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I Love My Work Almost as Much as My Child

When I read Penny Herscher's article "I Won't Give Up My Career For My Kids" about feeling no shame keeping her career thriving while becoming a mother, I could all but hear the collective judgment machine kicking into gear. Working women are judged by unfair standards not set for men, such as: How could you leave your baby? Do you really think you can have it all? What kind of mother are you?

Though I'm no corporate CEO, you can call me an ambitious person—I've had goals and dreams to be a successful writer from as early as first grade, and have spent my life attempting to achieve them. My husband and I didn't even get around to discussing children until we'd both finished graduate programs (mine an MFA in creative writing, his a PhD in psychology). We'd been married 12 years before our son was born. When I became pregnant, I knew exactly how my work-at-home life as a freelance writer "plus one" was going to look—me typing away while baby slept or played peacefully in his bassinet beside me. It was going to be almost exactly like the life I already lived, only more meaningful and with diapers.

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Of course, any mom reading this knows that's not how it went. Postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation pummeled me, knocking my former productivity out to sea. Babies don't do anything peacefully, or for more than about five-minute stretches. I quickly realized that the career I had before was going to have to change. Not because I wanted it to but because I simply had no choice. My son didn't sleep well at night. My body didn't adjust quickly. My husband had the steady job while I had the inconsistent freelance gig. I lamented the loss of my work much more than I anticipated, and by the time my son was 5 months old I knew I needed to get a babysitter to begin to piece my flagging career back together.

I'm tired of the trope that says a mother who loves her work is a "bad mother" while a man who loves his work "a good provider."

Unlike Herscher, I felt terribly guilty for wanting to work.

And yet, I was the kind of mother who needed to keep her brain stimulated in order to not feel resentful of the demands of motherhood. I had not worked most of my adult life to become a writer only to abandon it forever because of one exhausted year of new parenting. My husband went back to work five weeks after our son was born, to an office with other adults and silence he could choose by closing his office door. I was left at home with this squalling, colicky infant and no manual, my few remaining work deadlines nipping at my heels like hungry pups.

I loved my son with fierce intensity, but I also missed my work with a deep ache. And I knew that I was lucky; when I picked my work up slowly again, it wouldn't involve having to go any further than upstairs to my home office. Though I did find that it was far easier for me to work when my son was not in my vicinity—the sound of his coos or cries pulled too powerfully on my new mother brain and body.

Herscher's article makes clear that we still need to be reminded that women who love their careers should not be judged any harsher than the men who get to go right back to their jobs. I'm tired of the trope that says a mother who loves her work is a "bad mother" while a man who loves his work "a good provider." More and more families are flipping these kinds of outdated stereotypes on their heads. I know several stay-at-home and work-at-home dads who do as much childcare as their partners. There are more and more same sex couples, too, in which two dads do it all just fine.

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While my own experience taught me that there was a time for putting work down to raise my son, I know now that loving my work is nothing to be ashamed of. It sets a model for my son and is just as important as our unscheduled time together. I encourage all mothers who work to slip out of your guilt the moment you slide into your work clothes.

Image via Twenty20/elora

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