Hard Work

I think I always knew I would be a work-outside-the-home sort of mom.

My own Mom, God rest her soul, worked. She didn’t have a career, but she worked. I never knew a world where moms didn’t work, though admittedly I was lucky enough that my mom was always home for us after school, and I’m pretty sure my parents made it work so that we never had babysitters, daycare or nannies.

I can’t give that to my own kid, but I’d like to think that’s OK.

I remember when my parents divorced, I watched as my mom spiraled pretty severely. Even at that young age (11), I could easily see that my mother had never carved a life, or an identity, beyond that of being my dad’s wife. I don’t recall her having any hobbies, other than reading Danielle Steel and watching Dallas, and she didn’t have many close friends. She loved my sister and I, to be sure, but she wasn’t particularly maternal.

I promised myself that that would never be me. I would never be dependent on anyone, and if my family ever split apart, I wouldn’t. I would make it. I would be able to take care of myself. I know better now, of course, that not everyone’s lives turn out like my mom’s did, but sometimes those early childhood experiences have an indelible impact. I had a difficult time respecting my mother, because it seemed she lacked the self-worth to pick herself up and just get on with it already. I know now it wasn’t that simple, of course, but there was some truth to that, to her lacking self-worth, and for a little kid, the gray areas that made up that reality don’t matter. I sometimes have a difficult time articulating what it felt like to have a mom who, for the last years of her life, was on a pretty sad, self-destructive course, and just how self-involved it made her.

It was that experience that reminds me that my own daughter already knows more than I realize.

For 11-year-old Erin, the only path to self-worth was to study and work hard so I could find a successful career for myself and insulate myself from ever resembling my mom and experience the sadness, anger and pain she did. I couldn’t have known my mom’s issues were much more complex than just not having a well-paying, fulfilling job, that it’s not about working but about having the foundation to make healthy, fulfilling, holistic choices for one’s life, and even then you can’t avoid being hurt.

But my trajectory was set. And so here I am.

The thing I learned later, of course, is that finding your passion can take any number of forms, and it’s only those who, much like my mom, have no particular passion for anything are unable to cope with change. You don’t need money or an exciting career or kids or a marriage, just something in your life that inspires you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, tragedy be damned. And so I think for me, working became that thing.

I’d always left room for the fact that I could have a child and decide that I wanted to quit working outside the home. I knew enough that things change, life takes you in directions you can’t predict and everything I’d held true for myself could morph quickly. For me, however, that hasn’t happened. In the treacherous, exhausting, soul-sucking early weeks of first-time parenthood, I thought it more likely that I sprout wings and fly than not go back to working at Edelman full-time. I wept for how much I missed the relative easiness that came from producing social media strategy for a client, rather the monumental difficulty that seemed to be caring for Abigail.

I always want to smack people who think the three months a woman spends on maternity leave is a vacation. It was the hardest three months of my life.

Now, of course, Abigail sleeps through the night more often than not, and she’s older and more at ease with the world. There is more reciprocation than there was before, which goes a long way, more than I realized. My body has begun healing and my hormones no longer resemble a knife fight in a back alley in the worst part of town.

(Ladies stumbling on this who might just be in the early weeks, you are doing a marvelous job, hang in there, it does get better, promise.)

And yet still? I am so very happy to be back at work. I would like to say I feel guilty about this, but I can’t bring myself to do that disservice to my daughter and the future I hope to carve for her, which is to say one of which is similar to mine, one with options and possibility. I never want Abigail to feel as though by virtue of becoming a parent it means any of her other choices, the ones that mean something to her alone, should no longer have meaning in her life. It is an awful burden women place upon themselves from Day One into motherhood, and it’s sad.

Make no mistake – I miss Abigail. My office is closely resembling a shrine already, and it seems every day I’m printing out a new picture of her to post on my cork boards. Or, as the case was yesterday, on my office door. I get incredibly weepy when I think about her, and I’ve found myself absentmindedly scanning through old pictures of her, just to see her face. But I feel like myself again.

This is all a luxury, and I know that if I had to take a different path, for her I would do it. But I am grateful, so grateful, that I’m able to work at my job, and have that fulfillment in my life. I am grateful for Abigail’s loving, caring, amazing nanny who makes life function in such a way that I don’t spend all of my time at work worrying. I am grateful that I have job that allows me the flexibility to arrange my work hours to make this all happen.

This has made me a better mother for Abigail. It has meant that she has the sort of mother who has the confidence, self-worth and joy necessary to be a good mother. This is not a prescription for all, of course, but it’s clearly the prescription for me.

I unnecessarily spent years worrying about the sort of mother I would be, scared of repeating the same mistakes as my mom. I’m not perfect, but as my friends Joanne and Coleen are fond of saying, I am the perfect mom for Abigail, and I work hard at making that happen for her every day. In some ways, I feel like the work I did before Abigail has made this possible. In recognizing the times I needed help, the times where I needed to reset my course, all of those instances prepared me to be present and available for my daughter in a way my mother never could have been for me.

I don’t worry so much anymore.

Today, as I do now every Friday, I sat at my dining room table, working and clacking away at my keyboard. I heard Abigail’s nanny call me from upstairs, asking me if I had a minute. I ran upstairs, worried something was wrong.  I was met with them both on the floor, blanket spread out beneath Abigail, my daughter working extra hard at steadying herself to stay upright, with help from the nanny. Her face burst into a gummy, wide smile when she saw me. I sat down beside them both, cheering my daughter on, laughing and grateful for what I have. For what we’ve worked so hard to reap.