The Ambivalence of a Working Mom

Today I missed one of my most favourite moments of the day. For Dave, it is likely the moment that morning cup of coffee meets his waiting lips… but for me it is the moment that I go to wake Maya up. Dave and I have had our morning coffee and I’m awake and ready for the day. I go into Maya’s dark room and whisper “Good morning Maya. Good morning sweetie pie.” I reach over her crib and rub her back. Eventually she turns over and I will unzip her sleep sack. She helps me to pull one arm through the armhole, then puts Pinky Bear in the other hand to get the other arm out. All of this is done without a word. Then I pick her up and she wraps her arms and legs around me. This is the moment. I feel her little legs around my hips and feel her sleepy head nestled on my shoulder. As I carry her into the living room I breathe in her little girl smell and savour the experience of holding her in the sleepy silence of early morning. I whisper to her “That’s my big girl” as we walk into the living room to say good morning to Daddy. Until quite recently I used to be able to croon “That’s my little baby” but now even in that sleepiness she will remind me by mumbling into my hair “I”m not a little baby anymore mommy!”

I missed this most treasured of morning rituals because I had to work early, so as per my “dreaded commute” post,  I took the dreaded bus. The night before I tried to explain to Maya that mommy wouldn’t be there in the morning, but I could tell that she wasn’t listening. She was focused on her mission to avoid going to bed at all costs. While she was waking up, I was likely standing in the cold, dark morning, waiting for the bus.

About an hour after I arrived at work I received a text from Dave telling me that Maya was not at all happy to wake up and discover me gone. My heart sank. I pictured her crying “I want my mommy! I want my mommy!” and the ambivalence I feel about being a working mom hit me with its fullest force. I usually ignore it, avoid looking at its sad little face because the reality is that I have no choice. Unless I suddenly win the lottery (I very occasionally will buy a ticket despite my cousin Gavin’s warning that lotteries are taxes for people who are bad at math), this is my life.

It was simple math that made the decision for Dave and I about who would need to work full time. If we wanted to move back to Vancouver, and we both did, it came down to two choices. Either I would work full time, or we would both work full time. It seemed ridiculous for Dave to go to work full time just to use that money to pay a stranger to take care of our child. We decided that one of us would stay at home with Maya. As Dave was the only one who could do some work from home, there was no stay at home mom option. Dave is the stay at home Dad. Not a role, I can safely say, that he ever imagined himself in. And not a common role either, it seems, at least in the neighbourhood we live in. He is the only Dad at the parent participation pre-school, the only dad at ballet lessons (also parent participation to Dave’s chagrin).

I, on the other hand, have joined the ranks of the dads. On the weekends when I would take Maya to parent/tot swimming lessons (before she joined the big girl class), I would have the opposite experience. I was almost always the only mom in a rather large class. I thought maybe the dads were all weekend-access divorced dads, but no. Their wives were waiting for them after class.

Full time work as a mom has been a tough transition for me. When Maya was born, I was just finishing my first year of law and was working full time. Because of that, I was able to take a year off work (thank you Canadian socialism), be paid half my salary (by said socialist government) and go back to school full time in the fall. Full time school, however, is not full time work. I was able to work my schedule to be home at least 2 days a week, sometimes 3.

But once school was done, I knew the real world was waiting. The transition was not easy. When Maya and Dave would drop me off at the sea bus Maya would glare at me in silence and not give me a kiss good-bye. When I left the car I would hear her wailing as Dave drove off. When they picked me up she would cry and whine and Dave would say “Maya you’ve been good all day why are you doing this?” I knew why. How do you explain to a 2 year old that mommy has to work?

In our process of making sense of this,  one conversation stands out in particular. One weekend we were driving together and she started talking about feeling sad. It came out of the blue and I guessed that it might have something to do with me being gone all day. I said to her “Mommy feels really sad when she leaves you and goes to work Maya. Mommy misses you all day. I”m so happy to see you when I get home.” I could hear her in the back repeating this to me and talking to herself. As weird as it sounds, it felt like we made a connection from that conversation. The tears at drop offs stopped.

Our current routine is that I must kiss and hug her, then Pinky Bear, with instructions to “Take good care of my Maya when I’m gone and give her hugs if she is sad please Pinky Bear”, and then Daddy.

I realized today that I have been so focused on helping Maya through her 2 year old grief, I haven’t acknowledged my own. Today, it hit, with full awareness that the job I am doing now still isn’t the real world. I will be going into a career where workaholism is considered a necessary mindset. It was a tough day.

