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Girl Talk: Back-to-Work Blues

Q. My maternity leave is ending, and I'm panicking. I like my job and never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom. But now I can't imagine leaving my daughter. How do I decide what to do?

A. I would love to be able to tell you "Listen to your heart," or "Be true to your feelings," or even "Use the Force," but nothing I say will make your decision easy. This issue is based on emotions -- those mercurial buggers that push us down unlikely paths throughout our lives -- so the right decision is rarely a foregone conclusion.

Before I had a kid, I had no reason to doubt the road map I had for my life. A few weeks after bringing home my baby, however, I was suddenly confused and didn't understand why my best-laid plans were about as solid as a newborn's poop.

I didn't veer from my course; I just remained confused... for a very long time. (Notice I'm not telling you how it played out for me, because my journey won't take you where you need to go. Not to sound too much like Yoda, but only you can decide your own path.) Finding what works best for you may mean trial-and-error. If, for instance, going to work each day makes you depressed and anxious to the point where you aren't happy on your job or at home, then you should probably reconsider. If, on the other hand, staying homedoesn't leave you feeling productive but is just a way to prevent guilt, then work might be calling.

For many moms, neither choice is obvious -- and the lucky ones can work out some sort of part-time or telecommuting work schedule. I'll guess that you've ruled this out by the fact that you're panicking. But did you simply assume that your boss would never go for it? If so, try presenting a detailed plan about how such an arrangement could work to everyone's advantage, and see what happens. It's worth a shot.And just to confuse you further, have you considered bringing your husband in on this conversation? Does his job offer any part-time flexibility, or would it be feasible for him to stay home? I know, I know. Everyone still plops this decision squarely in the mom's lap, even when there are two caregivers in the house. But why should you feel like you're the only one who has to make a choice, particularly one that others may say was "good" or "bad" for your baby?

I'm just sayin'.

In the end, all you can do is whatever you think will let you be the most contented woman and mom you can be. And then be open to changing that decision if need be.

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