This post was written by new contributor and new mom, Lindsey Kaufman Palan.
My maternity leave was six wonderful months of learning how to be a mom and getting to know my baby. They were also six very LONG months. Oh, and did I mention UNPAID? (Yay, self-employment!) Of course, I’m extremely fortunate I had the ability to stay home that long. Apparently, only 12% of employees in the US have paid maternity leave at all, which means many parents have to make a choice between physically recovering and bonding with their baby or, you know, being able to live and eat and stuff.
We decided on daycare for our baby Jack, opting for a cute, homey brownstone location five minutes from our apartment. His daycare has a short transition period to get the babies acclimated: an hour the first day, two the next, then half day, followed by (hallelujah!) a full day.
“Did you cry?” my mom asked me on his first “day,” practically in tears herself,
“Ummm, it was an hour? I got coffee, wrote an email and then had to go back and get him,” was my response.
My mom can definitely ebb on the side of having lots and lots of feelings, but I get why she asked. Many parents feel guilty leaving their new babies to go back to work and they endure emotional turmoil. I was not one of them. I felt relieved and blissfully happy at the notion I could actually have a baby-free moment. A whole day, even! Maybe I skipped to the subway on my first day….maybe.
Then I felt guilty—for not feeling guilty. Shouldn’t I have been sadder that I was leaving my baby?, I mused. I love Jack endlessly and it did feel weird leaving him at first. In fact, I kept having random moments of panic that I’d forgotten or lost something. I’d stop, check all my pockets and then realize it wasn’t my phone or keys that was missing, it was the tiny human life I’d been caring for the last 185 days. It was hard to shake the feeling that I’d had a very important appendage suddenly removed.
But was I sad? Nope!
I got lucky and booked a freelance job immediately. Then I found myself right back to the grind. Drop the baby off, commute to work, be a human person again, drop everything at 5pm and race back to pick him up. Then I’d spend what little time I could with him before his 6:45pm curfew, rinse and repeat. At work, it took awhile to clean the rust off my brain and get used to people treating me just as they had in my former life— like a woman who knew actual things and was capable of doing more than changing diapers and wiping endless spit up.
“Aren’t you so sad to leave your baby every day?” was a frequent question from friends and co-workers.
“Oh yes,” I’d reply with my saddest expression or if it was over text, with a variety of crying face emojis. I couldn’t let them know how I actually felt: FREE! Light as a feather! Renewed! I didn’t need them judging me for being a horrible mom; I was already judging myself.
Until I stopped. One month in, I decided to own it.
“I do miss him, but it’s good for me to have work/life balance. And it makes me even more excited to see him each day. Weekends are special times now, too.”
I felt relieved to speak the truth. I’m just not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom (and bless those of you who are! Seriously, how is that job unpaid?) and that’s okay. I know that if I didn’t have a job to go to during the day, I wouldn’t be the best version of myself, as I recently confirmed when Jack’s daycare had Spring Break. I mean, childbirth was less exhausting than being a 24/7 mom for 10 days straight. I realized that going back to work has actually made me a better mom and a better ME.
Of course, what’s right for me is not for everyone. Moms who want to return to work, but also can’t imagine leaving their new babies, might have a new option, depending on where you live. In six states, including Vermont and California, there’s a new program allowing state workers to bring 6-week to 6-month-old babies to work. Many parents have said it really helps the transition and has allowed them to return to work sooner, while continuing the bonding process. I love this option and hope it continues to expand across the country, although I’m not sure I would have opted for it myself.
Some states, like New York, also offer paid family leave, stating “working families no longer have to choose between caring for their loved ones and risking their economic security.” My husband used this option after his very short paid paternity leave from his company ended. We were so grateful for that program. Everyone should feel like they have some choice in how they return to their “new normal.”
As for me, I’ll just be over here continuing to feel no guilt and planning some sort of getaway for next year’s Spring Break. Any ideas?
Lindsey Kaufman Palan is a writer and creative director who’s new(ish) to the mom game and enjoying the wild ride. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Dan and their baby Jack. Follow her at @linzfaryl.