It’s one of the oldest mom fights on the internet – working moms versus stay at home moms, and rhetoric is strong and people have such intense feelings about their choices. While I personally don’t care what anyone else does, I wish I had some of the conviction that these shrill internet voices have. Hi, my name is Morgan and I have a seven month old daughter and I can’t decided what kind of parent I want to be.
It’s impossible to have a discussion about these kinds of choices without discussing privilege, so let me own up to mine right up front. I am middle class, white, university educated, cis-gendered, married, financially solvent, own my own home, gainfully employed, have a husband who theoretically could support us on his salary, and, rather importantly for this discussion, Canadian. Which means I get a year of parental leave.* It basically gives me a year to play stay at home mommy before I have to commit to either going back to work or choosing to stay home with my kid. This is a huge blessing, obviously, but it’s given me perhaps way too much time to go back and forth on deciding if I actually want to return to work. It’s the topic that keeps me up at night.
I started to write this and I made my usual pro and con list, and it’s lengthy. I can argue that it’s bad to derail my career, now that it finally has some traction, but on the other hand, if I want to progress substantially in my field, I will have to take a two year full time program and have to drop out of the workforce anyway, so why not now? And back and forth – career, money, child care options, and so on. But those are all fairly specific to my personal situation, and, if I’m being honest, are more superficial than figuring out How I Want My Life (And Motherhood) To Be.
Let’s, for now, completely discount the oft repeated line about “paying someone else to raise your children”. And by discount, I’m calling bullshit. After all, no one accuses elementary school teachers of doing that, right? I’m Jess’s mother. David and I raise will her, and will instill values and all the rest. The fact that someone else would deal with some of the day to day care doesn’t change that. And, as a bonus, a paid professional would be the one to have to do the bulk of potty training! Daycares do things that I can’t. I don’t bring in a music man once a week to sing songs. I can’t socialize her as well through occasional playdates as day to day companions would. I don’t have a dietician planning meals. I don’t plan theme days. I don’t have any education in how to raise babies, and can easily slide in to lazy habits like sticking Jess in the excersaucer for an hour, because I don’t always know how to fill all the long days. I mean, I am hardly neglecting her, but I also know that I’m no childhood development expert.
Seven months in, I like the life I have. I like that I get to sleep in every day, and go to fitness classes with Jess multiple times a week. I like the long walks, and puttering around the kitchen making baby food, and coffee shop visits with friends. I like being able to go to the wading pool in the middle of afternoon. I like her two hour long naps that free me up to do my thing – read a book, surf the internet, work on a painting, even do housework so that evenings are free to hang out with David. I like spending my days with the cutest person I ever created, chomping on her cheeks and watching her grow. I like this life I have right now.
But I do miss work. I miss doing measurable, productive work, of reaching milestones, of business lunches. I miss getting to learn new things, and take on new project. I miss getting to sign off on millions of dollars of work and build databases and be the business unit’s expert at something. I miss getting to spend 8 hours a day without someone touching me. (Babies are great, but some days all I want is a little personal physical autonomy.) I want the chance to focus on something for longer than nap time.
But if I stay home, it does mean that we need to change a few things about our lives. David and I both grew up without much money, and have never got in the habit of spending too frivolously, if you exclude travel and hockey tickets. So cutting down our income wouldn’t change the fundamentals of our lives – David would probably sell more of his seasons tickets, and our vacations would go from international trips to the road trips around Montana and BC that we both grew up with. (I’d probably go to Sephora less often too.) But I love our vacations! Wanderlust is part of how I define myself. David’s promised me that if I do go back to work, we’ll go to Europe next fall, rent a place and stay for a few weeks. (It’s like he knows what makes me tick…)
One of the great things about mat leave is that you get to experience so many things – those first smiles and the day your baby discovers her hands and those other sweet firsts. But you also get to experience the lows of staying at home, and it means you can never truly glamourize it. For every afternoon in the pool, I’m going to have a winter day where it’s -30 out and the baby is bored and I’m exhausted and we’re just so sick of each other’s faces. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to stay home, exactly, it’s just that I can more clearly see both sides.
I have no fear that putting my child in care would change the love my baby has for me. We currently joke that Jess thinks of me as “Milk” and David as “Happiness”, because when he walks through that door after work, her face lights up with pure joy. He works full time and she still thinks he is the best thing ever. The daily time apart has not stopped them from bonding – in fact, due to the PPD, he bonded with her far more easily than I did, despite the daily separation.
But honestly, it’s hard to choose the future right now, as life with babies is so … immediate. It can be hard to see what’s ahead. I wasn’t really a newborn person, but I love this baby stage. She’s easy to deal with – she can amuse herself for 15 minutes just looking at her own feet! She’s not mobile and naps a lot and is easily entertained. I’m not sure I’m really cut out to be a SAHM to a toddler. They look exhausting. I feel exhausted just being near my friends’ toddlers.
But my baby is so little, and for such a short time, and I have another 30 years of work ahead of me. How can I not want to spend a little more of this precious time with my little baby while she is so tiny? I know from spending the last seven months at home that there are days that just feel like magic – and other days that feel like hell. (And quite honestly, those are the days I’m very glad I am on mat leave, because I can also take a nap after another horrifyingly sleepless night.)
Let me be honest. Much of this decision has to do with what’s best for me, not for my baby. She’s an easy going baby, one who goes with the flow, whatever we’re doing. I’m sure that she would thrive at home with me, or in a daycare setting. So it really comes down to what I want, and what’s best of our family of three. I just don’t quite know what that is yet. As it is, I will sign up for (very expensive) daycare and plan to go back to work, grateful with my whole heart for the year we’ve had spending basically all our waking hours together. ** I’ll go back to work, but with the understanding that if I truly hate it, we will talk about me quitting my job (part time just isn’t done at my company). It’s far easier to quit your job than to find a new one, after all. Or we can push the timeline up for kid number 2, because let’s be honest, if I can collect another year of paid parental leave, that wouldn’t hurt the bank account. In the meantime, I have 5 more months of getting to spend all my days with the cutest person I ever created, and that’s pretty awesome.
* Quick explanation, as this always comes up. In Canada, you pay into Employment Insurance with every paycheque, up to a max of ~$800 a year, and your employer matches it. So in the 10 years we’ve been working, David and I have paid ~$16,000, plus the employer match. Parental leave pays a max of ~$25,000, depending on your income. It’s pretty great –it’s much easier to pay into a system that pays you out when you need it, instead of trying to save up 25K before you’re ready to have a kid. Also, you are guaranteed an equivalent job at your company when you go back. Companies do not pay you anything while you are on leave – with a few exceptions of companies who “top up” your EI payments. Jobs are usually filled with someone working on a one year contract – a lot of people get in to an organization that way and find a new position when the year is up – it’s actually pretty good for everyone.
** Parental leave is something worth fighting for! Canada only moved to 52 weeks of parental leave in 2001 – that’s not that long ago! Change can happen.