Life in the Boomer Lane did a recent post about the Mommy Wars debate or Is it a good thing for kids when their Moms work? This brought back many memories for me and I could write more than a short post about them. I think the answer to this question is a very individual, one size does not fit all, one. Many mothers do not have a choice.
It sounded good in theory that I would continue working while having children. I believed in women having careers. I was a RN and worked in a hospital in my early married years. I remember another RN I worked with crying because she had to return to work , after maternity leave, when her baby was 6 weeks old. She said her husband wanted her to go back to work. I felt sorry for her.
I thought I would want to return to work after having a baby but when my son was born I found I was not happy about leaving him with a babysitter or my mother-in-law while I returned to work. Luckily, my husband was willing and able to support us and I stayed at home. I am not saying this was easy because where we lived most mothers did work and it was very isolating to stay at home. I did worry about money as well. A “Mommy and Me” program was a lifesaver for me. This was a program where Moms would get together, once a week with their kids, for activities and discussion. We would alternate watching the kids on the playground while part of the group would meet with an early childhood teacher to discuss child rearing issues. I remember one woman there describing the isolation of being a stay at home Mom with a baby. She said she would look forward to talking with the mailman.
By the time I had my second child I remember the role of stay at home Mom sometimes made me feel like I wanted to jump through the kitchen window. (Don’t worry it was on the ground floor.) There were reasons I thought it was more important for me to be at home.
I had a bad experience with a Co-op Preschool when my son was 2 years old, he was bullied by an older boy, and I decided I would not trust any preschool or child care until my son could at least talk well enough to report any bullying or abuse to the adults. So my kids did not go to daycare, or babysitters or preschool until they were at least 3 years old and I stayed at home with them.
I did go back to work, part-time, when they were the ages of 4 and 8 respectively. So I know the trials of being a working mother. It was a harrowing experience finding a preschool, that had 8 or 9 hour days, that I was comfortable with for my daughter, and did not resemble a child care factory. I remember one large well known one that had about 120 four year olds who were released for play time onto the playground at the same time. I was concerned about the staff’s ability to supervise all those kids and that the kids would fight over the few swings they had. I remember the staff person telling me that the state of California only required they have 5 square feet of space per child on the yard. I said, “but how do you get the kids to stay inside that 5 square feet?” Another thing was the mandatory nap time. My daughter did not take naps and I asked if there was an alternative. I was told she could have a stuffed animal with her while she stayed on the cot for an hour and a half. I finally found a small church run preschool. When I told them my daughter did not take naps, they said that is fine because she can stay up with the teacher. I knew then I found the right place.
Many of the Moms with kids at that preschool did not work, however, and would pick their kids up at noon. There was afternoon care available for the kids of the working mothers. If you wonder if kids prefer to be with their Moms instead of daycare I will quote my daughter. I remember her asking me one day if she had to be the “staying girl” again, which meant did she have to stay with the small group of kids in the afternoon. It hurt to hear that from her but I felt I had to work at that time for financial reasons.
I returned to work, part-time, after my husband had a life threatening illness and I felt he needed support in supporting our family. Shortly before I was to start back to work I remember we were all watching the film “ Beaches” together. My son, who was about 8 years old at the time, became upset and went into his room. I thought he was upset because of the material in the film and my husband has just come through a life-threatening illness. When I asked my son if he was upset because of Dad he said no, it was that he did not want me to go back to work.
It was stressful balancing work and being a mother. As a nurse, I worked every other weekend. This helped with childcare costs because my husband could be with the kids on weekends. But it was still hard because the kids missed me and it was hard leaving them when they were sick.
It was hard other times, like when my neighbor called me at work one afternoon. She usually picked my son up after school because I did not get home in time to pick him up. She told me that when she went to pick up my son she couldn’t find him anywhere. I told myself not to panic. I remember having to make the drive home to look for him. I later found out that my son was hiding at school from the neighbor because he didn’t like her.
And the times when I would have tightness in my chest rushing to pick my daughter up on time from school after completing my hours as a home health nurse. She would get so upset if I ran late. I would try to reassure her that her Mom or Dad would always be there to pick her up.
I do not think it is always so ideal for the mother or the child when Moms have to be working.