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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To My Friends Who Work Outside the Home

To my friends who are mothers who work professionally full time (or more than full time), and often must leave their children:

I have told this story before many times in various ways on various comment sections on various working mothers' blogs, so I apologize if you have heard this before, but it I think it bears repeating.

When I was a poor college student putting myself through school, one of my three jobs was being a part-time nanny, for several years, for a busy professional couple with two little girls. The girls' mother, who loved her children deeply, was a professional writer and small business owner. She sometimes worked from home in her office while I watched the kids, but sometimes her business meant she had to leave, for hours, or for whole days at a time.

When the girls' mother had to leave for work, sometimes, they would cry. They would throw their arms around her and beg her not to leave. As they got older, and could articulate their feelings, they would say things like, "Don't leave me Mommy! You leave too much! I miss you when you're gone."

I could see the guilt and longing in their mother's eyes, on those days, as I pulled her tearful, clinging children away, and she walked out the door to the sounds of their sobs. Not yet having a child of my own, I did not then understand her pain as fully as I do now, but so I could sense that these moments weighed on her — that echoes of her daughters' cries would linger somewhere in a corner of her mind all day.

Five or ten minutes after she left, the kids would recover completely, and start laughing and playing with me just as they did on the days when their mother was in the next room.

Sometimes, the older girl would get out a box and pretend to type on it as if it were a computer.

"I'm a Mommy. I'm working," she would say. "I'm a writer writing things."

And that little girl would sound so proud.

Your children miss you when you cannot be with them. Of course they do. And they miss their Dad when he isn't around (or their other Mom, or their Grandma). And when they're home alone with you, I bet they miss their favorite babysitters and teachers, too. All kids would prefer to have all of their favorite people available 24 hours a day, to be summoned or dismissed at childish whim.

But they love you, the whole of you, more than anything, and even at an early age, they understand that your career — your drive to create things of value with your skills and your mind, not just at home, but out in the wider world — is part of who you are.

And because they know that about you, they also know that one day they can also be great parents AND great workers. They are the girls who will play games of "Office" alongside their games of "House." They are the boys who will see no problem with Daddies who push strollers or Mommies who get invited to speak at conferences.

And they will be women and men who, one day, I hope, will come to understand how you felt (how I've sometimes felt, too) about having to walk out the door on those certain hard days, as your children cried. Who will realize that even on those days you walked away, you were doing it, as you did everything, for them — to support them, to build a better life for them, to change the world, for them.

And I do not think they will hold those times against you.

92 comments:

Erin said...

sobbing. maybe. a little.

I'm packing again and I needed this. thanks Jae

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Thank you so much for this post. You said it so well. It is extremely important for me to be both a mom and a role model to my kids and I appreciate so much your validation of that.

Magpie said...

Thank you for this. Deeply appreciated.

AmyP said...

What a great post, it makes all those times I have had to pry little hands off my legs as I leave for the day a little easier to remember.

Heather said...

I came upon this from Twitter. You've made me feel a whole lot better about dropping my daughter off at her dayhome this morning and all the past mornings too. Thank you.

lildb said...

God, Jae, I hope you're right.

(I know you're right. Some days it's just so hard to be sure of it. Especially the days where you pick up your kid from school and he asks if maybe tomorrow you can pick him up after lunch "like his friends' mommies.")

Argh.

Stacey said...

I work outside the home and struggle regularly with the fact that I'm away from my kids much more than I'd like to be. So thank you for this. Really, thank you!

CKS said...

Lovely and true. I might add that one of my (grown) sons told me he "never" wants to be the sole support of a family; that he has always assumed the woman in his life would also work. The world is changing; each generation will bring these possibilities closer. We need though to fight for better childcare and more family-friendly policies - not just for writers but for hourly worker and minimum wage folks too.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

Great post!

I stayed home with my babies for them because they needed me. But now that they are older? I stay home with them for me. I know that realistically, they would be okay in daycare. However, I like being with them and before I know it, they will be in school full-time.

I like your comment that kids want their favorite people with them all of the time! TRUE. We have a babysitter periodically when she is in town from college. My kids ask for her quite frequently and look forward to her school breaks when she is back in town to babysit them.

Becky at lifeoutoffocus.com said...

thank you for saying this. thank you. i work full time. i struggle daily with this.

samantha said...

Sobbing at my desk.

