In the United States a woman who has a child can take up to 12 (unpaid) weeks off under FMLA. Today is the start of my 13th week. I was supposed to go back to work, but I stayed home.
We looked at our new budget, and visited several child care centers, and came to the realization that the cost of returning to work simply wasn’t worth it. My paycheck would have to cover child care, gas money, work clothes, and the “convenience cost” that comes when mommy has only had 12 hours of sleep in the past three days and cannot summon the energy to pack her own lunch, or cook dinner that takes more effort than programming the microwave. After all that, there would be precious little left, and when you consider the tradeoff would be leaving my firstborn with a stranger for most of her waking hours, I simply decided it did not make sense for me to return to work.
It’s a difficult choice, and I think almost every woman who works and wants kids struggles when she finds herself at this point. And there is so much judgement that is either implied or explicit when we talk about ways that women can contribute to the workforce and to family life. I know I’ve read way too many headlines about “mommy wars.” Enough of that can make a girl feel judged and worried before she even sees that second blue line. I’ve worried what people would think of me for abandoning my career–or my baby.
And I worried (still worry) about so many other things. Am I setting a good example for my daughter? Am I teaching her my career matters less than her father’s? Or that there are more important things than having more money? Am I jeopardizing my family’s financial security? Am I pulling my weight in this household? Am I doing this for the right reasons? What would the “right reasons” be anyway?
So many women, including my mother, were here before me; and so many women, likely including my daughter, will be here after. That’s one thing that helps quiet my worrying, knowing that so many have joined me here. Some of us have more choices than others, all of us have our own unique set of priorities, but we all pass through the same place of hope and doubt.
We all have to make a choice about the thirteenth week. I made mine, but along with it, I’m reaffirming another choice I made in parenting: that I wouldn’t let my choices make me defensive or jealous of other moms. Maybe you work, maybe you stay home, maybe you do a combination of these things.The line in the media seems to be about “having it all,” but there’s no such thing. We all make choices that close us off from other ways of living. These choices can separate us, make us feel “other” and that leads to judgement. Instead, I’d like to focus on the fact that, regardless of where we go from here, we all were the same in the moment where we made a choice and followed our hearts.