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WMAG reader Sydney recently left a thoughtful and poignant comment on an old post about post-maternity leave travel. I thought her comment deserved its own guest post, which she generously agreed to. So here’s Sydney’s conundrum — can you offer her any advice or support? – Susan
When my daughter was born, I had another semester of college left. Classes officially started the day after she was born. I ended up living at home three hours away from my school. I was lucky to be able to do three courses online, but two had to be done in person. I was never away overnight, but I remember how hard it was to keep milk production up when I was gone even eight to 12 hours twice a week.
Even though it was hard to balance the milk production, I don’t have any regrets about the time I spent away from my daughter or working so hard on class work, even when she was so young. She is a happy, healthy toddler who loves to cuddle and be held and adjusts quickly (perhaps no more easily) to changes in her care schedule. I don’t feel like that travel impacted our bond at all.
I made a decision before she was born that she would live her life for her, and that I would be there when I could. When she learned to walk or talk or roll or whatever, I decided it was ok for her to do that for herself. For me, mentally, that helped to make it ok if I wasn’t there when she hit a first, or if I was clearly missing her much more sorely than she was missing me. I could more easily be calm and happy for her, and cherish the time I do have with her and all the firsts I have witnessed. I think it makes me the best mom that I can be.
I have tremendous respect for those women who can completely immerse themselves in motherhood. I have nowhere near the internal security or the ability to self-entertain that this must require. I’m a more confident, happy person because I work and I bring a paycheck home. I think that shows in the fact that I am 100% in that space when I am with my daughter. I have more patience with her than I otherwise might (me, personally–not every woman).
I am expecting my second child now. I have a potential job opportunity that would let me work from home 20 days a week, but I would need to be away the other 10. I am certain that the minimum stay is probably something like four nights.
I have been pursuing this option with everything I have because it would not only bring amazing flexibility to my life, it would also mean a second income while my new baby is young (read, paying off the car and the student loans and having a little something in reserve in case of medical bills or other minor catastrophe). On top of that, it is a huge step up for me and would put me where I want to be in terms of my career ambitions.
My biggest fear is that traveling for days– even a week at a time– on a regular basis will spread me too thinly. Will my toddler forgive me if she’s sick and I’m not there? Will I be able to be a good mom if I have to hire someone to help me watch my infant while I work during the day, and then try and split my time between two children, a man I love, and myself in the evenings and weekends? Will they get enough love? Will this second child bond to me?
My next biggest fear is if it will put too much strain on my relationship. I have a great man, and he’s excited to be a father and involved every moment in my daughter’s life and in the life of his child who will soon be born. He’s excited for this opportunity for me. He also has a demanding, burgeoning career. He’s very good at what he does, and he has a lot of responsibility. Can his career take the hit if he has to spend more days taking care of children, leave more often before 6 p.m., maybe even just plain take days off or work from home sometimes if I need to be away?
I’ve just read a great article in Cosmo by Sheryl Sandberg about empowering women to move fearlessly in the workplace, and I realize that with my first daughter I did and it worked out well.
With this child I haven’t been acting that way, I’ve been letting my fears get in the way of contributing 110% at work and feeling confident that, should I land this new position, that I will do a good job with it. I’ve stopped going to certain meetings regularly that are on the periphery of my main job function, as well I’ve been training my colleagues like crazy on stuff that I am responsible for so that I am easily replaceable. Well, that stops this very instant. Not that I’ll stop training eager colleagues or supporting their ability to advance and function, but I won’t be cornering them and forcing them to learn things. And I’ll be going to meetings.
So thank you Sheryl Sandberg. But… could someone please tell me that they traveled a lot with a young baby and the world didn’t end?
Has anyone traveled for extended periods of time with an infant at home? How did things go? Did that hurt your husband/partner’s career? Did your children develop behavioral problems or separation anxiety?
Sydney works as a development engineer in the middle of southern nowhere. She lives and works with her best friend of six years– an amazing man who is helping her raise their 2-year-old daughter and pursue their careers. She is expecting her second child in September.