Not long ago you asked me if I love work more than I love you and your brother.
The question breaks my heart, and as you are almost 8, I’m pretty sure it was designed to. Don’t worry; I don’t hold it against you. Daughters are meant to know and agitate their mother’s vulnerable spots—it’s part of the special intimacy we share. I did the same thing to my mom, giving her the business for going back to work part-time when I was even older than you, after she’d spent years at home raising me, my brother and sister. I’ll be sure bring our conversation up over and over again when you’re an adult and facing the same kinds of comments from your own daughter, like my mom does to me. (P.S. Mom, really sorry—again!)
You’ve never really known a time when I stayed home. I went back to work when you were three months old, and save for eights months I was at home when your brother was born, it’s always been that way for you. Although it felt surreal to walk out the door and leave you behind the day my maternity leave ended, and I couldn’t quite believe I was doing it until I was, it was also a relief to relax into some normalcy after the wondrous upheaval you brought to my life.
Some people work to earn a living, and some people are lucky to get paid to do what they love. I am lucky to be one of the latter. I knew what I wanted to do the day my 8th grade teacher read my story to the class and told me I was a writer. I still get flushed cheeks and fluttery insides when I’ve managed to wrestle the words to outline the shape of my thoughts. I think I recognize the same blissed-out look on your face when you’re painting, but maybe there’s an even bigger passion in you waiting to be discovered.
What if I told you it was your art…or me? Sure, you’d choose me (I hope) if you had to, but wouldn’t that feel like an unfair choice to make? Right now you say you don’t want kids thanks to the most annoying brother in the whole wide world. Maybe you’ll change your mind. And if you do, I hope your love of creating doesn’t get sacrificed for the people you love, whether you make money from it or not. I hope you choose a partner that wants that for you too.
But back to your original question. There are many reasons mommies work—and they might not be what you think they are. These are mine.
I work because I love it.
I work because scratching the itch to create makes me happy, and that happiness bleeds over into every other area, including how patient and engaged and creative a mother I am.
I work because this nice house and those gymnastics lessons and those sneakers you need to have are all made possible by two incomes.
I work because I want you and your brother to be proud of me.
I work because I did this before you were born, and I’ll still want it to be there after you go off to college.
I work because—despite my being the parent who’s almost always the one walking through the door at 6pm, the one who rarely travels for work, the one who’s keeping track of the fact that the permission slip for the field trip is due tomorrow—you’d never ask your father why he works. His love is a given that long hours at work do nothing to diminish.
I work because even at your young age you’ve absorbed the subtle message that women’s work is less important and valuable—and that the moms who really love their kids don’t do it.
I work because by the time you have your own daughter, I cross my fingers this will not be so.
So, to answer your question: I do love work, but of course I love you and your brother much, much more. If I had to choose, I would choose you guys.
But I’m so happy I don’t have to. And I hope you never do either.