But when I got off the sea bus and into the waiting car all was well. Maya ordered me to turn the music up on the CD “Mommy I want this louder!” (Black Betty by Ram Jam) and told me about her ballet lesson with Madame and Miss Brittany. When we got home we played together and it warmed my heart.

While we were having dinner she said to me “Mommy if I go to work with you and you get a little bit sad or angry I will give you a hug and that will make you feel better.” And that did make me feel better. Image

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10 thoughts on “The Ambivalence of a Working Mom

  1. So well said. I have big tears. It is so hard to be a working mum. I must say I have done everything in my power to make sure I have been there as much as possible for Sofia. Being a student and working at the Uni as allowed me the luxury of making my own schedule but the real world has slowly reared its ugly head. And now I receive texts when she gets to school. TEXTS! We try to have breakfast in the morning and I have arranged my schedule so that I am at work early but can be home when she is done school (knowing first hand that most shenanigans will occur after school and not before, I plan on keeping this habit!)

    • Now you’re making me cry!!! Dave will often send me texts and photos which helps me feel more connected in the day. I’ve been thinking about writing a book for her that has photos of us so that she can read it in the day if she misses me. The other part that makes it challenging is that I love my work and am really excited about my career. I feel like my life right now is one big experiment that we test every day, get the results, and adapt. Kind of like parenting! So maybe in a few years we will have to re-evaluate. I’m trying to problem solve 5 years into the future which gets a bit tricky! So many unknowns! But I agree with you – being home at the end of the day is when the best shenanigans happen. I want to be a part of them! Love you Catherine!

  2. Love your blog Julie! You are going to become a regular source of procrastination! I had to grab a tissue reading about “the moment.”

    I can relate to the working mom struggle and the need to be a workaholic to succeed. Ugh, academia! I came across an article a few months ago that offered an important reminder – that our kids know we choose to go to work and that we like it (most days anyways!). She is too young for this now, but I think it is an important message for our kids as they get old enough to understand the real world. Here is the article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1117866/

    • Tanya if I contribute in any way to your procrastination I will feel that it is all worthwhile! I seem to recall several “procrastination moments” in grad school! Thanks for the article. I will check it out this weekend. Please feel free to pass on anything academic as I miss it a lot!

      I agree that it is an important message that work is valuable and it is equally important that our messages are authentic. Meaning I better stick with work I love! Luckily for me – I feel very positive and hopeful about my actual career – the nuts and bolts of it. It is always the structure I struggle with – but I think I have found an amazing fit with my future employer. I have a very good feeling about them – they explicitly support work/life balance and many of the people have kids. So I’m very excited! But the ambivalence will always be there as I want to be in two places at the same time. Such is life.

    • Glad it connected with you – the article was an eye opener for me. I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to want to go to work though. It’s important to find meaning in what you do.

  3. My goodness, what a great post! I thought the first three were very good but this one..amazing! Wish there were mommy blogs when I had a little one. I would have felt much less isolated and uncertain. I had a lot of resentment and less guilt. Posts like these would have helped both emotions. And Maya, oh man, what a bright little one. Empathetic, too. It’s amazing what she can understand. No wonder you long to be with her. Take care, Julie, and my best to Dave and Maya. Your AW sister, Val.

    • It’s funny Val, because as I was writing it I was thinking “this is so negative and depressing and people will HATE it” even though it reflects what I am sure a lot of women (and men) feel. Thank you!!! Your support inspires me to speak my truth, whatever it happens to be. Maya is a bright one isn’t she! Very empathic and I’m going to have to keep an eye on it, as I seem to recall in my childhood feeling things so incredibly strongly! Not always easy to make sense of. I will send everyone your best, please give a hug to our AW sisters, and thank you so much for writing Val. You are my inspiration! XOXO Julie

  4. ‘Black Betty’…penned by a convicted murderer. Good foundation in the art of music appreciation, just like Mummy…Judas Priest on deck? Keep it up Joolio!

    • That was written by a convicted murderer???? I had no idea. We have 174 songs on the CD I made in the car. So far her favourites are A Day in the Life (Beatles), followed by Pokerface (Lady Gaga), Don’t Stand so Close to Me (the Police), and my favourite, Combat Baby (Metric). I feel like we are on the right track to introduce Iron Maiden a bit later on. 🙂

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