I’m going back to work on Wednesday.
Well, sort of.
The plan is for me to work half-days for the rest of the summer. In June, for the four hours that I’m at work daily, my husband will take care of our son four days a week, and my mom will do it the fifth day. In July, we switch to half-days at the university daycare. In September, everything becomes full-time.
My logical brain is very happy with this plan. There are a lot of very good things about it:
- My husband will take on a more prominent role in the childcare. Right now he is pretty definitely the secondary parent, and rarely cares for Soren when I’m not around; having primary caregiving responsibilities when I am not there for four hours a day will be a big step up in his relationship with his son.
- Ditto for my mom (Nana). She was a huge help in the early weeks, but hasn’t spent as much time around her grandson lately. There’s no substitute for one-on-one time, and I’m so glad that she is able to help us out in this way and strengthen her relationship with her grandson.
- Getting back to work is going to be good for my brain. The few times I’ve done work or gone to the university to meet with students or colleagues, I’ve come back feeling refreshed, and caring for my son has been all the more fun and interactive because of it.
- Giving my research program a boost with my time this summer will be good for my long-term job security. I’m just about 2.5 years away from the crucial up-or-out tenure decision point, and research has been harder for me to maintain at a high level than teaching. I love my job, I get a lot of personal satisfaction from it, and I know I make an impact on my students. Also, it pays the bills, and more. I want to keep my job in the long run. Summer is the only time I can focus exclusively on research, and so this time is particularly important to help me do my job well.
- Transitioning to part-time daycare when my son is just over four months old will mean that he gets care from people trained in early childhood development, and has a chance to ease into the daycare situation instead of suddenly going full-time when he’s six months old.
- Since my schedule is completely up to me this summer, we can try things and change them if they don’t work. If everyone is miserable with the plan, I can work less or not at all, and then we’ll have time to work out a new plan before September.
- I can pay myself for my time out of a grant. Me working even half-time this summer means about an extra $10k for our family, which more than pays for daycare and offsets the cost of the unpaid leave my husband is taking in June. And if I don’t take summer salary this year, I might not be able to use up the summer salary I budgeted before the grant expires. So the finances make sense for us.
My emotional brain is much less happy with the plan. There are some negative thoughts that keep running around in my head:
- My son is too little for me to go back to work. He’ll be 14 weeks old when I start back part-time, which is more leave than most moms in the US get… but theoretically I could stay home full-time until he’s six months old. What kind of mom would choose to go back to work before she absolutely has to? This is mostly guilt, I think.
- Being apart from my son feels physically painful — and I’ve never been apart from him for as long as four hours before. Still, I know that it will be healthy for me to have a break from caring for him all day (while I love him to the ends of the Earth, taking care of an infant full-time is difficult work mentally and physically), and I know that learning to separate from him is something I will have to do eventually — better to do it gradually than all at once in September.
- Then, there’s the bottle situation. My son is not good at eating from bottles. We’ve been working at it since he was six weeks old, and most days he just doesn’t seem to want to do it. I will feel extremely guilty if I go off to work for four hours a day and come back to a screaming baby and a frazzled husband/mom because of the bottle situation. I’ve heard horror stories from friends of babies who refused bottles for 8-hour daycare days for weeks before they finally caved. I do not want to do that to my baby, or to my husband and mom. The logical part of my brain points out that Soren is entirely physically capable of going without food for four hours even if he’s not happy about it, and it’s better for him to learn to take a bottle during four-hour days than during 8-hour days in the fall… but that’s going to be cold comfort to my stressed-out husband/mom in these early weeks if it’s as bad as I fear it’s going to be. Maybe it won’t be, though? The good news is that I’m only a 7-minute drive away, so if it gets too bad there’s always the option that my husband/mom can drive him to me (or once he’s in daycare, he’ll be a 10-minute walk from my office). I’d rather nurse him than pump anyway!
- Once we start him at daycare, the chances that he’ll get sick increase astronomically. I’m dreading his first illness. I will feel awful when he gets sick. Holding off that inevitable first illness until he’s six months old instead of four months old sounds awfully appealing.
As I read this list now, I’m pretty confident that our plan is what’s going to work best for our family, and that the positives outweigh the negatives. But the guilt I’m feeling right now is enormous.
Well, hopefully everything will go smoothly this week, and there will be mornings full of father-son bliss at home while I productively pound out papers and then come home to hang out with my smiling, cooing baby for the rest of the day. I can dream, right?