I've been dreading this moment for decades. Since back when I was young and carefree and single, when marriage was a distant dream and my son Lukas was just a tiny seed of longing in my heart. Even then I knew that this would be hard. Even then, I could sense how important this decision would be and how it would be next to impossible to make it. Even as I was building my career, mostly blissfully oblivious to my fertility or any of the requirements of motherhood, I sensed this looming on the horizon. I would sometimes wake up in the night, over the course of my 20's and early 30's, stricken by grief that I would one day have to make the impossible choice between my career and my unborn children. Back then, I panicked at the thought of either choice. Now the choice is a reality, and it's time to make it.
I've enjoyed 12 blissful weeks of maternity leave, but on Monday I must return to work. Part of me is ready and eager to get back into a regular schedule, and start using my brain for more than counting poopy diapers and ounces of breast milk. The other part of me gets nauseous at the mere thought of leaving my precious angel at daycare with a bunch of strangers.
But now that this has become a reality for me and not some distant daydream, I'm starting to realize that its not so much a choice to make, but rather a delicate balancing act that we pursue as we try to do everything. And I'm left to wonder: can we really have it all? Is it actually possible to have a fulfilling and challenging career while still providing our children the care that they need? Can we hold onto the career that we've been building since college? Can we dedicate as much of ourselves to our work as we did before the kids came along? Or do we lose a piece of that the day that we decide to have children?
In the short three months of my maternity leave, I have been forever changed. I walked out of my office on my last day of work before my son was born, thinking that I would return 12 weeks later and everything would be the same. But in those weeks, everything changed. Not on the surface, but deep within me. My perspective and my priorities fundamentally shifted, without my even realizing it. This tiny human that depends on Dan and I for every single thing in his little life now holds my heart. I will do anything and everything for him, and I love him so fiercely that it sometimes takes my breath away. My purpose is now first and foremost to be a mother. Everything else, including my career, is just gravy.
I guess only time will tell how much or little we're able to juggle the demands of both. I'm guessing it's one of those things where you just do what has to be done in each moment. Sometimes things are great, sometimes not, but you do the best you can each step of the way. And I am very fortunate to have a husband who is 100% involved in Lukas's life. With his support and encouragement, I know that we will make it work, whatever we choose to do. We are both committed to doing whatever is best for him.
But what exactly is best for him?
My mom was a stay at home mom. Dan's mom worked full time. And we both turned out ok. So how do you know what is best?
I want to stay home with him 24/7 and take care of his every need. I want him to grow up with the stability and the consistency of a stay-at-home parent. I want to make certain that he is getting everything that he needs and that he is being cared for in the best possible way, and the best way to ensure that is to do it myself. I want to be there day in and day out to see every single little change and development; his first step, first word, every single smile and laugh and tear.
But. I also want to continue pursuing my own career and personal goals. I want my son to see a real live example of professional women in the workforce and to know that boys AND girls can grow up to be whatever they want to be. I want him to have the kind of love that only a mother who loves herself and takes care of her own needs can give. I want him to see his mother fulfill her dreams while she helps him achieve his. I want him to see both his Mommy and his Daddy doing what sets their souls on fire, and I want him to know that he should settle for nothing less than the same as he grows and discovers himself in this world.
This is SO important to me. And all of these ideals sound great, I'm sure every parent probably wants the same for their children. But in order to achieve these results long-term, that means that I have to start doing the hard work today. What that means for me, right now, is that I have to suck it up and go to work on Monday. I can't have the reward without the sacrifice. I can't teach my son ideals and values that I don't embody and exhibit in my own actions.
For me and my family, this is what's right and true. For now at least... circumstances may change, priorities can shift, but for now, this is the right thing to do.
So pray for us on Monday, friends. I'm gonna need every ounce of positive energy that you can send my way!
© Haley McManigal 2017
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