Maternal Career Crisis #683

Posted: August 11th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Miss Kate | 2 Comments »

It seems like nearly every Mama I’ve spoken to these days has been wrangling with the whole work and kid issue. Or more likely I am, and I’m projecting.

The How to Be a Mother and Have a Career Struggle™ is nothing new, God knows. And it’s like heartburn. It’s an incredibly common ailment, but once you have it yourself you want to curl up and die. You are the first person ever to have heartburn. It sucks.

All mothers working or not struggle with whether they’re doing one or both jobs well enough, whether their mothering will suffer if they work, or their career will suffer if they don’t work. Or they feel guilty that they aren’t working and don’t want to, or feel bad that they can’t imagine ever not working. And no configuration of work and parenting ever seems to strike the right balance for terribly long. At least, this is the case for many of the women I know.

I am the former workaholic maniac who cried for two days a couple weeks into Kate’s life that I couldn’t do this and we needed to get a nanny. I felt a sudden crushing need to flee back to the stringent, stressful halogen-lit, mother ship agency where, even though I’d complained about it incessantly at times, I was secure and comfortable and competent to perform the tasks given to me. Despite the pressure and the politics I did experience intermittent adrenaline rushes of job satisfaction, mixed with smugness that English majors really can make a lot of money. Being at home with a crying newborn did not provide any of those things.

But the two days I cried over fear of the unknown as a new parent were infinitesimal compared to the crazy, painful, and at times terrifying love that I had for this little human Mark and I made. Any panicked desire to run back into the arms of my old job was followed by a tsunami of anguish over the thought of someone else caring for Kate. It must be what it feels like when you are hypnotized to quit smoking. You still get that habitual urge, but then you’re overcome with sudden, strong negative association to barf, or cluck like a chicken, or whatever thing it was your guarantee-to-quit package bought you.

So Mark and I decided that for whatever amount of time made sense financially and emotionally for us, we’d instate Kate as my new boss.

Aside from the fact that she was sweet and beautiful and smelled like buttered toast and I was overcome with crazy mama-bear love, my new gig was not without its hardships. Being a new mother has an ass-kicking learning curve that kept me on my toes. And I love a good challenge, so I jumped into the new role with gusto.

I set the bar high, and usually met my goals. I showered every day. I kept the house OCD tidy. I stayed on top of the mountains of laundry. I wrote thank you notes, bought groceries at Costco, Safeway and the farmer’s market, lunched with friends, and even baked for my mother’s group. And of course I nursed, and loved, and diapered, and burped and kissed little Miss Kate on a relentless round-the-clock schedule. There is a culture shock to having a baby that no friend, no matter how gifted their powers of communication are, can adequately express to you. There is a lot to do, you feel like you’re operating in a hazy alternate universe where everyone’s voice sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, and there are no scheduled coffee breaks. (In fact, coffee, which you need now more than all your exam weeks combined, you fear will keep the baby up so you avoid like the plague.) All this said, I love my new mama life.

Anyone from my past work life who asked me over lunch how it is being at home I’m sure went back to their offices and made gagging motions when describing to others how I’m doing. My new job with Kate has exceeded my expectations in every way, and I’ve felt the urge to shout it from the rooftops. I know it’s obnoxious, but I can’t help myself. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in a life that’s been characterized by unfailing happiness. (I think that makes me meta happy.) Shocking as it is, I’m the poster girl for staying home with your baby. I’m the consummate Happy Homemaker. I even had a dalliance with scrapbooking that I’ve since abandoned, but still. Scrapbooking! Me!

So just when I have a handle on this new life, I’ve recently been experiencing these little urges to get back to doing some kind of work. I mean, it kills me that I even have these thoughts, because I’m still so happy being home with Kate. But they have kept cropping up, and I can’t repress them. It’s made me at times a bit schizophrenic.

A typical scenario: I frantically scour Craig’s List for jobs while Kate is taking a nap. When I go to get her out of her crib when she wakes up, I look down at her smiley cuteness and practically sob and clutch her to me like a deranged wild woman. I feel like Help Wanted ads are my secret lover. I am cheating on Kate with Craig’s List.

But can’t there be some kind of balance? [Insert Motherhood/Career Balance Quandary Rant ™ here.] Can’t I start to contribute to the financial health of the McClusky family, lessen the moneymaking burden on Mark, find satisfaction in using my brain in the way that my parents spent $80K on my college education for, and still be an excellent mother who somehow gets to always be there every time Kate wakes up from a nap? I mean, isn’t there a way to do this without resorting to a phone sex operator career?

Sacha, my dear mother’s group cohort, and one of the few of the 11 of us who didn’t return to work post-baby, just accepted a job and is putting her money on making the mom/career balance work. Her job sounds amazing and enriching and rewarding and fun even, and I wish her the best of luck in making it work. I think it can be done. I want her to make it work for her sake and for Baby Owen’s and for women everywhere. But I also selfishly want her to be around for me so we can take the babies swimming together on weekdays, and plan myriad other when-the-babies-wake-up jaunts, and continue to share notes on our Neo June Cleaver family-focused existences that nearly a year into our children’s lives are no longer quite so novel.

On the other hand, because I’ve now started to explore some intriguing job options of my own, maybe Sacha and I will just move onto a new and different level of comraderie, emotional support, and friendship. I never imagined that an office would be a strange, foreign realm to me. My next challenge might just be reacquainting myself with that once-familiar place—most likely in a fashion that’s far different from my past work life. In the same way that I needed a team of women to help me process making the leap into motherhood, I imagine I’ll need a similar support group for wrangling with re-entering the workforce while keeping the home fires burning.

If that is what I decide to do, hopefully Kate will understand that my need to set one toe back into the work world doesn’t mean I love her any less, or won’t desperately miss always being the one to get her out of her crib when she wakes up from a nap.


2 Comments on “Maternal Career Crisis #683”

  1. 1 Pamela said at 6:13 pm on August 30th, 2006:

    Getting ready to head back to work on the 18th and so completely understand the whole quandary and why you made the decision you made. The idea that I’ll soon be leaving Hudson each day to head off to work breaks my heart. But since it’s something I’ve always known was a given from the start, I think I’ve come to feel somewhat better about it by reminding myself that I’m going to give him a good life with the money I earn and yada yada. What else can you really do? But not looking forward to the return. Would love to see you and Miss K before I go back. Maybe Monday of next week?

    PS Jodi got fired.

  2. 2 John Clarke said at 7:35 pm on August 8th, 2008:

    Okay. Thank god the scrapbooking didn’t stick. That would be intolerable. I’m riveted by your blog especially the work/home stuff. I love the 5 days of making dinner! I LOVE IT I TELL YOU! xxoo

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