A few weeks back I read on my friend Jen’s facebook status that she was going back to work after staying home and caring for her daughter Awynn for nearly four months. Jen sometimes writes me little notes and I love the way she writes, fluid with sentiment and poetry. I asked her if she would write a guest blog about her experience of going back to work, as a new mum. She accepted. Her story is below.
Kai and I met Jen and her husband and life-partner Jon when we were travelling in India some years back. We took to them instantly. We met them on a train platform on our way to Goa and then travelled with them down to Gokarna. We were light travelling companions who shared the road for some time and then went our separate ways to continue on our journeys in different directions, we went North, they went South.
Jen used to teach pre-school children following the inspiration of the Reggio Emilia model, a child-led approach centered on trusting and supporting the child’s innate curiosity as the thrust for learning – which I found super compelling. Now, Jen teaches school art 9th to 12th grade, concentrating on design, drawing, ceramics and photography.
Here is Jen’s account of returning to this work, while leaving her little one in the care of her grandparents:
Going back to work is easily the most difficult challenge I have faced.
I spent each moment leading up to my first day back with my sweet girl, Awynn, close to me as she had been since she emerged into my hands three and a half months earlier. I became emotional on my walks with her as I observed her wide eyes taking all in and knowing I would be missing such moments of wonder and growth. I could not reconcile that I would be leaving her in order to work with other people’s children who were having equally amazing moments of wonder and growth away from their own parents. It felt so unnatural.
All that my daughter knew up until the point of my departure to work was going to transform. All that soothed her would change, all that excited her would change, the daily rhythm that we developed as mother and child would be recognizable, but void of one important factor, me. And it is this absence that caused such grief within…the thought of my daughter’s isolation from the foundation of trust that we had established and that going back to work meant loosing that somehow.
So many questions emerged at that time: Can I continue to be present for my daughter and her needs while I am away from her? Will our connection remain as deeply strong? Will I be able to continue to understand her evolving language? Will she shift her love for me to my mother and father who will be caring for her?
And while I was in the vulnerable state of diving into this process of inquiry, I made a mistake. I looked outside of myself. At the time, I saw it as research, seeking the advice of another experienced and informed being who may provide insight and who may even provide me with a bit of validation…that all would be okay. I decided to read about going back to work in Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book. To his credit, I find Dr. Sears‘ advice quite relevant and informed and usually non-judgmental…all reasons why I sought his advice in the first place. The pages that I read in my vulnerable state have since morphed in content, but went a little something like this…He suggested taking time off from work, extending one’s leave, quitting or going back part time. Yes, I would love to, but I am not in a situation where that is possible. Then I read on, that once distance starts to develop between a child and her parents, that it can trigger a sort of domino effect. That one day away becomes two and then dinner without baby becomes a weekend getaway without baby which leads to an extended vacation without baby which leads to a lifetime of distance between parents and child which leads to adolescent rebellion.
What have I done?
By choosing to buy a house with the intention of creating a sacred space, a home for my child, I put myself in a financial position that required me to work. Wouldn’t my daughter be better off living in a smaller rented space to allow for either my husband or me to be present on a daily basis? This dilemma was unsettling and occupied my thoughts and heart for some time. Eventually, the interior dialogue began to wane and clarity settle…the conclusion I drew was…Trust. Surrender. Awynn was born within the walls of the home we created for her and it is here that the magic of our new family dwells. We will stay where her father has harvested the first voluptuous vegetables of his gardening efforts, we will stay where we have planted fig, apple and pear trees, we will stay where rooms have been mindfully created with intention for a small being’s first explorations….we will stay.
And so the inevitable consequence of this decision began. Work, meaningful work, but work nonetheless. Trust. Surrender. On the first day I returned, I kissed my sleeping girl goodbye and left her with my dear parents. I welled up with emotion on my drive to school imagining her cries upon waking without me there to soothe her, to feed her. She had not taken a bottle up until this point despite over a month of attempts, many types of bottle and nipple combinations, many scenarios of my presence/absence in the room… I checked in before lunch…all was fine…I checked in at lunch…all was fine…I checked in after lunch…she had taken a bottle!!! Well…with a lot of coaxing and being lulled into a sleepy state with rattle on the part of my patient mom. When I got a report that she read books, listened to multi-cultural music, played with scarves and instruments…I knew that my baby was going to be fine. In fact, she was going to thrive!
And so began the unexpected….First, the smile. The smile of recognition and bliss given by my daughter to me, her momma, as I come walking on the porch where she and her grandmother are swinging melts the heart. Secondly, the grandparents. My parents are wonderful. I am infinitely grateful and blessed that they have chosen to stay home with Awynn. But the unexpected is the depth of their love and the capacity of growth for their relationship with her. Awynn has gained, not lost in this new rhythm. I am her mother. My husband and I are her parents. This connection will deepen and grow organically and our strong foundation of trust established from the moment she emerged into the world is unchangeable. Her world is expanding with the presence of her grandparents. My parents create a wider circle of trust in their love and commitment to her. Her circle has grown to four individuals who understand her cues, who listen to her needs, who expose her to exciting new experiences. Which brings me to the third unexpected aspect, healing. I am now able to observe, firsthand, what my parents were possibly like with me when I was a baby. There is something incredible about seeing my father put on a special straw walking hat that signals to my daughter (who squeals and kicks her legs in delight) that she will be taking a walk soon. And to see my mother lie down next to my sleeping daughter in the morning as I kiss them both goodbye knowing that my daughter will know her grandmother this intimately forever. Awynn is my gift to them…a new beginning with a radiant new being.
The understanding and clarity gained from this process of returning to work is that the challenge was about me, my identity as a mother, not Awynn’s. She is fluid in her adaptation, clear and present in her body as it is exposed to this amazing reality in which we live. I have learned that she is capable and aware of who I am and how I fit into this reality. It was me who needed defining by me. I am an individual who needs the stimulation that my work with my students brings. I could gain new stimulation by being at home…trying on that identity, but I would not be affecting the lives of my students and they would not be affecting mine. I would miss that as well. As far as the isolation I was grieving for in my earlier state of uncertainty…I was grieving for my isolation from my daughter, not hers from me. It is still very difficult some days, especially when my students are not choosing to put energy into their work, but it becomes easier and easier each day to balance my identities. I dive into my work at school more deeply knowing that my daughter is thriving at home and motivated by the fact that if I am away, I am going to make it worth every moment! I have challenging mornings leaving her and there is not a moment when I do not miss her while I am away (especially pumping while looking at a photo of her…so unnatural…a full topic in and of itself!) But coming home….oh the sweet, sweet moment of returning home and snuggling up with my girl…overflowing with love.