For the past few weeks I’ve had a heavy, internal countdown happening in my brain.
Just 6 weeks left…
Just 4 weeks left…
Just 3 weeks left…
And today, it’s just 2 weeks left.
Lately anyone I’ve run into who’s made the mistake of asking “How’s it going? How’s baby Clara?” has been greeted with a heavy sigh and long face as I announced precisely how many days were left until my return to work. Leaving your baby is no doubt difficult, but this time around I felt an extra burden to emphasize my troubles. I needed to let them (those imaginary people judging me and my life) that I was deeply bonded and attached with my baby. That I couldn’t believe my mid-day head sniffing sessions were coming to an end. That I had to leave my sweet babe with another caretaker 8 hours a day.
What kind of mother would feel anything other than deep regret about having to return to work?
I contemplated postponing the inevitable; perhaps taking some unpaid time would ease my tortured feelings. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that more days and more time weren’t going to solve these issues. In fact, as I tried to make sense of everything, I began to wonder if I really was this upset about returning to work or if I was just feeling like I was supposed to be this upset about returning to work. At the risk of offending, honestly the phrase “shit mom” is the only one that kept running through my head when I thought about my ticking time at home. Shit moms want to go back to work. Good moms want to stay at home.
The thing is, I really like my job. I like feeling successful and accomplished in my day. I like conversing with colleagues and parents about early childhood education. I like watching my students grow and learn new things. I like eating my lunch with both hands and going to the bathroom without a baby crying outside the door.
Do I love this all more than I love Clara? Of course not. But the implication that I must hate working to love Clara was permeating my conscience. It was as if telling myself and others about how sad I was about returning to work made me feel like a better mother. Again, shit moms want to go back to work. Good moms want to stay home.
I was carrying such shame that I might be looking forward to getting out of the house every day and reclaiming a bit of normalcy in my life.
In kindergarten, we have an important rule-“No hands in dark places.” This helps keep hands in the open and out of noses, ears, shorts, and other less hygienic places. It keeps all of us honest about what we’re sharing with each other.
Perhaps the motherhood version of this is “No feelings in dark places.” Keeping my relief about returning to work hidden perpetuated the idea that only shit moms want to go to work and leave their babies at home. I wasn’t being honest about what I was sharing with others and, consequently, doing other mothers a disservice.
As a wise woman has taught me over the last month, we all get to define what motherhood looks like for ourselves. There are many of ways to be a good mother and for me, right now, that means going back to work in two weeks.