A Working Mom Decision

by Ginger on November 3, 2011

in Mom Thoughts, Working Mom

On Monday, I took the day off work to spend Halloween with Jackson. His daycare was having some events mid-morning, there was a neighborhood event in the afternoon, and then, of course, trick or treating. I decided that I wanted to b a part of J’s first REAL Halloween events, and that meant taking the day off.

It’s not something I do often (as in…never). I have very limited time off, and it’s a rarity for me to take it for anything other than doctor’s visits, my own sick days, holidays, or visits to family. Every few years we’ll scrounge together a day or two of a vacation. But in general, my time off is something that is to be hoarded, and very, very rarely used for myself. But I really wanted to be a part of the silly little Halloween events. I wanted to have those mommy memories, rather than just hearing about them second hand. And honestly, I’m so glad I did, because it was one of the best days I’ve had in a while. My kid was awesome and adorable. He had fun—WE had fun. It was an awesome day.

It did serve to remind me, though, that I won’t be able to be at all the celebrations and events in Jackson’s future. I won’t always be able to take a day off from the “working” part of my “working mom” title. And as he gets older, this dilemma is only going to get worse too. There will be choices I have to make–can I attend the school play AND the parent teacher conference the same week? Is there a way to reschedule that meeting so I can make it home in time for the soccer game? Do I have time to make it to the school’s Halloween parade and still head to the office?

The reality is, I probably won’t be the parent that’s best known around my son’s school. I won’t be able to be a room parent. I probably won’t be able to be PTA president. My husband will probably make more of those in-school & after school events than I will. I will have to miss things that I otherwise would want to be at, it’s an inevitable part of my reality. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, try, TRY to make as much as I can–because it’s important to me–but there will be choices. Maybe that choice will be to work weekends and nights to counteract the time I took off that Wednesday for one event. Maybe that choice will be, like this week, to take the time off to really enjoy my kid’s world for a day, even if it means working through a cold next time I’m sick. Or maybe, that choice will be having to miss something of J’s because of a business trip that’s crucial to my job (ok, maybe that one’s not a choice. But it is a reality). The cold hard facts are that I have responsibilities to my job AND my kid, and sometimes one will win out…and sometimes, the other will.

In a lot of ways, I’ve been coming to terms with my role as a working mom. I don’t feel the heart-wrenching pain I did a year ago. I’ve made my peace with the quality/quantity time bit (for now). I recognize, and in fact am learning to celebrate, that my working IS honoring and supporting my family, by keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. But every once in a while, I have a reason to remember that while I may be OK with being a working mom–doesn’t mean it will always be easy, painless, or without sacrifices.

This week, the choice was to use my precious PTO to spend the day with my precious little man. I’m SO glad I did it…but I know that it won’t always be that easy.

Amanda @ The Lungos November 3, 2011 at 11:01 am

I feel you on this one. It is hard to make time for all of those fun events that happen during the day while we are at work. But, there would not necessarily be those events for my kids if I didn’t work because they may not be in daycare/preschool if I was at home with them.

I have been pretty lucky with both kids and the 2 jobs I’ve had with kids that they have been flexible with the time I take for kid stuff, but I have not been able to go on field trips, or parent day at dance lessons because I can’t get away or in most cases I am out of town for work so I do cherish the ones I do get to participate in.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm

And you travel so much, it’s got to be even more challenging!

Jackie November 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

Great decision! I made the same one on Halloween. My son was having a halloween fest at school. I forgot to tell my son I would be there. When his class walked in, I saw how happy he was to be there. He was looking around and didn’t see me. His teacher let them go free to play games, and that’s when my son saw me. He had this HUGE smile on his face and ran up to me and hugged me. I melted! We had so much fun at the fest and later that evening.

I take a lot of days off especially for my son’s events. I usually plan ahead whenever possible. My job is important to me, but I want to enjoy these moments as much as I can.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Oh, what a great moment (is there anything better than those smiles?)!

It was a good opportunity for me to see, first hand, how important it is to take the time to go to even those little events. Because it IS important…for him AND me!

