By Jen Garcin
If somebody told me a year ago that the thought of leaving my baby would fill me with dread, I wouldn’t have believed them. Now, however, the only thing I can compare it to is a broken heart.
If you’re still on maternity leave, the good news is that the dread is the worst part (and if you’re excited to go back to work, more power to you!). I felt a large helping of both emotions.
Go find a comfortable place to chill for a minute. Whether you’re still home or already back in the office, take a second to let yourself feel. The way you are feeling is completely natural. I am here with you. Millions of other moms are here with you. It is the plight of us mamas.
Guilt. Guilt if we work, guilt if we stay home, guilt if we manage to do something in between. Guilt, guilt, guilt. There are never enough hours in the day and our to-do list doesn’t just seem but actually is interminable. We worry that our baby is suffering without us and that our work is suffering because we are worried about our baby.
The intensity of this feeling will wash over you, and then like a tide it will slowly drift away. Something might bring it back, but it will pass. Feelings are like visitors, and each time the feeling came and went, I felt stronger, resilient, and more willing to let go of the things I couldn’t control.
I know how much it hurts when your team goes out for drinks and you can’t join them. I know the feeling of spinning in a hamster wheel day in and day out. I know what it is like to feel like you can’t give 100% anywhere. That thought that hits you like a ton of bricks some days, “I’m not good enough in any aspect of my life.” Well I’m here to tell you (and to remind myself): You are a good mom. You are doing a great job. You are not perfect and that is perfectly okay. You are a good mom because you work. You are a valuable employee because you are a mom. You are setting a powerful example for your child. Your child is lucky to have you, and so is your job.
Your broadened perspective makes you better in every aspect of your life.
If you are back at work because you love your job, you are showing your child that a career you are passionate about is meaningful. You are showing your son that women are capable and that women are equal. You are showing your daughter that little girls can grow up and be whatever they can dream up. You are showing your child that when they grow up, they too can go out and do something important in the world—and they can be a parent too.
You are showing your child that you don’t have to be perfect to be enough.
If you are back at work because you don’t have any other choice, you are providing your child with the absolute most important things in life: food, shelter, security, stability. You are showing your child the importance of hard work and taking care of the people you love, even when there’s a million things you’d rather be doing and a million places you’d rather be. You are demonstrating to your little one that they are the most important person in the world, because you are making a major sacrifice to create a good life for them.
What I have found is that the time I am away from my daughter allows me to cherish the time I get to spend with her. I get much less frustrated with her (and with myself) when we’ve had some time apart. I’ve learned to set boundaries and I’ve learned to say no, so that when we are together I can be as present as possible.
When it comes to time, quality will always outweigh quantity.
Having a picture slideshow on my computer screen helps too. Sometimes I feel sad when I look at it, but also warm and fuzzy—a smile, a deep breath, and I am back to work. It also means others will stop, admire, and ask about the baby. Talking about her when I miss her the most really really helps.
The truth of the matter is that you miss your baby way more than they miss you. They are likely having a blast with their new friends. For me, there is some relief in knowing that she’s okay without me, but there’s also this deep nagging at my heart—will my baby still recognize me as her mom? Will she like her caregiver more than me? Will our nanny know more about my child than I do? And for me, the worst one, will I miss all of the important milestones?
You were chosen to be your baby’s mama. There is no one in the world that can replace you.
If your child forms an attachment to their caregiver, that is actually wonderful for all of you. It will be far less sad and stressful for both of you when you leave. I have asked my partner and my daughter’s caregivers not to let me know when she hits a milestone. That helps. As far as I’m concerned, when I see it, it’s the first time, and that’s what matters.
Be kind to yourself. I’ve learned to set different expectations for myself than I used to before I became a mom. Now I put more value on what is actually important. My hair is not actually important, so that goes by the wayside more often than not. The messy mom bun is real for me, even at work. My baby, my colleagues, and my friends don’t care if I look a certain way. This helps me focus my limited energy. Someday, maybe, I’ll also figure out how to have the bandwidth to do my makeup again.
Speaking of expectations, I don’t apologize as much anymore for taking up a little more space in the world now that I’m a mom. Nobody ever tells you that such a small person takes up so much room—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Instead of saying sorry, I say thank you. I thank the heroes in my house, office, and oftentimes Starbucks for any kindness, support, or understanding. I try to give myself some grace, and I try to let others take care of me in that way too.
Give yourself some grace when you: cry in a bathroom stall, cry while holding your baby, cry in the car after dropping your child off or when you’re going to pick them up, feel lonely when you miss your baby, and then feel lonely when you want to be socializing after work, leave early when your little one is sick, stay late to finish a meeting and then are late to pick-up, are happy and excited to have parts of your life that don’t involve your child. These are things all of us moms have done and felt. It’s okay to give yourself a break sometimes. I am sending you that knowing look us moms give each other when we cross paths on the sidewalk or in the supermarket. It is a look of love and understanding, of empathy.
One last tip, don’t go back to work on a Monday. A Wednesday would be just fine. The first week is by far the hardest, and a short first week back is good for the soul.
Here are some additional resources:
For division of labor in your house, use a shared to-do list. Shared reminders on your iPhone can work, or try an app like Wunderlist.
If you are breastfeeding, here is a pumping guide for work.
Must read: The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, & Big Success After Baby by Lauren Smith Brody. Here’s a little taste of Lauren Smith Brody’s wealth of knowledge.
Good childcare you can trust.
Whether you are a working mom, stay at home mom, or something in between, you are a super mom. Being a mom is love and joy like you never could have imagined. It can also be fear, guilt, and sacrifice. The good news is, feelings are temporary, but being a mom is not. You are the best mom for your child, because you are their one and only mama.
Congratulations, and big hugs for this next chapter.
Your comrade in the forever sisterhood of motherhood,
Eloise’s mom, Jen.
Jen Garcin is a proud mom of a human baby and two kittens. She had an exciting and fulfilling career in criminal justice reform before transitioning to her favorite job ever, being a mom to her daughter & boss, Eloise. Jen is passionate about all issues related to motherhood, social justice, and works as a freelance writer and marketing consulting. She is also a certified yoga instructor, is super active in her local community, and hosts a monthly cookbook club.
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