Being a mother who works outside the home is certainly not easy. Many other bloggers have written far more eloquently than I can about this. See, for example, Mom-101's post about the angst of the working Mom who has to travel. See badmomgoodmom's set of posts about why birthrates might be falling in industrialized nations.
I could certainly write a post about the trials and tribulations of working motherhood. I could write about the difficulty of finding time to pump when people book up your day with meetings. (Solution: schedule "meetings" between me and the pump. And sometimes, pump during a teleconference. Thank heavens for the mute button.) I could write about the difficulty of dragging your still hormonal and sleep deprived self back to work after your three month maternity leave. (Solution: I don't know. Just do it and cry about it later.) But I don't want to write that kind of post. I want to write a post about the good parts of being a working Mom.
There are little benefits, like the unbelievably joyful greeting I get when I pick Pumpkin up from day care. She bounces and grins and giggles and grabs my hair and is so happy that everyone in the room smiles. Even the day care workers, who presumably see many similar reunions every day. Nothing else has ever made me feel so loved. If I never left her, I would never get to experience this joy.
The most meaningful benefit to me, though, is one that is hard to admit to, because mothers aren't supposed to need distance from their babies. It is the sense of perspective that going back to work gave me on the difficulties of motherhood. Babies are wonderful things, but they are also frustrating and their care requires a huge amount of energy. When I was at home with Pumpkin, I struggled with her naps (she never really wanted to take them). I struggled with her feeding during the growth spurts. I struggled to keep up with cleaning up the spit up she deposited all over our apartment. I struggled with the feeling that I should be doing more to engage and entertain her. I loved her, and I loved to be with her, but at the same time I struggled. Often, I felt like a failure. Surely, a good mother could get her baby to nap when she was tired. Surely, a good mother would know what to do to optimize her baby's development. I started to feel less than competent.
And then I went back to work three days a week, while Hubby stayed home and took care of Pumpkin. Suddenly, there were days when Pumpkin's naps weren't my problem. Days when I could eat my lunch whenever I was hungry, and go to the bathroom whenever I needed to. There were eight hour stretches where I wasn't always waiting for the next cry demanding I do something for the baby. I regained my sense of competence. I could still do things. I realized that my worth as a person (or even as a mother) wasn't defined by how well Pumpkin napped.
As I have continued to work (I am working almost full time now), the sense of perspective I get from having an identity other than mother is invaluable. If Pumpkin's not sleeping well (and she rarely is), it doesn't make me feel like a complete failure. After all, I am still the successful career woman I was before Pumpkin was born. I go and read Ask Moxie during my lunch break, and remind myself that lots of other babies don't sleep all that well, either. And then I get some work done, so that I can leave work on time and go pick up my bouncing, grinning, giggling baby from day care.
I am sure that stay at home Moms find a way to regain their sense of competence and perspective, and to retain an identity independent from their baby. But for me, going back to work was what did it. As someone else* said, my baby is the most important thing in my life. But she is not the only thing.
*Sorry, I can't remember which of the many excellent bloggers I read said this. I blame the sleep deprivation.