On Thriving and Joy and Being a Working Mom

3.28.2016


I have been working on this post for a while now. I've started and stopped it numerous times. At one point I had over 2,000 words and erased it all. Finally I think I figured out why this post has been so hard for me: because my feelings on this subject change almost by the second, which makes it hard to actually write something that makes any sense. 

I might be driving to work after dropping R off, thinking about how much I already miss her and drafting a post in my head about all the reasons quitting my job wouldn't actually be that bad. But then I pull into the parking lot and I'm all, "Hey look I'm doing it! Way to go, self. I like my job, and R has social interaction, and I get to eat a hot lunch in peace." But then later that day I open Facebook and see a picture of a friend with her one-year-old at the park in the middle of the bright, sunny afternoon, and I'm filled with a surge of jealousy and am all EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE PASS THE CHOCOLATE.

That said, I will say this about going back to work: for me, actually doing it has not been nearly as bad as the anticipation of doing it.

In the weeks leading up to my return to the office, I cried every single time I thought about leaving R all day and going to work. And when I say cried, I mean actual tears welling up and spilling down my cheeks. It was not uncommon for Jordan to come into the room to find me sitting on the floor while staring at R and sobbing. When he asked me what was wrong, I would wail, “I can’t leave her!” Eventually he just stopped asking what was wrong when he came upon me randomly crying for no reason.

It was all very dramatic.

Day 1 was surprisingly fine. I had prepared myself mentally, I had her bottles and diaper bag together, my fancy work clothes (I even did my makeup!), and I put on my Super Mom cape and flew triumphantly off to face rush hour traffic, arriving home with my baby at the end of the day in a flurry of success. I didn’t even cry when I dropped her off that morning!

Day 2 was terrible. 

The “new” had worn off, and it hit me that the day before hadn’t been an experiment; it was now my life. By the end of the day I was completely and utterly exhausted, and I fell asleep in the rocker nursing R at 6:00 p.m. I woke up with a crick in my neck and my contacts glued to my eyeballs. R, completely overstimulated from being around so many new things and people, was passed out in my arms. I laid her in her crib and stumbled down the hallway. I made it two steps into the living room before letting out a whimper and collapsing to the floor.

Jordan, meanwhile, had just finished texting his mom to tell her how great I was handling everything. He came out from the office to find me face down on the floor, sobbing.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“I can’t live like this!” I wailed.

It was all very dramatic.

He went back and texted my mom that nevermind, I actually wasn’t doing so well. She showed up the next day with a gift card to get a pedicure.

So that was how it began, and thankfully, that was my low point. It has now been almost three full months of being back at work, and at least for me I’ve found it to be true when people say that it does get better. Like I said, the anticipation of doing it was way worse than actually doing it, and that awful Day 2 was the worst it got. I am incredibly thankful that I not only like my job but my coworkers, and going into work is not a terrible thing of itself. While I’m at work, I miss my baby, obviously, but it’s not like I’m just sitting at my desk staring at photos of her and crying. Not every day, anyway. Not even most days.

I am also incredibly thankful that I like her daycare and that it is close enough to my work for me to drive over there during my lunch hour and see her. I can’t tell you how excited I get to go see her halfway through the day; I literally run down the hallway at the daycare every single day.

Some of the trouble I had writing this post was because I don’t want to discount my gratefulness for these things. 

I know it could be worse. I know not everyone gets to visit their kid during the day. And overall being back at work isn’t really that bad. I get time to heat up my lunch and eat it at a normal pace instead of scarfing down my food because at any second R could start crying and need me to hold her. I get to exercise my creative writing and editing skills through my job, which makes me feel useful and smart. I have adult conversations and a reason to dress up in the morning. Working downtown is fun too. 

I have a paycheck and health insurance and money going into a college fund for R. She is learning to be dependent without me, learning to socialize and all that. And I am learning to trust someone else to care for her and trust God to watch over her when I can’t be there. These are the good things. Things I am thankful for. Despite all the terrible things people say about daycare (because it is apparently something people like to talk about in a negative light), I honestly believe there are a lot of positives too.

But I really, really miss my baby, and I hate being away from her.

