of myself to work as I could otherwise. But, striving to keep that balance has made me happier and more fulfilled in all aspects of life.