I used to think that mothers who stayed home with their children were doing themselves and their kids a disservice. A liberated and educated woman belongs in the workforce, I thought. Why graduate, get a job, and then stay home with babies, I questioned. Then I dropped my 12 week old off at childcare, and I suddenly understood.
Working is a sacrifice. Before I had my son, I didn’t give childcare a second thought. I went to childcare. I knew I’d have my baby, use childcare, and be able to continue providing for my family because that’s what a woman in our times does. Well it wasn’t that straightforward.
After my son arrived, I began struggling just with the thought of being away from him 50+ hours a week. When I actually had to leave him, my heart broke. I thought I’d eventually get used to dropping him off, but I didn’t. He was just too young. I knew even the best teacher couldn’t match what I could give him, especially while she was caring for a room full of babies.
Working fulltime during his most waking hours, I knew I was going to miss a lot, and I hated it. Every time he hit a milestone like sitting up or crawling, I wondered if it were really the first time he did it, or if it was just the first time we saw it.
Staying home is a sacrifice. That first year I often imagined what it’d be like to stay at home. I daydreamed about what it’d be like to let my baby sleep until he woke, instead of waking him to dress him for childcare.
While I imagined daylight walks, play dates, and hot tea at the coffee house, I also thought about my husband’s tuition, our 13-year-old car’s repairs, rent, health insurance, how much I hated cleaning, and how much I liked traveling.
And not just traveling, I wondered how we’d budget for our locally grown and pastured food, how we’d save for retirement, for relocation, and for housing. For me to be at home, I’d be giving up a lot from employer insurance to basic financial security. It wasn’t an option I was willing to take, so I kept breaking my heart Monday to Friday.
Being a parent is a sacrifice. There’s no easy path. I hated being away from my baby, but it was important to me for our family to be financially secure. It was a trade off. Parenting has a lot of those, where dreams meet reality, and you’re just trying to make the best of it.
From being friends with working moms, stay-at-home moms, and work from home moms, I’ve learned we’re all just hustling to do what we have to do whether we’re stretching budgets to not use childcare, missing our babies as we work, or staying up late doing outsourced online customer service.
For me that sacrifice meant missing over 2000 hours of his childhood including in January when after several months of getting around on his knees, my nearly one-year-old baby finally stood up and walked. I can’t tell you if it was the morning or the afternoon. I can’t tell you how proud he looked when he did it. I can’t tell you how many steps there were, or if he tried again after he fell down. I can’t tell you because I wasn’t there. I got the update that night when his teacher casually mentioned he had been walking that day.
I was crushed. We went home and got him to walk for us. I fought off the tears that I wish had been joyful. I wish I could say I didn’t regret working his first year, but I do.
That first year was just too fast, and maternity leave was not enough. I won’t work fulltime away from home again with a baby. I want to firsthand witness my babies’ first 18 months, not just hear about it. Next time I’ll find a better way.
Alicia has been known to add chia and flax seed meal to brownies, so she can eat them guilt free. Besides teaching her one-year-old son to use gentle hands with their two dogs, two rabbits, flock of chickens, and one foster cat for a friend serving in the Peace Corps, she mostly spends too much time on the internet.