Two years ago I sat down with my publisher and managing editor when I found out I was pregnant. They asked me if I intended to come back to work after my son was born.
"Of course!" I answered, without a second thought. I couldn't imagine not working in an office setting, and after all, moms go back to work after maternity leave all the time. Why couldn’t I?
Eight weeks after Cooper's birthday I had my first day back in the office. In the top-10 list of all-time difficult moments in my life, leaving home that morning was No. 3, outranking the day I received a rejection letter from my dream college.
I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind when I left my son with his caretaker. I was a ball of anxiety until I crossed the threshold of my home that afternoon and scooped up my newborn son.
Day after day, week after week, the guilt didn't fade as many friends suggested it would. I began to wonder why I felt that I needed to be with my son. I trusted his caretaker, and I enjoyed my work, so why did I feel this way?
When children are small, it seems like they grow and change at a breakneck pace. It was when I came home to a crawling 6-month-old that I realized why I was tied up in knots — I was afraid of missing the little milestones that make all of the difficult parts of being a parent so deliciously worthwhile.
Still, though, I didn't want to give up a career that I love.
This inner conflict isn't uncommon among American moms. In 2011, the Working Mother Research Institute surveyed 3,700 mothers to find out "What Moms Choose" when it comes to working outside the home or being a full-time parent. While 51 percent of working moms said they felt guilty about not spending enough time with their children, 55 percent of stay-at-home moms were worried about their family's financial situation.
Additionally, more than half of career-oriented stay-at-home moms said they would rather be working, but due to several factors — cost of childcare, inflexible employers, lack of part-time options, 40-plus hour work weeks — they choose to leave the workplace.
But why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't a career-minded mother stay at home and work, too?
According to the study, mothers who are career oriented but choose to stay at home are an "untapped, or at least underused, talent pool." Employers, by becoming more flexible, could harness the experience and drive of these women at "bargain rates."
As a writer, finding a flexible employer was key to becoming a work-at-home mom. In truth, all a journalist needs is a phone and an Internet connection and voila — you have an office. For others, though, it isn't so easy to find a fulfilling career that can be performed while you're watching your child grow and thrive.
Of course there are other options, such as freelancing, consulting or building a cottage industry, but even those aren't one-size-fits-all solutions. The fact is that it's a delicate balance for every mother — and especially new mothers — to find fulfillment at work, at home, or at work in the home. It's a hard choice, and one not to be taken lightly.
If you're a working mom with similar experiences, please feel to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will protect your privacy. In a future column, I'll share the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to working at home with a young one under foot.