Every other Tuesday night I go to a Bible study with some girls from church. This verse was in the lesson a few weeks ago and has really convicted me: "The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." - Psalm 126:3

When I look at my life right now, I feel so blessed and so thankful, and I know without a doubt that God has done great things for me. But I can't say that I feel filled with joy. Honestly? I feel jealous and bitter and even sometimes a little angry that I have to work.

Some days I feel like I’ve totally got this. I got R to daycare on time, put in a good day’s work, even fit in a run and made dinner and (praise!) did all the dishes. And some days I feel like all I’ve done is survive. Running from one chore to the next, trying to savor each moment of baby snuggles because I don’t get enough of them as it is.


But no matter what, I want to be the kind of person who pursues joy. I want people to say about me that I am filled with joy. I want to not be jealous or bitter but be thankful and at peace. I want to thrive, not just survive.

Sometimes when I say something about being a working mom and how hard it has been for me, someone says something along the lines of, "Being a mom is just hard whether you stay at home or work! There are good things and bad things to both." And yes, that is completely true. Being a mom is hard. But being a working mom is hard in its own way, just like being a stay-at-home mom is hard in its own way and being a work-from-home mom is hard in its own way, etc.

I think that instead of making a blanket statement about how hard being a parent is in general, I would rather someone say, "I bet it's hard being away from your kid while you're at work all day. You're doing a great job."

Because it is hard being away from R all day during the week. It's hard in a different way that you just can't understand unless you've had to do it, and when people try to brush past it with a "well being a mom is just hard in general," it's a little upsetting.

So that's the truth of where I am right now. I wish I could wrap this all up in a nice bow and say I'm doing completely fine and working full time is going really well. I want to be an encouragement to those who are or will be doing the full-time working mom gig, and I feel like I'm not yet in a place to say that it's really this awesome thing. Honestly, it has completely caught me by surprise how much I want to spend my days with R. I didn't expect to want to stay home this much, but I do and I can't, and I'm still working through those feelings.

I'm still figuring out my routine and trying to make the most of the time I do get to spend with my baby. It's so hard fitting in errands and family time and housework and hobbies into two days on the weekend and a few hours each night. But it is getting easier (or maybe I'm getting more efficient?), and I'm so thankful to everyone who has encouraged me these past few months. And I guess mostly I want to encourage you to find ways to encourage others.

With that said, I'll end with this story.

Last weekend we were in the airport in Oklahoma City, standing in the security line. I had R strapped to me in the carrier, and the girl in front of me, who looked about my age, turned around and said, "How old is your baby?"
"Seven months," I said.
"I have an eighteen-month-old," she replied. "A boy."
"What's his name?"
"Steve," she said. Then she paused and let out a sob and put her face in her hands.
"Oh my goodness!" I said. I had no idea what was going on, but I put my hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
She looked at me, and tears were running down her cheeks. "I just left him for a business trip. I won't be back until Wednesday." She shook her head. "I'm so sorry. I was fine, but then, seeing your baby...."
"Please do not worry about it," I said, and patted her back, feeling my own eyes begin to tear up. "I completely understand." Because of course I did.

We talked for another few minutes while we took off our shoes and put our bags on the conveyor belt. And while we did that, I tried my best to encourage her with all the things that encourage me.

You're a good mom, I said. Your baby loves you. You are setting a great example for him. And just think about how excited he will be to see you on Wednesday when you get home.

Right before we split ways, she turned and gave me a hug. "Thank you for talking to me."

Meeting that other mom was a good reminder to me that working moms are everywhere. Sometimes it's easy for me to feel so alone, getting all our bags together in the morning and hustling off to daycare, then to work, then home in the evening for a few hours before putting R to bed. But I'm not alone, and you aren't either in whatever situation you find yourself.

There are a lot of good things and wonderful things and hard things about our different lives. This working thing? For me, it's hard. And sometimes, it's just nice to have someone to talk to about it.

So thank you, friend, for reading. It means a lot to me.


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48 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this! My kids are older--11, 8, and almost 5 (how did that happen?)
    The struggle is real. I don't work my job every day, but on the days I do, I feel like I'm surviving rather than thriving. And because I work weekends, I do miss a lot of the Saturday activities that most people get to enjoy with their kids/families.
    I don't love the time spent away at work, but I like doing my job when I'm there.
    Have a great Monday!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Shelley :) You're so right: I don't love being away but when I'm there I enjoy what I do.

