To Work or Not to Work

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For me, the most rewarding, and the hardest part, of having children, is watching them grow up. God hands them to you, wrinkled and covered in cottage cheese, trusting you to love protect and nurture, and you do. You watch them flourish and thrive. Your heart rejoices when they hit each milestone. Their first smile, their first tooth, their first steps, their first word. They learn to string words together. They begin to form sentences and then the questions begin. There is one in particular that always stops me in my tracks, and leaves me questioning my choices.

We have a predictable bedtime routine at my house. It consists of two B’s, a P, and a L. Bath, book, prayers, and light’s out, but before we say goodnight to the moon, I am forced to answer this question:

“Mommy, when you wake up in the morning, do you have to go to work?” my sweet baby girl asks hoping I’ll say no.

“Yes, baby, mommy has to go to work in the morning, but when I get home we’ll ride bikes or go swimming,” I add searching for a plea bargain.

“Mommy, I don’t want you to,” my son screams tearing up. The knife protruding from my back, twists deeper with each tear that falls.

I search for an excuse or an explanation, but they all come up flat against the practical reasoning of a two and five-year old. Everything is colored in black and white, no grey, so how do you get them to see the world from the eyes of an adult? How do you get them to understand that everything a mother does, from the menial to the grandiose, she does it for her children?

My decision to work full-time after I had my first-born was not an easy one. I actually had not expected it to be so hard. My husband and I had a plan. I would take off twelve weeks and then I would go back to work just like before, but it wasn’t like before. Before, I wasn’t a mother, and after, my whole life had been turned upside down. God had blessed me with the life of another living human being, which was part me, and part my husband, and my arms longed to hold her continually. I could not sit her down. I swaddled, nestled and cuddled against her soft baby skin. I planted kissed on her tiny baby toes. I lost my index finger in the grip of her tiny hand. Her birth had left me exposed and vulnerable and needy, needy for her. So, how on Earth could I leave her for eight hours a day?

I did, though, leave her. I went back to work, just like before. I cried the entire night prior, the day of, behind a locked office door hooked up to mechanical breast pump, I cried huge crocodile tears in perfect synchrony with the hum and whir of the pump. I cried the next day, and the next night, and eventually I quit crying.

My life slowly began to come back in focus. The pieces of my life before motherhood were still there, just a little hazy. I needed all the pieces, before and after, to fill whole, to feel like myself. I found that work gave me something life at home could not, and life at home, gave me things life at work, could not. I wanted them all. I wanted to have it all.

Now, I just wonder whose paying the price? Did I make the wrong decision? Are my children any less complete, because I am not with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know regardless of the decision I made, I would always question whether it was the right choice. If I had decided to forgo work and stay at home. I would have other worries. I would worry if we could pay our bills. If we could afford new clothes, swimming lessons, and to send our children to college.

I made a decision, I felt was right for our family, and I give this motherhood thing my best shot everyday, regardless of my location. I tell my children I love them until my vocal chords feel strained. I hug and kiss them until my arms ache and my lips are sore. I give it all, my very best, and I pray, and hope to God, that it’s enough!

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