By Lisa Cucinotta
I am a working mom. Some days I am not sure if this means I am a mom who works, or I am a worker who is also a mom. Over the last few years, I’ve watched my career path take a few twists and turns that have made me think about the dual roles of parenting and career.
I never considered being a a stay at home before I had kids. My early struggles with PPD and general difficulty acclimating to parenting have proven to me that I am a happier, better mommy because I work outside the house. I hope this goes without saying, but I want to stop here and say that I think stay at home moms are awesome. Just because I don’t want to be one doesn’t mean I don’t have the utmost respect for them. Mom tip: Don’t judge other moms.
My career has been a great source of pride in my life. There have been times when I loved it so much that I wanted to be at work more than I wanted to be at home with the kids. This was partly escapism I think, especially when Julia was young and I was having a tough time. But it’s also because I have a genuine passion for the type of work I do – I work in social media which is exciting and fast paced in an ever evolving space.
In addition to being an exciting career, it’s also one that requires a lot of time in and out the office. I leave the house at 7:20 every morning and get home about the same time at night because I live in the suburbs of NYC and my commute takes about an hour and twenty minutes door to door each way. My kids are already asleep when I get home. Most nights after my husband and I eat dinner I get back online to do more work. At night on the weekends (since we don’t go out at night much because of the kids) I often do work to catch up.
What this means is that I don’t see my kids very much. They are up with us at 6 am so I get a little time with them before work, but I spend the majority of it getting ready. Mom tip: Even though I’d love to see my kids when I get home at night and have thought about keeping them up later, their optimal happiness level seems to be when they go to sleep between 6:30 – 7pm. Don’t force a schedule for your kids to fit you if it doesn’t work well for them.
I’m lucky that Brian has a job that enables him to get home in time to relieve the nanny and put the kids to bed. I’ve noticed that a lot of my working mom friends have the bedtime shift. They either leave work even earlier than I do (I leave around 5:30, which where I work is really early) to put their kids to bed, or they have kids that go to bed later. Many of them seem to be responsible for making dinner too, which I also don’t do. Since Brian comes home first, he’s the one that heats up the leftovers. But the reason we have leftovers in the first place is that he does all the cooking (he loves to cook and is excellent at it, whereas I don’t and have limited kitchen skills).
Yes, I know, I’m extremely lucky, like really really lucky, and so I feel like a shit for complaining. And I don’t know if I am complaining. I mean, I adore my kids, but I don’t feel like I need to be with them all the time. I cherish their delicious faces, their funny expressions, their little kid voices, their enthusiasm. But even on the weekends, I also cherish the minutes when I can do something around the house without having someone crying or whining or demanding something.
Feeling this way, this lack of “child first” in my experience as a parent makes me feel isolated. I am a working mom, so I don’t relate to stay at home moms, but I also feel like I don’t have the same experiences as a lot of the working moms I know. Sometimes I relate better to the working dads, except they don’t seem to have quite as much guilt. Actually, who knows if that’s true – I am sure many working dads have as much guilt as working moms. But they seem to talk about it less, or when they do talk about it, it’s more matter of fact.
Lately, I’ve been trying to focus more on what I want out of my life, because I’ve been going through some pretty significant personal and professional stress and it has been making me question both arenas. While I haven’t been able to resolve or answer a number of my outstanding existential crises (I mean, who has? No really, who has? If you have, come talk to me!) there was one I came to terms with that kind of blew my mind. I asked myself a question that was so simple but that in my parenting stresses and job stresses I never bothered to ask myself before: If you could have the career of your dreams or your family but not both, which one would you choose?
The answer was family, without a second thought. I have a feeling there are very few people who currently have spouses and kids that would say career but if they do, I’m sorry for them. Please note, this doesn’t mean I’d be happy if I didn’t have my career. My job is super important to my identity as a person, and so it will always be something I’ll struggle with as I try and be the best mom and wife I can while working a demanding job. I don’t see myself downsizing my professional goals to be at home more, but I do think I can commit to being more present when I actually am home. This commitment is going to take some adjusting of my life, if I am being honest. Even today was sneaking in laptop time whenever the kids were playing contentedly, and that’s got to change if I want to live in the moment and not on a device.
But at the end of the day, my revelation that I’d choose family over career is what makes me a (wife and) mom who works, and not a worker who is a mom. Not even all the ambition in the world (of which I have a tremendous amount) can change that for me, because no job title or press quote or client accolade will ever be able to replace a family hug.