THANK. YOU. From the bottom of my heart. Because yes, it's all for my son. ALL OF IT. For him.

jen said...

came here through a twitter link. i SO needed that today as i'm looking at going back to work after this ... my last ... maternity leave and not looking forward it.
sounds silly ... but i began making hand stamped necklaces after realizing that just having their names around my neck to finger throughout the day made them feel so much closer. i always tell other mamas that i hope it helps them too.

Vixen said...

Great post. I hope all working mommies take it to heart. I worked full time through the raising of 3 kids. All of whom are wonderful adults now. And you are right, those tears and that begging as I went out the door, sometimes having to peel the baby off my while she wailed haunted me all day. Until I found a babysitter who reminded me every single morning (and then emailed me to remind me again during the day) that the kids were fine a few moments after I left. I don't think I could have gotten through the last 25 years without those reassurances.

countryfriedmama said...

Thank you.

Now, off to find some Kleenex...

Mommy Melee said...

Thank you.

Lauren said...

Great post! When I had my daughter I knew that I couldn't go back to work and luckily we were able to swing it (just barely). When I do go back someday I know it will be hard but important for me to show my children that you can actually have it all.

Nora said...

This is what I needed today. More than anything else, I needed to read this today. Thank you.

Melany Gallant said...

Thanks for writing this post. The decision for many moms to go back to work is often one of financial necessity but also of personal necessity. Being a good mother isn't about staying home with your children but about finding fulfillment in all areas of your life. For many moms part of that fulfillment comes from pursuing their career goals. Working moms rock. ;)

sam {temptingmama} said...

*Sobbing* (I can barely see the screen).

THANK YOU! You have no idea what this means to me. Such a sweet and uplifting post.

Gina said...

I love this. It's nice to hear, fresh off a radio caller this morning talking about working moms "letting other raise their kids"

Kat Gordon said...

Beautiful post. I had an experience many years ago that stays with me still. A young girl (maybe 4 or so) walked passed me, holding the hands of both her mother and grandmother. At the precise moment I passed, I caught both adults beaming down at the girl as she returned their loving gaze. I had an out-of-body feeling then, kind of a message from above that all the love and expectation these women are feeling for this girl are meant to come to fruition around my age (20's, 30's, 40's). Yet that little girl, once grown and a mother of her own, will likely face guilt about realizing her own potential and taking time away from her kids. Yet she will look at THEM with expectation that they soar. Once we realize as mothers that our own mothers longed for us to blossom fully will we allow ourselves that gift, setting a great example for the next generation.

Angella said...

Came her via Samantha.

Thanks for this. I'm all teary...even though my kids are at home with their DAD.

I know they're fine but I would rather be there, you know?

ModernMami said...

This is absolutely beautiful and wonderful to hear from the "other side" - someone who took care of the kids when parents weren't around. Thank you for sharing your story so that parents can feel a little less guilty today. :)

Crissy said...

Wonderful and well put.

Mom101 said...

Argh, you just made me cry at work.

(Of course, at work.)

Thank you Jaelithe. So so much. It's beautiful.

LauraC said...

I love this. I needed this. Thank you.

Boston Mamas said...

Beautiful. Your point about kids wanting all their favorite people all together at the same time is right on. I took my daughter on a work trip -- we had 3 amazing days together, and on our way home, she said she missed her teachers. It made me feel grateful that she has so many people in this life who bring her happiness and comfort. -Christine

adjunctmom said...

Oh, thank you.

Even though I work at home, I still get the guilt when I have to go in the office and close the door.

This helps. It really, really helps.

Bettina said...

Poignant and perfect. All though I do most of my work from home, I do fall apart whenever I have to go to a conference for a few days. And I agonize over the times I am working while my kids are playing or milling about. Thank you for saying it so well.

julie said...

Thank you. I know you're right. Just yesterday my 2 year old looked at me on the computer and said, "Mommy wookin'? Me want to wook, too." And my 4 year old son loves nothing more than the occasional visit to my office.

Also? When we're home and cuddling, my 2 year old ALWAYS asks for her teacher.

Selfish Mom said...

Well said. Kids are smart. And they'll see right through you if you're miserable and unfulfilled too.

Angela said...

Came thru a twitter link. And I'm so glad I did.

Thank you for writing this. I've worked outside the home ever since my first son was 5 weeks old, but it wasn't too bad because my husband was a stay at home dad. But now he's about to graduate, and I'm about to have twins. There's a real possibility we'll be putting them into daycare much much earlier than I'd like, and it just breaks my heart to think about it.

I'll try to remember this though. Because it really is all for them.

My2Gs said...

