When I went back to my editing job after my first child was born, I cried on the ride to work every day for a month. I also missed my youngest son's first piano recital because I had to be away at an industry conference—and a decade later, he still talks about it. And I confess to being so burned out on occasion that I secretly moved the clock hands ahead to make my kids' bedtime an hour earlier.Like any working mom, I've had the usual fantasies about being "just a housewife." But I'm also not the only one to have ever spent the weekend wishing Monday would arrive a day early so I could escape the family fray. I still wouldn't have traded my job—or my kids—for anything. Despite the constant and often chaotic balancing act, the rewards are sweet and rich. I love the life of a working mom.
Here are 11 reasons why:
1. Work is easier than parenting. For me, the constant structuring of days for three small children was like trying to nail jelly to the wall. I'm far better at meeting people and writing about them, and I thrive on the urgency of a deadline. Work not only provides an outlet for my ambition and creativity, it also presents order—and an assistant. Bliss!
2. But being a parent makes me a better person. There's a whole part of me I'd never have discovered if I didn't have children—and it's one of the better parts. No other experience in life could have taught me that I'm capable of loving and nurturing another person to such great lengths. Without my three kids, I could have been one of those pinch-faced overachievers still in her office at 8:00 p.m. It wouldn't have made me happy. And I wouldn't have learned how much I actually like Chutes and Ladders.
3. I'm a good role model. I was delighted to come across a recent study showing that working moms boost their daughters' self-confidence in their later careers. Also, my sons have learned that the effort that goes into running a family is not "women's work." Since they were little, the boys have cleared the table, filled and emptied the dishwasher, made beds and taken turns helping me in the kitchen. Now that my kids are in college, they're also proud of what I do as a writer and editor—and my sons, at least, are extremely impressed to find Derek Jeter's phone number in my Rolodex.
4. Work enriches my marriage. I love sharing my day with my husband, and I'm certain the dialogue would be less fun if my day were all about changing diapers, making playdates and picking up toys numerous times. Sure, kids do say the darndest things, but not enough to keep a couple's intimacy going. When my husband comes home from work armed with tales of office intrigue, I have my own stories, too. That brings a spark and energy to our married life.
5. I can abandon Stepford-wife standards of housekeeping. I grew up in a home where tables always wore tablecloths, and milk or juice was carefully decanted into a pitcher. Beds did not remain unmade past breakfast, and spring cleaning was a holy rite. Happily, because I'm a working mom with multiple children, I am excused from this level of domestic duty. Not that I don't like the look of polished silver and spotless floors. But I'd rather read, hang out with the kids or talk with friends. And if I really need the place spruced up for a special occasion, well, that's why God created Merry Maids.
6. I bonded with the babysitter (as well as with my kids). I know women who decided to stay home because they were afraid "the other mommy" would take their place in their children's hearts. I, on the other hand, don't see any competition. I've had a total of four different babysitters, all of them beloved by my children (and me)—proof that kids have an amazing capacity for love. The fact that they adore their caregiver doesn't mean they have less love for Mom. Ultimately, I'm the one who's been there for them for better, for worse, forever. I'm the one who read them bedtime stories, shaped their values, helped with their homework and kissed their boo-boos. Granted, sometimes I kissed the day's boo-boos after the sitter already did, but that just tells you my kiss had the magic. What child asks the sitter to kiss a boo-boo after Mommy?
7. My kids spend more time with Dad. My working means my husband has been more involved in day-to-day family routines. Not that he doesn't love the kids, but let's be real: Most men I know opt for Fun Duty as opposed to Diaper Detail or Get-Ready-for-School Tasks. Because I have a job that requires at least as many hours as my husband's, he knew he had to contribute more than just horsey-back rides to the household. Men shouldn't get extra credit for child-care, but they often do. As a working mom, I can more easily negotiate these responsibilities on a level playing field.
8. At the office, good work gets recognized. A 3-year-old doesn't give you an annual review, a raise or a promotion. And a teenager will be happy to give you feedback, but I've found it's seldom the kind that will bolster your sense of self-worth. It's not that raising children doesn't bring enormous rewards, but work provides a tangible sense of accomplishment that you can't get from child rearing until you harvest the joy of grandkids. Also, I get an excuse to wear really nice shoes.
9. I'm more disciplined now. I'm a closet slacker. Left to my own devices, I'd probably never get out of my pj's. But you know the old saying: "If you want something done, ask a busy person." Some people have that scheduling and prioritizing gene, but I'm not one of them. Going to work and having deadlines force me to mimic those military-precision moms and be ruthlessly efficient in order to fit everything in.
10. I can afford a little luxury. My idea of heaven is an hour-long massage or pedicure. The fact that I bring money into the household makes me feel better about the occasional splurge. Staying home is no less taxing or fatiguing than going to an office—and probably more so—but when we earn an income, we don't have to ask anybody's permission to indulge ourselves now and then.
11. My kids are more than all right. My kids did not grow up believing that they were the center of the universe. They had responsibilities—for themselves, for each other and for the household. Sometimes, I confess, I felt bad about that, especially when I saw how catered to some of their classmates were. But in spite of the alarmist headlines linking working moms to kids' slower learning or daycare aggression, my children have developed just fine. Elizabeth, an activist on campus, will soon graduate from Georgetown University. David's studying archeology and girls at the University of Arizona. Ted plays guitar like a rock star, which he'll probably become one day. I have every hope that they will continue to thrive and even find future gainful employment. But it's not their success in the world's terms that pleases me most—it's that my kids are well adjusted, kind, adventurous, generous and maddeningly independent.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard Elizabeth comparing her brothers favorably to two cousins whose views of women, she thinks, are slightly to the right of Neanderthal. "I think the difference is that they didn't grow up with a working mom," she said, "so they have no idea what women are really like." Right on!