While more and more dads are choosing to stay home with their kids and moms are going back to work, the back to work question is a still a big one for many women after they have a baby. It’s not an easy question, and the answer can change daily. Alice Kaltman, parenting expert and co-founder of Family Matters NYC tackles this important question, along with some tips for taking care of yourself no matter what your work/home plan looks like for your family.
There’s never been a simple solution to the Working/Not Working conundrum. Some must bring home part (if not all) of the bacon. Others are victims of downsizing, suddenly home with their kids full-time and it’s not what they signed up for. Then there are mothers who choose full-time parenting and eventually find themselves ready to jump in the Gowanus Canal if forced to watch one more Yo Gabba Gabba DVD or shake one more shaky egg. The grass is always greener (or browner) on the other side of the fence.
Each mother has her own set of personal issues, bosses, or children to contend with. Distraction, guilt, longing, and frustration can plague mothers whatever their situation, but a bit of soul searching might provide some direction. Here are some suggestions to ponder.
Transform your GUILT into DESIRE. As odd as it might sound, guilt can be a useful emotion. If you don’t wallow in it or get caught in the common trap of feeling guilty about feeling guilty, it can tell you a lot about what you desire. It might even motivate you to make some changes. At the very least, identifying guilt and its related desire can refocus you and make you more present and less distracted.
For example, you may be a working mother who feels guilty for leaving your child even though their needs are being met by a trusted caregiver, teacher or spouse. When you think about what desire might be beneath the guilt, you realize you long to be with your little cutie-pie. You simply miss your child. You may not be able to jump up and run to home, school or playground, but you can at least remind yourself there is nothing wrong with a mother’s desire to be with her child.
Or you may be a full-time mother, home with your kid(s), where chaos reigns. You’re ready to tear your hair out (or theirs). You imagine you’re back at work, away from peanut butter and drool. You fantasize about a dream career. And then you feel guilty, evil, ungrateful. But underneath the guilt might be desire for the personal empowerment, creativity, autonomy that non-parenting work provides. You may not be able to jump up and run to the office or studio, but what formerly happily employed woman wouldn’t have those feelings?
Wherever you are, whatever your situation, whether you’ve chosen it or not: ask yourself if there is anything you can do immediately to change things, to act on your desire. At the very least, re-framing your guilt makes it more understandable, and less emotionally toxic. You’ve cleared your brain and are more likely to make positive and practical changes in the future.
Stay Present: Quality trumps quantity in the mothering department. Whether you’re with your kid(s) often or in briefer connected moments, if you are content with your life you’ll be more emotionally present. As a result, your kid will feel content and connected to you. But it’s an imperfect world. Perhaps your workplace is a war zone, your partner is acting like a jerk, the roof has a leak, and the cat has fleas. Sometimes you have no control over your daily life, or your psyche. In other words, contentedness is fleeting. So here are some general tips for moving towards a more Present state of mind. I encourage you to use these as starter lists, and urge you to add more personal tips of your own:
More, More More:
Exercise, wherever and however you can.
Self Reflection. Do yoga, mediation, journaling.
Designating. Enough with the Supermom/Control Freak routine. Prove your competency by doing a really great job at just a few key things and let other people step up to the plate.
Time Management. Improve your skills if you’re not a naturally organized person. Ask for help.
Sleep. Combat sleep deprivation: nap when your child naps.
Less, less, less:
Let go of inessentials: i.e.: constant household cleanliness, social activities that really aren’t that much fun.
Set a single daily intention for yourself: When overwhelmed, hide the twenty page “To Do List”. Focus on one thing, i.e.: I will be more patient. I will be nicer. I will clean the bathroom. I will pay that one bill.
No phone when possible. Turn the phone on silent mode. Better yet, turn it off entirely. At the very least, use your caller id.
No computer after a certain hour every evening. Chose an activity from your More, more, more list instead.
No texting. It is rarely a time saver. I mean, like, how old are we, fifteen? Instead, try having real conversations with people when possible.
Find Your Own Your Inner-Softy: Motherhood opens women up to a whole new level of vulnerability. Most mothers never feel so intensely about anyone or anything as they do about their kids. It is the most profound relationship in their lives. A mother’s love is powerful and deeply moving. Rather than thinking of maternal vulnerability as weakness, think of it as power. Use it to be an advocate for the mother/worker inside you who desires change. Remember the messages about Guilt and Staying Present. Give yourself what you need. Ask for everything and anything. Be prepared to hear ‘no’, but don’t give up. If what you’re asking for is good for you, it probably means it will be good for everyone else as well. Especially your kids.
Alice Kaltman, LCSW, has been working with parents and kids since 1988. In 2006, she co-founded Family Matters NY with Sara Zaslow, LMSW. FMNY is a parenting coaching service for Brooklyn and Manhattan families, providing support through home and office visits. Alice lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn with her daughter and husband, the sculptor Daniel Wiener. She also writes fiction for kids, and dances professionally in her spare (?) time. Write to Alice at firstname.lastname@example.org.