Tears in my eyes now!! Thank you for so eloquently reminding me why I put in 40 hours away from my kiddos and how they love me no less for it. Thank you for this reminder today...when believe me....I NEEDED to hear it!

Alicia said...

I work outside the home and feel so guilty when I leave. I know that my children know I love them and (as a previous childcare worker) know they are fine without me there, I still have a hard time. Thanks for this!

Robin said...

Visiting thru Mom-101's tweet link. What a beautiful post, and for not the first time today I need a tissue at my desk. : ) You just gave me the virtual hug I've needed all week.

Julia said...

thanks for sharing. i'm a FT workin' mama and yes, it hurts sometimes... just see my post from yesterday!

www.workwifemomlife.com

Y said...

So beautifully said. Thank you.

Kat said...

AMEN! And thank you, from the bottom of my motherly, love-my-job, professional heart.

tracey solomon said...

a beautiful post.. and I'd add... Neither should we as mothers- hold our choices against each other.... in judgment...

Not against Stay at home moms.. working moms.. or other variations.. we are all Moms:) and we're better together!

mamaday said...

Wow. Thank you so much. I'm sure you realize just how many people needed these words.

Wendy said...

This is a great post and just what I needed after dropping my toddler off at his second day of day care this morning.

My mom worked full time as an elementary school teacher for my entire childhood. When I was little, there were times when I wished she stayed home with us, but now I am so grateful that she worked for herself, for her family and for me to see that a woman needs fulfilling work to have a happy, satisfying life. I am so proud of what she's done for so many children in her career.

Mod Mom Furniture said...

So glad I found you through Mom101 on Twitter. Loved this post.

Sarah Lena said...

Oh. My.

Thank you. SO MUCH. I .. this was really needed. Right now. Always, really, but right now especially.

Thank you. Endlessly.

Kami said...

yes. yes. yes. Sometimes, being a mom hurts. alot.

Jessica Nicholas said...

Beautifully said and a perfect reminder. Thank you for taking the time to write and share this story!

Heidi said...

Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Another mom and I have had this conversation at work many times. I have a slightly different perspective. I never really did feel bad when I left for work. First, because I did have a great nanny (and later day care teacher) who reassured me that the 5 minutes of sobbing/"don't go, Mommy!" disappeared practically the moment the door closed behind me--and I believed them. Second, because these other adults became important to my daughter so her distress at my departure decreased and eventually disappeared.

For a while, I used to feel bad that I *didn't* feel bad. I eventually came to the realization that you wrote about here--but you've said it better than I've ever articulated it.

Monika said...

It's tough both ways - I felt the guilt when I was employed FT, but now that I've been forced to Stay-at-Home over the last year while I search after being laid off, I feel even more guilty because I'm no longer the big breadwinner I used to be. I'm sure my son knows I love him regardless & he would never trade me in for another mother.

MPGodfrey said...

Thank you for writing this.

Jaelithe said...

Thank you for the comments, everyone. I am happy that in trying to cheer up a couple of my friends, I apparently managed to cheer up more than a few other mothers, too.

I really appreciate you sharing your stories, and I hope if you haven't already, you'll consider stopping by Liz's and Erin's blogs too to leave a note of solidarity, since they were the ones who inspired me to write this in the first place.

In case you're not a regular here, and you're wondering where I fall on the spectrum of work/parenting balance, I work, part-time, mostly from home, but I also have to travel for work (and some causes I do volunteer work for) at times too. And despite my former experience as a childcare provider I often have to remind myself, hard, of many of the things I mentioned here.

I had to go out of town on my son's fourth birthday, in fact. That sucked. (Not that he cared in the end - he wound up with a weekend at his aunt's house where he got to stay up late watching movies, and TWO birthday parties out of the deal. Plus a giant pile of cake and cookies baked by a very guilty mother.)

Oh, and don't get me started about my total psycho working-mom-guilt breakdown once at a luncheon, right in front of Hilary Clinton. (Erin knows about this. Heh.)

Jean said...

I got here through a link from a friend.

The post brought me to tears because I, too, live with that mommy-guilt. I *have* to work full time or the bills won't get paid. I had a doctor say to me once when I went in sick with some horrid thing that I got from my son, that I wouldn't be so sick if I didn't put my children in daycare.

So, thank you very much for your thoughtful post, and for your supportive words.

Celeste said...

I don't feel that I'm a role model at all, but hopefully someday when my daughter is grown and understands the financial realities of life, she won't hold it against me. One of the first things she learned about in kindergarten is that some kids are with their moms all day long except for school. I still get sad remembering her asking for that from me; she specifically asked if I could retire so I could be with her. (((sigh)))

Lots of things about being a mother are hard and this is high on the list.

