I’m embarking today on a series of posts on why children need full-time mothers based on the research and writing of psychologists, medical professionals, and journalists. These posts are designed to speak to women like me–women who thrive on the life of the mind and who want to understand why it is necessary for them to put aside career aspirations for a time to raise their children.
This research is very intimate to me as I had to convince myself that this kind of labor mattered. I started this project six weeks after I gave birth to my first child. Although I always intended to stay home with children if I had them, I announced to my husband between sobs one night that I would be going back to work.
This announcement was the result of a number of factors. My daughter had a very difficult first six weeks and I was out-of-my-mind exhausted. I had not bonded with her yet and I also realized that my life as I formerly knew it (as an aspiring intellectual, lawyer, and public figure) was over. I was a mom with no time for books or events and very little money (we were surviving on student loans) caring for baby whose needs never ended.
Have you seen the movie Sliding Doors? The film follows a young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the two directions her life could take depending on whether she caught a train home at midday or not. Her two “lives” play out side-by-side. In one reality, she makes the train and comes home to find her boyfriend cheating on her and her life unravels. In the second reality, she misses her train and does not discover her boyfriend. In the end, kicking the bad boyfriend out and hitting rock bottom leads her in a better career direction and to a truly good man while the alternative reality of initial blissful ignorance spirals down as she works multiple jobs to support her lazy, two-timing boyfriend.
Sitting in my cramped apartment with a newborn, I thought I must have gone through the wrong door. My life was horrible. I kept thinking about the alternative reality. Had I not had this baby, I would be working for a law firm, networking, and building my career. I missed the affirming words from superiors, and the camaraderie of a mission shared with colleagues. I missed my Ann Taylor suits and the box of high heels in my closet was already gathering dust. I missed attending conferences and conversing with other smart, well-read people. And, if I’m going to be totally honest, I also missed hefty paychecks and financial comfort.
I wanted to go back. But I couldn’t. I had a baby. The way forward had to take her into account.