New Mom Dispatch: Balancing Work and a Baby
Learning the parenthood ropes one month at a time
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
I never thought I’d quit my job to stay home with a baby full-time. The other women in my family didn’t, my friends didn’t. I liked my job, didn’t consider myself a “baby person” and couldn’t imagine what one did all day in that role.
I inferred as much to my then-boss, but wisely he (a father of three) said that before making a final decision, I should wait and see how I felt once the kid showed up.
And here I am, a year later, a stay-at-home mom (albeit one with some freelance editing and writing work, including this column). Turns out I really enjoyed taking care of Fiona and taking a hiatus from the working world.
The decision about going back to work involves so many factors: the availability of affordable childcare and family help; the partner’s support or lack thereof; the baby’s disposition; the commute; the salary, and so forth, to say nothing of the philosophies and feelings we each harbor about the intersection of parenthood and career.
Of course, being able to debate the choice at all is a great privilege — most people have to go back to work for financial reasons, and that’s that. (Indeed, thanks to the United States’ appalling lack of mandated paid family leave, a widely cited 2012 report found that one in four women return to work just two — two! — weeks after giving birth.) But for those in the position to decide, what ultimately guides the choice?
Not surprisingly, it seems the factors are usually personal, not political. In my case, what tipped the scale was that upon stepping away during maternity leave, I realized I had been restless in my job and welcomed the excuse to move on, as well as not having any family (i.e., free help) in the area and wanting the flexibility to visit them. Also, that my line of work allows for part-time, virtual-office opportunities.
Another thing that helped make the decision was realizing that one’s work situation, and who looks after a child, is mutable. Staying home the first year doesn’t per se equal staying home the next five years, just as going back to work after 12 weeks doesn’t mean there won’t be chances to be home more when your kid is older. Working remotely, partners trading off, grandparents pitching in, nannies quitting, daycare spots opening up, careers changing… for better or worse, nothing is set in stone.
At least I hope not. I’ve never regretted the decision to leave my job. Far from it. But a year into this gig, I’m eager to be more engaged in the “outside” world, though I’m unsure of what that should look like. Despite living in a big city full of young families, being at home with a young one is still isolating. And, if I’m being honest, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with the identity of being a stay-at-home parent. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish I truly didn’t care what others thought; that I didn’t need a salary or an office to make my work feel of value. But it’s a hard notion to shake, even when I am the one doing the job.
What will a part-time work setup look like? And that childcare? And is it possible to not feel overstretched when trying to keep a foot in each world? I’ll let you know…
Born and raised in Seattle, Becca Bergman Bull is a writer, editor and new mom in Brooklyn.