After a 10-week maternity leave, today was my first day back to work. Thanks to an early alarm and cooperative kids, everything went pretty smoothly for the first day with both of them at daycare all day. Ryan was excited to have Cohen with him and said he was going to "pre-tect" his "brudder" and tell everyone not to be wild around him. (Not that he takes his own advice. ) I am very grateful for the time I had away and think it was the right amount of time for me to get a mental break from work, time to bond and really be an attentive caregiver for Cohen, and even get quite a bit of time to spend with Ryan. It felt good being back at work, seeing my co-workers, wearing real clothes, eating a hot lunch with grown-ups and going a solid 9 hours without smelling like baby spit-up.
Do I miss Cohen (and Ryan)? Of course. Terribly. Was it hard to go back? A little at first, but it seemed to be easier this time. Maybe because I really enjoy the job I have to go back to and maybe because this leave solidified in my mind the decision to be a "work outside the home" mom. I manage my time better, am more intentional about the time I do spend with the kids, have more patience with them, and get an extreme amount of satisfaction from my work. I'm a D personality, results-driven, and it is hard for me to look at the end of the day with a meager (in my mind) list of tangible "accomplishments." Being a mom is hard work. Being a mom all day and all night, day after day, is very, very hard work. I have discovered that I need different kinds of work. I need to read library books before bed, feed babies, play race cars, change diapers, and be silly with my kids. I also need to interact with colleagues, analyze data, set goals, learn new things, and be part of an organization that affects thousands of people. I need to be needed, and not just by someone who needs me to watch the cool new way he's managed to get spaghetti sauce on his forehead or to wipe a puddle of spit-up off the third outfit of the morning.
I have become very aware that my coping mechanism any sort of conflicting emotions (including guilt) is compartmentalizing. When I am at work, I am at work. When I am at home, I am at home. Without a long commute, I've learned to transition very quickly between the two. Do they overlap? Of course. I check email on my phone and mull over projects when I'm not at my desk and I talk about my kids and wish for more vacation days to spend with them while I'm at work. But, for the most part, I don't spend the workday wondering what the boys are doing every second and don't spend the nights and weekends obsessing over work. Do I feel guilty about this (both ways)? Yes. I want to be the best mom to my kids and the best employee to my company. But I also want to be the best wife, sister, daughter, granddaughter, community member, etc. and I realize that I'm never going to be "good enough" at any of them, so I just have to find an acceptable balance. I cope with the guilt of not being "the best" at each of my roles by...compartmentalizing. When I get a feeling of guilt or the urge to make a certain part of my life a bigger priority, I quickly evaluate whether the feeling is strong enough to change my behavior. If it is, then I make a decision on what needs to change and work toward it. If it's not, then I put it away and don't let it take up too much of my emotional capacity.
Emotion: guilt over spending 40+ hours/week at work instead of with my kids
Options: quit my job and either stay home or find a part-time job
Evaluation: (extensive consideration of emotional & economical consequences)
Decision: keep my fulltime job
Possible gains from continuing to feel guilt when decision is not going to change: none
I'm actually writing this post after being back at work for more than a week (blogging, among other things, has taken a back seat as I'm trying to readjust to the new schedule, so please excuse the post-dating) and can collectively say I'm fine with it.
I'm tired (SO tired), I'm stimulated, I'm needed, I'm harried, I'm satisfied.
But, I'm still a mom. Just a mom who's "back to (a different kind of) work."