Back to Work(?)

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?

11 thoughts on “Back to Work(?)

  1. jwhitworth7

    Ugh that mom guilt is so real isn’t it?!?! It is clear you have put some real thought into your transition back to work and I know you must be so thankful your family is watching Soren in the first few weeks back. I can imagine it will be difficult regardless but this is something that will make you a better mommy right? My equivalent is not nearly as meaningful but I have found that making exercise a priority helps me to be a better mommy to Luke and maintaining a career that you’ve devoted so much to will help so the same. I’m not going back to work and had a little bit of a reality check this past week when a student who I taught as a freshman and sophomore texted me about the impact I had on her….I got a bit sad and it made me miss teaching. I hope that you are fulfilled in all ways and I wish you the best of luck as you go back!!!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      You’re so right — the mom guilt is real. 🙂 Yes, I think in the long run this will make me a better mommy — it helps me to think back on my own childhood, when my mom worked. I remember that even though there were some times that I resented her work because it meant that she didn’t come to as many of my school events as some of my friends’ parents, I was also really proud of how she helped her patients (she’s an OBGYN nurse practitioner) and how respected she was at work. It also set the expectation that I could do whatever I wanted when I grow up, and I want any sons or daughters I have to feel the same way. I also now see how work anchored her as a person and meant that she had an easier time as I grew up and left the house — she has this whole incredibly meaningful aspect of her life that doesn’t revolve around me. Plus, she was a single mom for most of my life, so not working was never an option anyway. I also want that security in case something terrible happens to my husband or our marriage (knock on wood). There are so many reasons that I know I want to work — and yet I can’t help but feel guilty about it when I look at those chubby little cheeks and think of someone else (even his daddy!) taking care of him.

      That must have been really tough to get that text from your student and think about what you’re missing out on by deciding to stay home. But you are also doing something really wonderful for Luke, and you’ll have such a special relationship with him as he grows up! Do you think you’ll go back to work once he’s in school? That seems to be a really great thing about K-12 teaching (or maybe I’m being terribly naive… feel free to educate me if so!) at least from a distance, it seems to be the type of career that lets you take long breaks and come back to it without too much penalty. I wish university faculty positions were that way, but the sad reality is that they’re really not, especially pre-tenure! If I could take a few years to stay home and know that I’d most likely be able to get another job when I was ready, it would be much more tempting to stay home for longer.

      Ah, well… there’s just no perfect solution, so we all do the best we can!

      1. jwhitworth7

        I love how you think about your moms career in relation to your own. You’ve mentioned so many important aspects of having a career and it sounds like you are paving the way to show your children what hard work and dedication to a job and parenthood looks like! I know what you mean about thinking about someone else (even a daddy) taking care of him but it will be such a special bonding time for them. And I think it will make leaving Soren easier in the future minus the guilt. Not sure about going back to teaching high school full time but yes it would be an ideal job when children are in school. I do think I’d like to do something in education again….eventually. 🙂 You’re doing a phenomenal job and Soren is one looking little man!!!

  2. Cin and Jay

    I’ve heard awesome things about the Minbie bottle for breastfed babies who don’t take bottles well. We haven’t tried them because thankfully Theodore doesn’t mind which bottle he occasionally takes.

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out! I just looked at your blog and I hope things are going well with Theodore. I’m sorry you had such a difficult birth experience, but glad that everything turned out well in the end — hope your husband is recovering from his surgery too! Those early days are tough — hang in there!

      1. Cin and Jay

        You’re welcome! He has recovered fully and now is battling an episode of diverticulitis. Ugh! Everything is going much better. I keep trying to write a post about my breadtfeedi for journey but seem never to have time to finish! It will happen one of these days.

  3. My Perfect Breakdown

    Oh yes, the mommy guilt! I’ve decided it is now just a fact of life and will never go away no matter how hard I try to make it.
    That said, I will say when I first started working after becoming a mom I hated every single second of it. Now I do enjoy it, mostly (like everyone I still have bad work days I also think that’s just a fact of life). I realize now just how much I need and appreciate adult engagements, critical thought and challenging work. For me to be the best mommy I can I need me time and work gives me that.
    Also, I think what makes me working possible is that we found a childcare solution that works for us. And it sounds like you are doing the same and you are open to being flexible if needed. And I think that will be key to your transition being more successful. All the best!!

    1. lyra211 Post author

      I’ve been amazed watching you juggle work and baby through your blog — you’ve been doing an inspirational job at handling it all! It makes me feel better to hear you say that you do feel like a better mom because of it. I’m so glad that your childcare solution is working for you — I think we’ve made good decisions in that department, but I will definitely feel better when I see for myself that everyone is handling the arrangement OK. I think they will — Soren is actually a pretty easygoing baby, and all the adults involved are responsible and competent. Still, it’s such an important decision that you can’t help but worry!

  4. xykademiqz

    What you are feeling is all totally normal. I think after a week or two at work you will feel so much better about it, because as awesome as babies are, when you are a woman used to intellectual stimulation, the baby care just doesn’t scratch that itch! I felt awful leaving my 1st with his grandma at 5 months, and he did great. The 2nd and 3rd started daycare at about 3-4 months each. Neither wanted a bottle but were taking it just fine within a couple of days in daycare. (We swear by Dr Brown wide-neck baby bottles, they are really great!) The daycare workers are magicians! The illnesses suck, but after a year or two, the kid has antibodies for everything and doesn’t get sick anymore.

    1. lyra211 Post author

      Thank you! You are so right about baby care not scratching the itch — it’s amazing to me how much better I feel as a human being after I go in and meet with one of my students or my postdoc and talk science for an hour. I feel more thoroughly alive. And I’m a better mom to my baby when I come back reinvigorated and ready to make funny faces again. I know this is the right decision for me… I just wish I could do everything and be everywhere all the time, you know? 🙂 I’m really thankful that my mom and my husband get it and are supporting this decision — most non-academics I know are polite, but seem to think I’m completely nuts for deciding to work at all this summer when I don’t “have” to. They really don’t get the itch, and the pressure that proposal deadlines and proprietary periods put on my research regardless of whether or not I’m on leave. It’s terrifying how quickly it feels like academia can pass you by! Some of that pressure is self-imposed, but not all of it.

      We have one set of Dr. Brown bottles, but I’m not sure if it’s the wide-neck sort — I’ll check. We brought home a carload of baby gear from one of my colleagues who lives about two hours away, including an assortment of bottle varieties, which has been awesome! It can get expensive to figure out what a finicky baby prefers!

  5. Pingback: Musings on Procrastination | xykademiqz

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