When I returned to work at the end of my maternity leave, one of my colleagues, a mother of three boys, handed me a copy of a Cathy cartoon.
It showed Cathy talking to an exasperated looking woman at work. The woman is listing off all of her anxieties about returning to work and leaving her children. She’s worried that she’s a bad mother, that her kids are being poorly cared for in day care, about her ability to perform at work. In the last picture Cathy says something like, “That really puts the ‘which color lip gloss’ question in perspective.”
My colleague said that someone gave that cartoon to her on her first day back at work, and she’s given it to every mother she knows on their first day back.
The funny thing is that, on that first day back, I didn’t feel that conflicted at all. When I left that morning I kissed both my son and husband goodbye. My husband had elected to take a leave from teaching after our son was born and stayed home with him for a year and a half while I worked.
So I had none of the fears of mothers who leave their children with caretakers outside their families. Of course I missed my son, and felt some guilt about not being home, but I also knew that this was the right arrangement for us, for a number of reasons:
My husband is an incredible father, and I knew that this time would forge a bond between them. I liked my job, and feared that I would sink into a depression if I were to stay home. My husband relished the challenge, and I loved the idea of our son having a model for a male caregiver. It made financial sense. My employer was remarkably flexible, allowing me to take time off in the down time, and giving me no grief at all about pumping at work.
My husband and son were regulars at all the town mommy groups. He called up moms so regularly to set up playdates that one of them called him a "park slut." He could talk milk storage, cloth diapers, and homemade babyfood with the best of them. It was a challenging, joyful, frustrating, wonderful time for the two of them, and I know that we wouldn't have done it any differently.
After that year we both began working part time, and continue to share the care of our son when he's not in school. The schedule keeps changing as our lives change, but it all seems to work out.
I think about that Cathy cartoon a lot. Not because it resonated with me, but because I know that it does for many other women. I think that at the heart of the "Mommy Wars" is a simple lack of understanding - and compassion - for the fact that what works for some doesn't work for others. We all struggle with the same questions, and the solutions we find are naturally different. Perhaps more importantly, these conflicts distract our attention from the larger societal problems that constrain all of us - like our abysmally short and unpaid maternity leave, and the undervaluing of the work of caring for children. Like the mom in the Cathy cartoon, we all struggle with how to be mothers, and each of us has to find our own way.
So, for some other great perspectives on what it's like to leave your baby in the care of another (or at least try to!), check out these posts from our contributors this month:
- Jessica at Hepatitis Epi writes about "Letting Go."
- Rebekah at Momma's Angel writes about "Letting Others Love Her."
- Amy at Musings of a Crunchy Domestic Goddess writes about "Leaving Ava for the First Time."
- Sinead at Breastfeeding Mums contribues "Can't, Shan't, Won't...but Must!"
- Laura at The Joyful Mom writes about weaning in her entry "Help my Heart."
- Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 writes about "Alternatives to Babysitters for the Breastfeeding Family."
- Colleen at My Baby and More shares a poem about trusting your instincts as a mother.
- Andi at Mama Knows Breast writes about learning her work and parenthood limits.