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks November 3, 2011 at 11:26 am

Both my parents worked when I was growing up. Unless the event took place in the evenings, my mom almost never came to them, because she wouldn’t get home from work until after 6pm. My dad would work from home occasionally or even come home from work early … if I happened to have a home soccer game on those days, he’d come watch. But, it was never a guarantee. That said, I adore my parents and think they were and are amazing role models. Just because you can’t make all or even many of Jackson’s daytime events doesn’t mean you’re not a good mom. In fact, in some ways, working makes you a better mom, because you know the value of the time you do get to spend with him!

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I definitely value that time!

Brooke @ mommalytics November 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

I always thought I would be more of the SAHM type, but we’ve actually been making choices recently to have Kellen in school MORE so that I can work more, work that I find very, very rewarding, and made better by the fact that no one at work whines at me for three hours in a high-pitched tone. I am lucky that my version of working mom is my own business, and I can take off (or work from home) on days like today when school is closed. But it is still a trade-off, and even having that flexibility means that something has to give, least of all face time at the office (which is pretty important). I’m struggling with how we are going to manage with a newborn and how much time I am comfortable missing in those early months. I am very glad I’m working. I feel fulfilled. But there are still dozens of choices that have to be made that make me feel guilty – either because I don’t have the time with my son or can’t be at the office. I’m trying to make the time we do have together have more substance (like putting down the computer – which I’m obviously not doing right now). And I’m sure the times you are there for J he will remember and treasure, which might not be quite as much the case if you were able to be there for everything (not to say there isn’t value there too).

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I think the reality is, there’s always some kind of trade off. No matter what we do, whether we’re at home, working for ourselves, or working for a big company. I just hope that I can balance those trade offs so in the long run, they balance out to J feeling like I was involved even as I keep my job 😉

Marlena November 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I think about this often. I know the importance of parental involvement, but know that I won’t be able to commit to volunteering every week, or even every month. What I decided was that I can help her preschool in other ways, and I joined the Board, since I can work on stuff at night or over my lunch hour. It’s not the same as going on a future field trip, but I think with this, as in many things with parenthood, is that if you care and think about it, you’re about 99% more conscientious than most other parents.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:22 pm

“if you care and think about it, you’re about 99% more conscientious than most other parents.”

I try to keep that in mind, that involvement isn’t always “being there.” It can mean doing things in other ways (my boss actually just told me a story about volunteering to take this hole punching project home. I can do that kind of thing!). And the fact that I care about it means I’m likely to find ways to be involved…even when I can’t be at everything.

Ginger November 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Glad you took that day! It’s my hope that companies will evolve to be more understanding of work and life. Many aspects of our job don’t necessarily need to be done between 9 and 5, which would allow us little breaks to make those important school performances and such, and then get some stuff done once our kids are in bed.

It’s hard, but it’s also nice to hear you’re coming to terms with stuff. I’m working on that too. 🙂

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Drives me nuts. There is no reason I need to be in the office from 9-5. I do 85% of my work on the computer, via email and ftp and servers…all of which I can access via my work laptop at home. There’s no reason that most office jobs can’t have more flexibility in them.

(can you tell this is something I get ranty about?)

Reading (and chickens) November 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Oh, this can be so hard. When I was working, I was always so flustered, too, not knowing which days to take off and which special days to skip. It’s a little bit Sophie’s Choice (OK, in a very mild way). Gregg has taken Halloween off the last few years and it is always worth it, unlike, say, the school play where our boy rolled his eyes at us and walked away. (You’re welcome, kid.)

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm

There should be some sort of decoder ring that let’s you know which ones are important and which ones aren’t 😉

Megan November 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Like Nilsa, both my parents worked. My mom worked retail and didn’t have the typical 9 to 5 schedule, so she could make some of my stuff, but rarely. Some days when I was sick she had to take me to work with her and I’d lie on a sleeping bag on the floor of the back room. But she cared, and she tried. She did as much as she could to be there for my sister and me, and I knew it. We have always been very close.