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  2. Girlllllll...yes. Beautifully written. Now let's go get some coffee (for me) and chai tea (for you), okay?! I want to dive more into this. This topic is something that I could talk about for hours. It fascinates and both intrigues me. And the honest, raw and most important part...you ARE doing a great job....even in the messiest moments.
    Also, as I get older, I realize often while looking back that the anticipation of events in my life are usually worse than the actual event! You made such a good point with that and it's something that I have been working on. I've started trying to focus on Him and not the event that I'm dreading and play it over in my head again and again. It is hard though!
    Hope this makes sense--I have a 2 year old running around making play doh bracelets and a 3 month old in my lap. 😜
    About that coffee......haha. Now would be the perfect time. 😉

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    1. I would absolutely LOVE to sit down for coffee (and chai! You know me too well). Thanks for reading, friend :)

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  3. I absolutely cried my way through this post. I was very caught off guard with how much I wanted to stay home with Jack-it wasn't something I would have ever imagined myself doing, and it makes working a lot harder. I think you are amazing. You are doing such a great job.

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  4. Your story at the airport gave me chills. I love how God used you in that exact moment. That was definitely no accident. I appreciate and admire your honesty along the journey and it reminds me no matter what stage of life we are in, we have to trust God along the way. You are amazing momma!

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  5. oh man. You are SUCH a good mom. You love your daughter so much and you are setting her the most wonderful example of womanhood/motherhood/humanbeinghood. Really really really!

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    1. UM HELLO EXCUSE ME GOOGLE BUT I AM NOT UNKNOWN. I AM BETSY. THANK YOU.

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  6. Love and hugs! First, this is so well written. I often feel alienating by working-mom articles, but this makes me only feel compassion and respect. You ARE doing a great job, and I'm positive it must be hard. Thanks, as always, for sharing your perspective and being awesome.

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  7. Big hugs. The physical aspect of missing baby gets better (like the crying part), but I don't think that ever goes away. It's easier for me now knowing that my daughter is having fun at school, and she's always excited to tell me about what she did that day. It's kind of rough some days when I go to pick her up and she says she doesn't want to come home because she's having too much fun at school/daycare. Hard for me, but good in a really great way. But fitting everything in? Yea...I think there's a reason why there's that popular phrase "there is never enough hours in the day". Wouldn't it be nice if we could just retire now?

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  8. This post is absolutely beautiful. It's raw and honest, and we need more of that. You're doing a great job, and I think you are a setting a wonderful example for R. Joy will come to you in baby snuggles and in weekends and in running and in moments when you're just doing awesome at your job.

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  9. Hi! I'm not a mom, so I'm not able to be someone who says, "hey, I totally understand." But I do think you're doing totally rad! And I love your honesty in this post. I have definitely had moments where I've fallen down and started sobbing, and I sobbed almost everyday for 6 months when we moved to Los Angeles. And like you said, we all experience different hard things in different ways, but we're never alone in those experiences.

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  10. This is a wonderful post. I love your honesty. We don't have children yet, but I already feel the struggle inside me to stay home with them once that day comes. I will be praying that God makes His joy known to you over the coming weeks. The story you told about the airport had me in tears. I am glad that you were able to comfort her as others have comforted you. What a wonderful testimony. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and feelings with all of us!

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  11. I'm so glad you wrote this post and so glad you opened up so much on this topic. I feel like you and I are similar in a lot of ways and your post was truly encouraging to me. I think the hardest part for me is not loving what I do at my job, so I think going back to something I don't enjoy (although the pay/benefits are great) will be what breaks me the most when I return to work. It doesn't make sense for a career change right now, but I'm hoping in the future I can find something that allows me to feel a good balance of working and providing for my family but also not dreading every second I'm away. Again- thank you for writing this and ps, you are doing a GREAT JOB♥ :)

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  12. Your story at the end made me tear up for both of you ladies as well as all the working moms I know. I see you. I hear you. I haven't been there, so I can't truly understand what it feels like, but I empathize with your mixed feelings. You've got this. You are doing a great job.

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  13. So beautifully and clearly honestly written! As a not-a-mom-yet-but-hopefully-one-day woman, I super appreciated it!