Jaelithe said...

Celeste, how is doing what it takes to support your family, even though that forces you to spend less time doing what you love most, NOT being a good role model?

My mother got married at 17, had me a year later, and then got divorced when I was four and my sister was still a toddler. She then worked very hard as a single parent to support two girls and put herself through school. There were entire weeks when I almost never saw her. And yet there were many, many nights when I know she had homework to do and could barely keep her eyes open and she still read me one more bedtime story.

She was a good role model. I had no excuses not to finish college as after watching her get a B.A. and M.A. with two kids in tow, let me tell you.

madge said...

Moms really can't win in the guilt department. I stopped working when my 2nd child was born. My first doesn't remember when I used to leave her four days a week to bring home the entire package of bacon while her Dad stayed with her. Which, of course, I felt guilty about.

Now I feel guilty that my kids don't see me working outside the home. Just the other day I asked my now 6-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up. She said, "A mom." I hate to admit it, but I cringed a little. I found myself frantically telling her that you can be a mom and have a career. I reminded her of the time when I used to do both. I felt that, by not leading by example, I haven't shown her that there are ways to do more. Just because I had the freedom to choose and chose this path doesn't mean she has to limit herself.

So, yeah, the guilt. It's very even-handed.

Marketing Mommy said...

What a lovely, lovely post.

Amanda @ High Impact Mom said...

Thank you for this. Today, of all days perhaps, I needed to read this. I have Stumbled it so I can find you again when I need to hear that its OK when I work. You have given me a great gift today. Thank you.

Bets said...

Simply wonderful post. the first I've ever read hear as it was sent to me. Will now subscribe for more. and will be sharing with other working parents! Thank you!

Brandy said...

What a great post! This is so true. ((HUGS))

Andrea (@shutterbitch) said...

Thank you. Thank you for this. God, I need a kleenex now. Thing is, regardless of our financial constraints dictating the situation, I know for a fact that I'm a better mom for working outside the home. I wish it were part time, that I didn't have to work full time to pay all the bills so I could spend more time with them, but it is what it is.

To know that they are fine, that they will someday understand that I have to do this FOR them to have what they need to thrive and be better and have choices I do not, well, that makes it easier to sit at my desk all day instead of wishing I'd win the lottery.

Now, I just wish I could win the lottery so that I could follow dreams instead of being a corporate drone. But that's another story for another day.

Miss Grace said...

This is so lovely. Thank you.

Cloud said...

I followed the link over from Mom-101. This is a beautiful post. Thank you, from WOHM who is actually pretty happy with her arrangements... but still feels the tugs of guilt sometimes.

the new girl said...

This is just..so...I don't have good words.

Awesome,is one. But it's more than that. It's generous and well said and true and so lovely.

Kekibird said...

It's all about quality time rather than the quantity of time when you are a working part. Make those moments with your child special.

I know...I'm a single working mom. And it's tough...oh so tough.

Stacey / Still Look Pregnant said...

My 3 year old cries every day when I drop him off at preschool...but the teachers promise 1 minute after I leave he is happy, laughing, and very well adjusted.

I know all you write is true, but his "act" still pulls on my heart.

In the Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Thank you for this. Today, of all days, I really needed it.

Sarah Welch said...

Thank you SO much for writing that. It was what I needed to hear today. Deep down I know it, but sometimes those rough partings make you forget.

Priscilla - Wheelchair Mommy said...

I'm blessed to be home but know so many who are not and this blog post has to do them wonders. Beautifully written.

Beth said...

Thank you.

Louiza said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Another sobbing mom here. I am going to print this out and stick it on my desk at work!

Leighann of Multi-Minding Mom said...

Well said, Jaelithe.

I always think that I am opening more opportunities to my daughter (and son) because they see that I have a career.

I sort of have the best of both worlds, I work 3/4 time. I drop my daughter at kindergarten and pick her up in the afternoon. And I have a couple of hours with them before their dad gets home.

He's the one getting the short end of the stick. Sometimes he comes home and asks why every single toy the kids own is strewn across the living room. I say "We were having fun!" Or I'll show him a cute picture or funny video and he'll ask when that happened. I say "half an hour ago." Or we've been taking a walk, playing at the park, or having an adventure in the back yard.

My ideal work situation would be working half time so that I could have an hour or two to write each day or some one-on-one time with our son while his sister is at school.