As for me, I worry about the school stuff, too. As soon as both my kids are in school, I have to start working. I imagine by then I will be more than ready, especially since kid number two is still gestating, but I know I will miss field trips and awards ceremonies because I will be at work. It bums me out, but I know it’s a part of life, and we will all be just fine even if I miss a soccer game.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm

I think, maybe, all you can hope is that you’ve done your best and your kid grows up knowing you’ve done your best. Right?

clara November 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm

This is such a balanced and compelling post. It must be so hard to always be juggling the two parts of your heart.

I love this: “I recognize, and in fact am learning to celebrate, that my working IS honoring and supporting my family, by keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.” Yes. It is.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm

It is hard to juggle, but I like to think I have days where I do it ok. Maybe by the time he graduates high school I’ll have it figured out?

Cloud November 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I’m glad you had a good day! We also struggle to keep our PTO time for vacations- so much goes for the random sick days.

I’m also glad you see the value of the working side of the working mom equation, too. For me, it is beyond the money (although that is important- I make more than half of our family income, and without my income, we would be living a very different lifestyle). My work helps keep me sane and grounded. I tend to go in for things “whole hog”, if you know what I mean, and I’m not sure that would have been a healthy way for me to parent, either for me or my kids.

Incidentally, the kids do the same thing for me at work- they remind me that whatever work drama has happened, it probably isn’t as important as I think it is.

One final thought- if you can get to a place where those work trips feel like a choice, too, then you’ll probably be happier. I.e., get to where you feel like you could walk away from your job if it made unrealistic demands. I have a post brewing on this, and have had it brewing since the post about handling work stress. I realized that the reason the emotional stress doesn’t get to me much is that it all feels like a choice- we have a hefty financial buffer in the bank. We built that to deal with the high volatility in our chosen fields, but I realized it has some side benefits. I know this isn’t an easy thing to do, particularly in our expensive city, but it is something to think about. Anyway, I’ll get to that post someday, and hopefully explain what I mean a little better.

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I know what you mean about having the work be a choice. It’s…honestly part of the struggle. This is one expensive place we live and with 1.5 incomes (and I’ll be honest, publishing salaries aren’t known for being super lucrative incomes at that), it does become some emotional stress about being “stuck” because of the money. That’s hard, and one of our goals for the future, to try and build in that buffer.

Jennie November 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

You inspire me to write more about being a working mom because it’s just not something I am vocal about (I think because so many bloggers stay home and I worry about alienating myself or my readers?) but you do it so eloquently and you do it in a way that inspires me to own who I am a little more outwardly on my site.

(I think you’re a damn rockstar, for what it’s worth. Sometimes we just need to hear that, you know?)

Ginger November 9, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Thanks Jennie, for the rockstar comment AND for saying I inspire you. That really kind of made my day.

I didn’t write a lot about being a working mom for a while, or if I did it was kind of surface stuff, for the same reasons, but it started feeling like I was leaving this REALLY big piece of my experience out. And if nothing else, I use this blog as my own therapy, so I basically had to start writing about it 😉

But I’m ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS looking to read what other working moms think, to see if I’m the only one thinking this stuff. (Hint hint.)

Christa the BabbyMama January 19, 2012 at 7:02 am

So how long did it take for the pain to go away? Because it’s been almost a year for me and I’m still unpleasantly angry when I’m at work. It’s hard to talk about with my friends, who fall into two groups: want to work and do or don’t have to work and don’t. I’d gladly be a SAHM if I could, but it’s not the right decision for my family. I do try to look at my work experiences as just another way I care for the Babby and my home, but it’s so hard.

Ginger January 22, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I’ll be honest, it took about 15 months before I stopped being so angry about it all the time. Some of that was just resignation: as the primary breadwinner, I literally DO NOT have the option to not work. I could change jobs, sure, but I HAVE to work. So I realized that being angry about it all the time really wasn’t doing me any good, since it wasn’t something I could change.

Some of it was just, things changed. My kid became a toddler, and a challenging one at that, and I realized I really wasn’t as suited to being at home with him as I might have thought. My work situation changed some to reshift my focus.

That’s not to say it’s not hard. I struggle with it a lot some days (when he’s sick, or when I can’t take him to something fun because it’s during the day, etc.), but I’m *trying* to make a mindful decision to be more at peace with it…for my own sanity.

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