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Returning to Work Has Given Me a New Appreciation for Working Moms

04/17/2015 12:50 EDT | Updated 06/17/2015 05:59 EDT
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I have no desire to partake in the "Mommy Wars." In fact, I've stopped reading a lot of the articles. I don't want to read any more arguments about who has it harder, whose work is "real work," who is contributing more to society, or who is doing a better job ensuring her kids become stable, non-homicidal adults. Enough. I'm proposing a new form of Internet literature: "The Mommy Props." This is where one group of moms singles out another group of moms for a job well done. Allow me to elaborate.

I was a career woman pre-kids, working as a documentary filmmaker. When my kids were born, I took time off to be with them while they were young, which turned into six years without my noticing. I called myself an "Accidental stay-at-home mom" because it hadn't been part of my plan. Now I am transitioning back to work and I have a newfound appreciation for working moms (I'm documenting my story on firstdaybackpodcast.com). This is not a jab to the SAHM community. Both camps have their own challenges, but it's time to give each other some props.

The first thing is props to you moms who have learned to balance the tricky tightrope of career identity versus mom identity. The simple fact of the matter is that society sees you differently once you have borne children (fair enough -- you ARE different). That can be a hurdle at work. I am starting to recognize a silent expression on my colleagues' faces, "Is this still a priority for her?" they wonder. Fair question. It's not my no.1 anymore, but make no mistake, I can shut off thinking about my kids to focus on work.

Then there are those moments when real life creeps into work life. When a colleague asks how my kid is doing, the answer should be brief. Bringing up your kids reminds people about your other concern, which leads them back to the wondering. It can feel like career flatlining and makes it doubly hard to look like you're "Leaning In." When I brought some slapdash cookies I made into a production meeting the other day, a colleague said, "Homemade cookies! What are you, some kind of Supermom?" In a work context, it was clearly a put-down. I struggle to keep up the veneer or professionalism while being true to the mother part of me.

The second part is logistics. We usually talk about the "work" part of working, but from my new vantage point, all the life that fits around the work is decidedly more stressed than when I was a SAHM. Before, I was able to prepare for a lot of the family's needs during the day, so that after school, evenings, and weekends were mostly about family outings and activities. Now I have to fit a lot of new tasks into the time around the edges of work and it's not easy. Here are some working mom shout-outs:

Props to you mamas who get out the door for work every day!

Now that I have meetings that start at 9 a.m., I have a new appreciation for the mayhem it can take to get a three-year-old to daycare for a precise time. My eldest leaves early for school, but the toddler is part of the new routine. Newsflash: toddlers don't appreciate the words "new" and "routine" together. Toddlers are all about the old routine and they exist in their own time zones. They have behaviour rituals that you cannot break -- they literally HAVE to do these things. If you interrupt them midstream, they have to start all over from the beginning. If they need to look for a missing toy, it is exceedingly difficult for them to understand that it has to be "later."

Most of my departures this week have involved tears, both his and mine, because of my inability to predict all the ways he can try to slow us down. I heard an interview the other day with Angelina Jolie on balancing work and motherhood. She said that once, when going to the Oscars in her ballgown, she realized she had baby pee on her dress. This has been so much uglier than that.

Kudos to you mamas who deal with the witching hours after daycare or school!

Yes, seeing your child's face after a day of work can prompt unparalleled heart expansion. But once that subsides, the scramble to leave school and daycare, to get home and do homework, make dinner, and possibly get to activities is a race against an unforgiving clock. With grumpy, tired kids.

Congrats to you mamas who have supper figured out!

I used to make dinner during the day. My dinners were far more elaborate than they are now. On the days when I get home late and everyone is hungry and whining, dinner is a form of defrosting and assembling previously unknown. I am working on getting better at planning this.

High-five to you who plan weekends with precision!

Weekends are now filled with the errands and chores I could previously do during the week. It is no fun to spend your weekend doing laundry, groceries, picking up prescriptions, and buying your kids new shoes. Extra points for you ladies who manage to slip those things in at random times during the week so as not to have to do them on the weekend.

Heartfelt props to you mamas who work late, work extra, work harder, to compensate for a sick child.

If you can work from home, having a sick kid can mean not letting your colleagues down as much. If you can't, finding a babysitter to be with your sick kid can bring on guilt beyond guilt. Either way, there are only so many times this can happen before your colleagues are put out. If your kid has persistent ear troubles, for example, the pressure not to be the weakest link in your work chain can be defeating.

Stay-at-home moms:

I know all about the endless days, the monotony of house care, the craving of adult stimulation, and the overwhelming sense of being undervalued. There are high-fives for all that too -- I have been there. But how about giving "Mommy Props" a try? Find a mom in a situation different from your own and call her out on all the great things she is doing that nobody talks about. Who's next?

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