In post-feminist America, becoming a mother poses many questions. One of the first questions soon-to-be new mothers have to think about is whether or not they will return to work. For some the answer is dictated by finances. Your family can either survive on one income or it can’t. For others for whom financial survival is either secure or borderline, the answer is less clear.
If you are financially solvent and can afford to stay home, do you want to? This is the luckiest subset because the answer is truly up to them. How important is your job to you? Do you love it? Will you wait and see how you feel about motherhood and then make a decision?
If your finances are borderline, you’ll have to do some figuring before you can make your decision. Living on one income might mean making some tough choices and following a strict budget. Therefore, you might need to ask yourself if you want to live this way.
Regardless of why you make the choice, new mothers will also have to decide what kind of maternity leave they want (or are able) to take. The abbreviated maternity leave of Yahoo’s new CEO, Melissa Mayer, is no secret, and no one online has kept their opinion on the matter to themselves. The US is one of very few industrialized countries that does not offer paid maternity leave, leaving it up to individual companies to offer maternity leave.
The truth is, I’ve never known anyone who wanted a short maternity leave. Most of the moms I know don’t want to go back to work or hope to go back to an abbreviated schedule if they have no choice but to return to work. The problem with making the assumption before having your baby that you’ll be ready to go back to work after just a few weeks off is that you don’t know what kind of delivery you’ll have, for one thing. For another, you can’t anticipate how you will feel bodily. Some women bounce right back and feel great pretty quickly; some feel like they’ve been hit by a Mack truck and it takes weeks, if not months, to recover. Not to mention, you don’t know what your baby’s routine will be like. Will you be lucky enough to get a good sleeper? One who is an efficient nurser? Will you have a sweet tempered baby who never cries or a high needs
monster, ahem, little darling who keeps you up all night?
There is no way to answer these questions until you give birth and meet the person you created.
Whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home-mom, there is no doubt that motherhood is hard. It is the most you will ever sacrifice of yourself, your time, your sanity, everything that makes you you. But most moms will tell you in all honesty that it is completely worth it because the love you feel for your little person will sustain you in a way you never knew to be possible before. This doesn’t mean that moms need to give up everything, it just means making changes to how you operated before.
There is a lot you can’t know before becoming a mother, but the one thing that is sure is that you cannot go on in the same way you did before. Whether that means changes to your work schedule, your budget, your free time, or whatever else, something has to give. If you don’t cut yourself some slack and make some changes to your routine, you will drown under the weight of your responsibilities.
I wonder how these decisions will work for moms like the one who writes below. I appreciate that she loves her job and feels a responsibility to the people she serves, but as a mom, your baby is always your first responsibility. Will those who do not want to make changes crack under the pressure? I don’t know. All I know is the biggest asset one can have as a mother is the willingness to be flexible, to bend like a willow tree, otherwise, you’ll break.
Then there’s this: I never want to build my whole identity around my child. That sounds harsh, maybe. But it’s true. I love my job. I worked hard to get it. I work hard in it. It has provided me with some of the proudest moments of my life. I don’t want to lose that, ever. I can be both things at once, and nobody will be the worse off for it.
I just don’t buy the arguments that women must totally rearrange or give up every other joy, source of satisfaction or goal they had before. Besides, I justify it this way: I want my child to be proud of me. I want them to know that even when Mommy isn’t home, Mommy is out doing a job that is trying to make the world a little better for everyone — including them.