The other night Julian (15 months) woke up at 5am. He thrashed around a little until he was fully awake and needing attention. I tried to nurse him, I tried sitting up and rocking him, I tried rubbing his little belly in case he had gas: nothing settled him down and after about 30 minutes he was crying.
I carried him out to the living room where he sat on my lap quietly for a while. Then he seemed to want to lay down so we went back to the bedroom. But he wouldn't lay down. We repeated this little routine for the next hour. Bedroom, living room. Bedroom, living room. Then we sat on the edge of the bed for a while and finally, close to 7am, he fell asleep in my arms. Carefully, I laid him down and crept into bed beside him, desperate to fall asleep again.
And I did! I fell asleep instantly. (I have a lot of experience with interruptions to my sleep.) When Julian and I simultaneously opened our eyes, it was 9:20am. We had had a full night's sleep in spite of the 2 hour interruption.
But imagine if I had gone back to work this September when my maternity ended. I would have had to get out of bed at 7am, just as Julian was going back to sleep. I would have had to get my 3 daughters up and fed, then wake up Julian and get all the children out the door by 8am. I'd have to drop off the two older children at a daycare for before and after school care, and then make a second stop for the younger children for full-day care.
I'd arrive at work already exhausted. Since my career was as an elementary school teacher, I'd spend the day in a facility designed to turn every sniffle and cough into an epidemic. Then I'd get to bring those germs home to my tired baby. I'd be likely to get sick. At least one of my children would get sick. I'd have to work while I was sick since I'd need to save my paid sick days for when my children would be sick. Chances are, I'd be in a state of semi-sickness all the time.
And that's not to mention the stress! Feeling crazy-tired, I can't even imagine how hard it would be to save my best self for my children at the end of the work day. And Partner-Guy gets stressed at his job, too. Would I have anything left of myself to listen to him and offer support?
There's lots and lots of research available to support how important it is to small children to be home with their mothers. And there's lots of research to tell you that it is fine to balance family and career and that your children will not suffer.
But I'm not even talking about the children here. I'm talking about me. If I had to go to work everyday, I'd lose my mind. I did go back to work at a school for 4 months when I was pregnant with my 3rd daughter. Partner-Guy stayed home with the oldest girls, but it was still really, really hard. I had tremendous guilt for a long time when I was on maternity leave and I had to work very hard to heal the chasms I had created in my relationships with my daughters.
And I know how lucky I am. It is only because we are coming from a place of privilege that I can even BE a stay-at-home-mom. I know how fortunate we are to be able to live comfortably on one income. Not all women have the luxury of choice when it comes to working or staying home with their children.
Some women can find the family/work balance. Both my sister and Partner-Guy's sister are mothers who have full-time professional careers. My brother's wife is able to work from home with her son by her side. Several of my friends were able to work part-time or in temporary positions in between their babies' births. And I know other moms who work at full-time careers and who are clearly miserable and stressed all the time.
I don't have any answers about finding the balance between being a mother and having a career. But I know that I place less value on my career than on my health and sanity. I'm not capable of being the kind of mom that I aspire to be AND working full-time at my career. I only want to find my Freedom and Joy.
For me, waking up at 9:20am beside my joyful son is as good as it gets.
Tomorrow: Why Picking the Right Guy Matters