Good morning, Mamma. Good weekend? I hope so. I am meeting a friend this morning for coffee. We’re going to talk about what it’s like to be a Working Mommy. She asked to meet me to hear about my experience working and mothering as she considers re-entering the workforce after fifteen years away. “You’ve got great kids and they still seem to like you. How do you do it?” (Best compliment EVER.)
My friend has been, in my opinion, a really great stay-at-home mom. I don’t know why she’s looking at going back to work-in-the-outside-world. I imagine I’ll find out this morning.
What will I say? I’ve thought a lot about this madness. Talked to my daughter about it just this weekend and she considers her own career path. I plan to give my friend encouragement and harsh realities. This life is a mixed gift pack.
I’ll tell her some of what sucks about this gig; and there are days that suck.
I’ll tell her that there is no way this will be easy or perfect. That she is going to miss a lot. (I still struggle with feelings of hate for the nanny who told me she witnessed my kid’s first steps while I was away at work that day.) I’ll tell her there will be pain. (Mandatory meeting on your child’s birthday. Days when you get home after they’ve gone to bed or leave before they wake up. Times when she’ll lose her temper at home because something stressful happened at work and she can’t get it out of her head.) That she and her husband (and kids, hers are pre-teen and teenagers) will have to reconfigure the care-of-the-house partnership; and that she will have to be okay with the way they fold laundry. That, in all likelihood, she’ll still have to be the ones to remind them to do their jobs because, even though she is working outside the home, she’ll still be the mom. I’ll tell her that there will be days when she is so tired that she could fall asleep on the sofa at night, fully dressed, briefcase still in hand. (But her kids will think it’s funny; and her husband will offer to make dinner; mine did.)
And I’ll tell my friend what she’s going to get for all that hassle and pain.
She’ll get a sense of herself that is her own, independent of her relationships with her family, and that sense of self builds a confidence that her children and husband will feel.
She’ll get her own income. This, in my experience, helps to foster a more equal partnership in the marriage as she will know that she earned the money she is spending. There will be less risk of feeling like she has to ask her husband about how to spend ‘his’ money.
She’ll get a break from the constant vigilance about the welfare of her family that is the part and parcel of motherhood. She’ll come back home hungry to be with them and excited to hear about their days. I’ll tell her what it’s like to blow through the front door at the end of the day and have the kids scream, “Mommy!”
She’ll get a variety in her days and life that can light her imagination and energize her mind. Her husband and children can share in this lit-up mind when she shares it with them. I’ll encourage her to talk about her work day at home because it can be very cool to tell your kids about that part of their life. It also models this kind of conversation for them so that they may turn around and tell you about their days too.
And I’ll caution her.
I’ll caution her not to spend too much of her life and mind and time at work. Work, in many ways, is easier than motherhood. Work, in many ways is easier than marriage. Work sure as fire is easier than cleaning the house. But there is a price to be paid if you let yourself get drawn away too much. Oh, make no mistake, there will be a price to pay no matter what, but the degree, the amount you agree to pay in family togetherness, that is up to us and I’ll tell my friend to be aware of this and be careful.
I’ll tell her it’s important to pick a job with flexibility so that she can protect that family time. I’ll tell her about the chickenpox rule: If your child came down with the chickenpox, could you stay home from work that day? If the answer is no, then that is not a Working-Mommy-Friendly job and you probably want to keep looking.
I’ll caution her about the guys at work who will be a little flirtatious. Too flirtatious. Because she will be dressed up and beautiful everyday, and so will they. Because she will never have to yell at them to fix the toilet. Because they will never yell at her for spending too much on the towels. Too easy, complete mirage, so dangerous.
In the end, I’ll lay out the good, the bad, the mess of it. I’ll tell her that I didn’t have a choice, I had to work. I’ll tell her that even though I have great kids, even though they still like me and even though I missed my work when I got to stay home with them for several months, even though… I still hate working some days, and I still dream about what it would have been like to be with them when they were little.
Nobody gets a perfect life.
But life doesn’t have to be perfect, to be wonderful.
Have a great week, Mommy.