I am also fortunate that his grandmother is his babysitter.

ScientistMother said...

I'm here from Mom101. thank you for this, I'm crying at my desk right now but thank you!

red pen mama said...

Came over from Mom101, and THANK YOU. I am going to bookmark this post so I can read it on the days it is especially hard to leave my children.

I want them to be proud of me. I want them to know that while they are the best of me (and their daddy), that working is another very important side of who I am. And someday, I hope they can tell their children that too.

Jaime said...

Okay. I know crying at the office is a professional no-no but I am tearing up reading this.

Cause this is what I hope for my daughter - that she understands exactly that one day.

For now....I am leaving work early today just so I can get that extra hug this afternoon.

Erin said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

Boy Crazy said...

Thanks Jaelithe. I'm only 5 weeks back to work after being home for the last 3 years, and today was the first day I had to leave my 3.5 year old sobbing with his teacher while I raced off to a meeting. Somehow it was harder than leaving the 15 mo old crying.

Feeling grateful for coming across your post today. (via Mom-101)

ClumberKim said...

I am bookmarking this post. And printing it to put in my bag. Maybe memorizing it to recite to my non-bloggy friends.

Wow.

Liza said...

Thank you so much! Especially for explicitly including we 2-mom families.

Korinthia Klein said...

You're awesome.

Kirsten said...

thank you thank you thank you for writing this. most days I'm pretty mostly probably sure about the balance (hah) in my life, but on the days I feel like I'm making one big huge terrible mistake by not staying home (and homeschooling for good measure) - I'm going to come back an read this.

Marie P said...

Very good post - and one that obviously touches close to every mother's heart.

I suffer from the guilt too, but I am on the opposite side I guess. I work from home, but I feel so guilty that I am not doing more with the kids at times.

It is hard to say no when they want to play a game, or go to the park - especially since that is the reason I chose to stay home after they were born.

But, if I said yes every time, I wouldn't get any work done - it is just so hard to set limits though!

Somedays I do just say yes - and I am glad I have that option. But, on the days when I know I have to get something done - I feel tremendous guilt having to work while they play around me. And, sometimes I think maybe they would have more fun if they were somewhere else for the day.

It is hard to explain - but I do feel the guilt - alot!

agirlnamedmel said...

Thank you so much for writing this!

Deanna said...

Beautiful, wonderful post. Thanks for not making it sound like we working mothers aren't "fortunate" or "blessed" enough to get to stay home. I know it's not meant the way it comes across, but when I see people phrasing it that way in a discussion like this, it grates a little. I make the decision to work, and I am thankful that I have great caretakers for my kids, which allows me to pursue the career I want, while also having the family I want.

You've touched many of our hearts with this post. Thanks, again.

Meaghan said...

Thank you for writing this. I struggle every time I drop my daughter off at day care - it's only two days a week, but seeing her cry and say "Mommy don't go!" is heartbreaking every single time. I really hope when she grows up she understands why I do this - everything I do I do for her.

the grumbles said...

I saw this when Mom 101 linked to it a few days ago and it has stuck with me ever since. I'm getting teary eyed about it all over again.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Gina said...

Thank you. I am crying. At work. It is so great to see all the posts here, too and know how many women needed this.

Mrs H said...

As a working mom trying to be everything to her family and to herself, I often feel guilty about not spending enough time with my kids. Your post has made me realize that my kids, in their own simple way, understand and do not hold it against me for leaving every morning to go to work. Thank you!

Teresa said...

THANKS. We need comments and thoughts like this one. I am glad you posted something so important. That girl typing in the box pretending that it is a computer will follow her dreams, won't be afraid of being a working woman and a mother. At least she will know that she CAN CHOOSE. That is the most important thing.
Thanks again.

Kari said...

Wow. I needed to read this today. Thank you so much for posting it.

nicole from much more than a mom said...

I love this. So much. Thank you for writing it.

HeatherW said...

love.this.post. found it via a facebook link. Thanks.

AmyH said...

Thank you for posting this. It is so eloquent and so true. What a wonderfully supportive statement for all the working moms out there.

First time visiting your site, and I can't wait to read more.

Lara Kretler said...

Crying my eyes out right now. THANK YOU for writing this! I'll be reading it over and over again during the next couple of weeks as I take my baby girl to daycare for the first time and learn how to be a working mom after 10 blissful weeks of maternity leave with her.

Thank you for making it just a little bit easier for me!

Jamie said...

Thank you very much for writing this. Needed to hear it!