I recently passed the 6th anniversary of my first day back to work after my first baby. I’ve learned a lot about juggling my career and motherhood since then and feel good (most days!) about balancing both. I still get a little teary-eyed thinking about that day, though. I remember feeling so worried. She was so little and it felt too early to leave her for that long. When I handed her over, the childcare provider (a stranger to me at the time) assured me they would take care of her as if she were their own. I didn’t want to leave, though, so I just stood there for a while. Eventually I had to go and I cried the whole way to work. It was a hard day. The first day back after my second baby was hard too. It actually may have hit me even harder because I had convinced myself that it would be easier. I had already done it once. Our childcare provider wasn’t a stranger to me this time. I knew that we would all be okay and adjust. It didn’t really matter, though. The logistics were easier, but the emotions definitely weren’t. It was just as hard the second time.
Something I was prepared for the second time, though, was that part of me didn’t even want to go back to work at all. I was caught off guard by those feelings the first time around. It never even occurred to me before my first daughter was born that I might not want to return to work. I had invested 24 years educating myself (kindergarten through PhD) to do this type of work. I liked my job and I felt fulfilled by the challenges. Not only was I sure that I would go back, I was sure that I would want to go back. When the time came, though, I found myself dreading it. I didn’t really want to leave my job, but I really didn’t want to leave my baby. Nothing was in place for me to stay home, though, so it was happening. And, even though it was harder than I expected, I really did want to keep working. I just needed some help with these unexpected feelings.
To ease my worries, I started doing a lot of google searching and I came across this article. It’s old, but it’s a gem. It made me feel a lot better at the time and I’ve shared it with several friends that have found themselves in the same boat since. There is no right or wrong way to feel about returning to work and all types of feelings are normal. If you do find yourself dealing with similar feelings, though, some of this may be reassuring to you. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are a few highlights:
- You’re still going to spend a lot of time with your kids. A study from 2006 done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) compared time diaries for over 1000 mothers and concluded that working mothers spend only 20% less “social interaction” time (reading books, playing games, etc.) with their kids than at-home mothers. At-home mothers are in the home with their children more (obviously!), but the time spent interacting with the kids is not all that different.
- Day care does not harm children. The same NICHD study spent 15 years researching 1364 kids and found that “Kids with 100 percent maternal care fare no better than kids who spend time in child care.” It didn’t harm the child-mother attachment. It didn’t matter if they started when they were less than 12 months old. It didn’t cause long-term behavior problems. In fact, high-quality child care had some (relatively small) benefits in terms of school readiness, and cognitive and language skills.
- Your role as a parent is always the most important thing. The same NICHD study found that “how you behave as a parent influences your child’s emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development four times more than any form of child care.” You are the most important thing to you baby. It’s all about quality over quantity. Be present and invested during the time that you are with your babies.
Hopefully this information can help you feel confident in your choices (or circumstances – I know not everyone has the luxury to choose here!) if you are feeling worried about it. And, I’ll leave you with a quote from the authors of the article, Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober:
“Families thrive not in spite of working mothers, but because of them.” ❤