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  14. First of all, get out of my head!
    Second, I love the story of meeting that Mama in the airport. Sometimes being a part of the bigger Mama tribe is such an amazing and unifying experience <3

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  15. awww you were so nice to that lady!! i bet you just made her day.

    yes, being a mom is hard in general. guess what, 'in general' being a person is hard. every situation is different. saying that it's hard no matter what doesn't make it any easier!

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  16. I feel you--being a working mom is hard in its own way, and part of the difficulty for me lies in the "mom guilt" I feel a lot of the time over it. Rationally, I know that it's a good thing for my daughter to get social time with other people and get used to different situations, and that I trust the people who are watching her. But as her mom, I feel like I should be doing EVERYTHING (which is unrealistic, in and of itself). It's helpful for me to remind myself that throughout history and in some communities, children are almost raised as much by fellow community members as by their own parents, and the majority absolutely thrive feeling the support of so many.

    (Of course, I rationally know all this, but it doesn't make it any easier to leave! Especially since this year, my heart really hasn't been in my teaching, which isn't fair to anyone...)

    Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I feel you. And pray that God will show you the way that you can have more joy in your life--whether that's through deciding to do freelance work and staying home or through finding new purpose in your dual roles as full-time worker and mom.

    Good luck to you! I'm sure you're doing a fabulous job in both of your roles.

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  17. This is a great post Amanda! When I went back to work after maternity leave, I had very similar emotions as your first few days. I'm glad to hear that things are getting better and I really love that bible verse and your effort to thrive not just survive. That's so true! I also really love the story about the woman in the airport. I think that was God's work and not just a coincidence that you two crossed paths! Keep up the great work, you are amazing for working so hard both at home and in the workplace!

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  18. Aw I love that story at the end! So, I'm actually surprised how un-phased I am by being at work now. I feel guilty how not guilty I am. I really love my job and like feeling like myself again now that I'm adjusted. And the feeling of picking up my son is the BEST and it makes my time with him so much more special. At least that's what I tell myself, so maybe I've just brainwashed myself. :)

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    1. I'm really really happy for you that you are thriving and feeling successful and have taken to it really well. That means you are in the right place for you! That's awesome. I do agree that it's a great feeling to pick Reese up at the end of the day and see her so happy to see me.

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  19. I think I need to start traveling with you - you always seem to meet the greatest people who really enrich your trips (remembering the doctor you met while pregnant).

    While I haven't been in your shoes and have no clue what its like to be a working mom (or a mom, for that matter), I do have first-hand experience with one...my own mom. My mom raised my brothers and I as a single parent and had no choice but to go work. She got up at 4am everyday to go in super early so she could be home when we got home from school (my aunt watched us in the mornings) to help us with homework, make dinner, etc. She hated being away from us and she hated to miss field trips and other things parents in my school could volunteer to do during the day. Being a mom was her calling in life and I've never met a more maternal person. She always said she'd have 10 children if she could have. But she couldn't and so she worked and she did the best she could. She always tells me "Maria, I really wish I could have given you a better childhood and been there for every single moment." And I'm pretty sure my mouth drops to the ground whenever she says this, because I had the freaking best childhood ever. She never realized what an incredible role model she was to me, even though I tell her all the time. She taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and perseverance and I truly believe it made me who I am today (a pretty good person, I think - ha!). Did she thrive all the time instead of survive? Not even close, but she tried and even as a young child, I knew that and I felt loved. And I wouldn't change a single thing about my childhood.

    So even on the days where you are merely surviving, remember what incredible lessons you are teaching your daughter and know that she appreciates it and she loves you even more for it. You are doing the best you can and yes, that's always enough. <3

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    1. Well now CUE THE TEARS. Thanks so much, Maria :) I'm glad you had such a great example in your mom. I hope to be that for Reese.
      And yes I seem to have the craziest travel stories! I think it's because I have no shame in talking to strangers. Jordan is eternally embarrassed of me when we are out in public. Ha!

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  20. I loved reading this honest post! Even though I am not in the exact position that you are, so many points resonated with me. You are so right about that general statement of "it's all hard" not being helpful. It is a good reminder to me to listen to people, put myself in their shoes and give a thoughtful response. I have been on both sides of the working mom/stay at home mom fence, and the working one IS harder. Sure I am bone tired, covered in baby drool and desperately craving adult conversation 90% of the time. Those things are nothing compared to missing your baby and juggling two full time jobs because being a mom is 24/7 whether you are at home or in an office 40 hours a week. I had a working mom, and I am enormously grateful for the example she set. You are doing a great job!

