“Mommy, why do you have to go to work?”
Ah, the dreaded question for working parents that leave every day. That question creates double the guilt for parents who have the option to stay at home but choose to go back to work.
When my two girls were babies, I had no choice but to work outside the home. Then, things changed. I got a job teaching online for a college in the Midwest. It was perfect. I could take care of the kids, keep my skills fresh, earn a living and watch my children grow. But then, something changed, and it seemed to change suddenly. Going back to work in a more traditional setting is something I really wanted.
Guilt crashed in like a tree through a window. Why would I give up a job that most mothers would envy? Why would I consider leaving my now pre-schoolers in a daycare when I didn’t have to? Why did I even want to go back to work outside the home?
The last question was perhaps the most important because it was about me. Ouch. When you’re a parent, it’s not supposed to be about you, right? It should be all about the kids, right? Well, in fact, that’s wrong. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you aren’t a human being with needs and wants of your own. It’s not selfish to want to utilize your skills, to earn a living, to balance work and home life. It really isn’t. There are benefits to working outside the home, even when the kids are little. I wanted those benefits for myself and for them.
First, kids easily pick up on negative and positive parental cues. If a parent is happier at home because she/he has a professional life, kids will notice, even at a young age. Home time can become better quality time, and as we all know, it’s quality and not quantity that counts. Conversely, children will pick up on frustration. If a parent feels deprived, the child will know about it. Maybe the parent will become grumpy, short tempered, or distant. The frustration of knowing you can do many things well — working and parenting — but aren’t allowing yourself to do them, can really cause emotional turmoil. Kids sense this.
The other thing kids will pick up on is self-care. Parents who allow themselves to work in preferred industries can become more confident in themselves, which rubs off on children. They also role model things like work-home balance, pride, the importance of education and other positives that most of us don’t think about…because all we can focus on is the guilt. Guilt is not part of caring for the self.
I found this aspect to be most important: I was being a role model for two girls. I wanted my girls to know that women had options and had the right to a professional life and that working outside the home didn’t mean I loved them any less. I also wanted them to know that just because I left in the morning didn’t mean I wouldn’t return. This is an important lesson for kids if they are to be secure. I think working outside the home did all these things for my children.
Becoming a working parent doesn’t mean you are abandoning your children, especially if you are careful about who cares for them when you are gone. Having confidence in your daycare provider is very important. Knowing the structure of the child’s day is also a priority. A good school will teach kids to be more organized, to interact with others, to enjoy learning and other lessons. It keeps them busy and offers opportunities that staying at home would not. And it gives kids a sense of independence, something they need as they grow.
I’ve been back and forth as my children have grown up. I’ve worked from home, and I’ve worked in the traditional environment. At times, I’ve done both at once, supplementing my at-home work with part-time work outside. I don’t regret my decisions at all. I’ve watched my kids flourish because of the decisions I have made. I don’t feel guilty, and they don’t feel deprived. I know they respect me and my decisions, just as much as I respect and love being their mother. I have judged myself and come to a verdict: not guilty.