When I was a baby, and my mother inevitably returned to work after an all-too-short maternal hiatus, she left our home at 6 a.m. and didn’t return until long after my bedtime. Her job, which required that she spend 80% of her life chained to a desk, meant that she rarely got to tuck me in, read me bedtime stories, or get to really enjoy all of the rewards of motherhood. She’d return home after an exhausting day to find 1-year-old me soundly asleep in my crib, so she’d put in VHS tapes (Woah, remember the 90’s?) of me she’d taken on the weekend and mourn the lost hours of toddler-hood she’d never get back. This, all in the name of providing me a comfortable life and the best education tax dollars can buy.
Fast forward 20-something years, and my husband now faces the same conundrum (and oddly enough, is in the same business as my mother). He leaves at 5:30 in the morning while I groggily make my cup of morning coffee, and makes the hour and a half trek to work, only to do the same thing at 6, which gets him home well after dinner time. He’s missed hours of baby smiles, tummy time, bubble baths, and diaper change chats during which Finn babbles the most glorious nonsense I’ve ever heard. It breaks his heart. He doesn’t have to tell me that, I just know by the forlorn look on his face on Sunday nights when he realizes his precious family time is nearing its end. This, all in the name of giving us a comfortable life, and raising our son in a safe, well-kept home.
I have been lucky enough to stumble upon a profession that allows me to be at home, working between 4- hour naps (bless that little boy’s affinity for sleep) and while breastfeeding. Though sometimes I don’t change out of my spit-up stained PJs or brush my hair, I don’t have to miss the smiles, the milestones, watching him sleep in his rocker which is positioned next to my desk. For many parents, this is an impossibility. Why? Because we live in a society that has a blatant disregard for work-life balance. We’re determined to put in the most hours, make the most money, be the most successful. How do I know? For starters, we’re the only developed country that has an embarrassingly laissez-faire attitude about maternity leave. For a society that encourages and promotes motherhood, we are too quick to abandon mothers when they (and their babies) need it most. Women are leaving the home to go back to work before their children can hold up their heads on their own, because most maternity leave (like mine) is unpaid. Our society can no longer afford to parent, leaving more children vulnerable to the problems that accompany disconnected parents. When is enough, enough? When do the numbers no longer add up?
My primary job comes with no income, no health benefits (unless you count lack of sleep), no vacation time. It does, however, come with rewards beyond my wildest imagination. Namely, the chirping sound of one little boy who has just learned to make sounds other than cry, and the indescribable feeling of being all at once exhausted and in madly in love with someone as they pee directly into your eye at 2 a.m.
That, my friends, is the stuff of life.