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    1. I actually really appreciate you saying that, Megan. I do feel like I'm doing two full-time jobs . Not that one is better or worse, and certainly being a mom who stays at home is not easy, but I wish I didn't have the pressure of a boss and an office and a job on top of being a mom and trying to take care of my family.

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  21. You're doing great, Amanda. Although I am not a mother I can imagine how hard this must be, and I wish you all the joy in the world. x

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  22. I can see why it took you FOREVER to write this post - it's easier when you have a conclusion and you can wrap it up with a nice little summary at the end. Real feelings are a lot more complicated than that!

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  23. Oh man, your airport story made me tear up. How wonderful that you were able to be such a blessing to that sweet mom.

    I really appreciate your honesty... I've always wondered how it would feel to work full-time (most of the working moms I know make it seem like it's no big deal to leave their kiddos all the time) but you helped me understand how it really is hard for everyone! I think you are doing a great job and keeping such a good perspective on it and you are so fortunate to be going to a job you love (how awful would it be if you had to go do something you didn't like???).

    I feel like I don't get to relate much to SAHM and working-moms because I work-part time. Which is honestly fine because it is such a nice situation and I don't deal with a ton of mom guilt. EXCEPT when I went on my first work trip. It was soooo sad because I missed my little man so much!

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  24. Great post! You are a great mom! Someday when I am hopefully a mom, I will have to make the decision and I hope people will handle my choice gracefully!

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  25. I knew leaving R was hard for you but I didn't realize the extent of it. I'm sorry it is a struggle but I really appreciate your honesty. I also think you are doing a better job than you give yourself credit for. I really don't know how you manage work, being a Mom, a wife and running! I think God must give you a dose of extra energy and grace.

    I'll pray God gives you joy. When you mentioned that it made me think about how that is a fruit of The Spirit and how He can produce that in your life. I don't think that means you have to love your situation and be 'happy' about it but God can give you joy through it.

    AND I'm so glad God put that Mom in your path at the airport. That is such a neat story how you were able to encourage her.

    Lastly, you are a great Mom, I mean I bet R has more bows than any other kid =)

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  26. Aww. That is hard. You ARE doing awesome things--and it's worth it for fight for joy even when it is hard. You're doing something I selfishly hope I never have to do, working away from your kid--something that's totally normal and expected for adult life--but that doesn't make it easy. Every day I spend with little kids and I sometimes think about those littles that bring such joy to my life and reflect on the fact that the only reason I get to be with them is because their parents have jobs with long hours, and they aren't getting to spend time with their littles on a daily basis, and that's so so so so not fun. I love those precious kids and spending every day with them and watching them grow--I can't imagine having to leave them if they were my own. And I do believe they are getting an awesome start in life by spending so much time with someone like me who cares for them and their future and will do whatever I can to help them learn and grow everyday (so, yeah, daycare can be AWESOME for your kids, I know, because what I do could probably be called 'daycare' even though I call it taking care of my friends' kids). But this whole work and family and money and futures and education and balancing thing...not the easiest part of life.

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  27. Goodness...I really needed to read this post. It is very encouraging knowing that there are other mothers who are going through what I will be going through in a few months. Does that make sense? With my baby due in July, I plan to return to work because my job provides health insurance. Honestly, this is one reason my husband and I have put off having children because I have always known I wanted to stay home. I think it is especially hard in the blogging world because it seems every mother is a SAHM. Even though the baby isn't here yet, I often see post or photos and get jealous because I know in a few short months, I will want that so badly. But how do you handle it when you don't enjoy your job? I've dreaded coming into work for at least a year now and can't imagine how that feeling will intensify when I have to leave our little girl behind. Since the moment I found out I was pregnant, I've been praying for a peace about this and feel okay right now but she's not here yet.

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  28. My first baby was born in May 2015, and I am also a working mom. I cried from 6 weeks into my maternity leave until I went back to work at 12 weeks. I told my husband over and over that I couldn't leave my baby, but after several long weeks of looking at our budget and considering our future goals and current lifestyle, I realized that staying home wasn't an option. I also wasn't convinced I would be happy with the decision in the long run. I've been back at work for 7 months now, pumping 3 times a day at work, and it does get better. Every month gets a little bit easier, but there are still days where I feel guilty leaving my baby at daycare. When she is teething, when she is tired and cranky, I feel so terrible leaving her. Having a wonderful daycare and loving teachers eases the guilt, but what I live for is at the end of the work day, when I pick her up or see her at home, and I get the biggest smile, waving arms and crazy leg kicks. That's what I work towards every day. All I can say is hang in there. You are doing your best, and that is all anyone can ask for! This post is hugely inspiring for all future and current working moms out there.

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    1. Thank you for sharing :) I'm glad you can relate! Cheers to you as well. It sounds like you are a wonderful mother and love your baby! The smiles are what I work for too :))

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  29. I always thought wanting to go back to work would be a no-brainer, but as soon as that baby popped out nothing made sense anymore. Kids wreck you.

    I love your working mom posts, they give me so much perspective. And you really are doing a great job.

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  30. Every word of this rings so true to my heart. I've already got anxiety for a business trip I have to take in 2 weeks that is just one night. I'm not worried about him...he will be totally fine with his daddy...but this momma is gonna have a HARD.TIME being away.

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  31. Dude. I'm doing that weird cry where you sit at your desk at work on your lunch hour and tears are just streaming down your face but you can't make a noise because you're in a cubicle and how do you explain to someone that a blog post from a stranger made you cry (whew, that was a sentence!). Anyway, I just want to say, I get you. We were so fortunate that my parents kept our daughter until she was 15 months old. She's been in daycare for almost 3 months now and it is not getting any easier. I mean, I'm not a basket case all day and I don't cry at drop off anymore, but my heart still spends the whole day just feeling squeezed. My heart and my gut, actually. By 3, I'm staring at the clock, willing it to get close to 5 so I can sneak out 10 minutes early and go scoop my angel up and remind her that I love her and spend the whole evening showering her with all things "mommy". And I think the only thing I've accepted at this point is that this feeling probably shouldn't change. I mean, maybe this is just the feeling of a loving and caring parent, rather than a season of getting used to something necessary but hated? And after I have this thought, I start to feel totally overwhelmed because how on earth can I live with this angst for the rest of my life? And then I realize, "how can I not?" :) So yeah, parenting is super hard. Loving someone this much is super hard. Letting go of some control of your little is super hard. Working while someone else gets to steal smiles and hugs and giggles is super hard. We're just all in the trenches of "super hard" together. And hopefully, some days of this "super hard" involve cake and baby giggles. My 2 favorite things. ;)

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    1. I'm so glad you can relate. Thank you for sharing. I know the exact feelings you are talking about! I get you too :)

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  32. This was so hard to read because I have the same feelings. I fear the voice that tells me a real mom would know all the things that the daycare teachers will be telling me. I just hope that I have the same voice that tells me that I really am her mom and she really does love me and know that I'm doing this for the right reason. We went and tried daycare this week and it helped me ease a little into it. I don't know what a mess I'm going to be on Monday, but I know that so many other mothers have been there and so many more will be there. We're all in it together.

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  33. Thanks for sharing what's on your heart. You're doing awesome, friend. You are such a wonderful mother and R is going to grow up simply adoring you and wanting to be strong and brave and hard working and loving, just like her mama. It brought tears to my eyes that you were able to comfort a fellow mom as she went on a business trip away from her baby for the first time. We should all try to support each other, just like that.

    I feel like I'm in a weird spot because I work part time. It's like I can't commit to being a full time stay at home mom and I can't claim that I struggle with being a full time working away from the home mom. I feel kind of sheepish if I talk to either group. I just keep telling myself that this is what works for my family and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of it!

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  35. Let me tell you....it is hard. So, so hard. My son is almost 17 months old and I still cry every week over leaving him. I want to stay home with him and I can't. Yes, I try to stay positive. But it's hard. It's REALLY, REALLY hard. So what you said here...I get it, like REALLY get it. Hang in there - take it day by day - and remember, you're an amazing mom. If you ever need to vent or just talk...I'm here b/c I'm in the exact same boat.

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