Work vs. Home: Work Wins for Most Moms

I knew it.  After my son was born I stopped working.  I felt lonely and depressed and put it down to being home all day with a needy baby, locked in the house (except for my morning run, which, thankfully, he didn't mind accompanying me on, in the jogger stroller -- not that he had any choice!).

But over time, as he got more independent, learned to crawl, then walk, then amuse himself with Duplos and Legos, I was still depressed. It wasn't post-partum depression (well, maybe a little).  But it was because I had lost who I was.

Before Phillip, and even after, my work was my life.  If I wasn't working, I didn't feel productive.  Or, worth anything.  Yes, the miracle of birth, yah, yah, yah, and I'd waited many heartbreaking years for this child.  But it just wasn't enough.

Yesterday, in an op-ed in the Sunday Review, I finally saw why.  Writing for The New York Times, Stephanie Coontz revealed that studies have shown that women who stay at home report more sadness, anger and depression than women who re-enter, or never leave, the workforce. And despite all the critics who swear that working moms hurt their children by doing just that, it just isn't so.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s, when women didn't work outside the home.  They stayed home, like my mother, and bought furniture when they were depressed.  Then Mary Tyler Moore came along (not having a date on Saturday nights was OK, because Mary was on), and women started to be depicted as having jobs, if not careers.

I, too, was starting to work during my college years, having internships at two newspapers.  The day after I graduated, I started real work at one of the newspapers as a reporter and I don't remember a time of not working (except a horrible six months after I was fired from two jobs in a row) up until my son was born.

I was one of the lucky ones.  I loved what I did.  Even when I moved over to corporate writing (much less exciting than racing to fires and interviewing moms whose children ran away), my work was my identity.  I loved having money (lots of it, after a while, which I promptly all spent), independence, freedom.  I never saw myself as being married, or, God forbid, having kids.  I was having too much fun being a "career woman."

I met my husband in my late '20s and it took us 10 years to get married because I was so focused on what I did (full disclosure: there were fights every six months or so about commitment, then I'd get over it and go back to work).  When we finally did marry, a week later I took off for a week-long business trip on the West Coast and I was so happy.  I was back to my old life.

It took us a long time to have a baby, and work helped me through much of the heartache.  I worked up until my 38th week (he was born in the 39th) and even then, I was worried about how I was going to do both.  I remember asking my sister when I was going to get my life back, and her saying, "This is your life now."

That stopped me cold.

At the time, my husband was doing well financially and there was no urgent rush for me to get back into the corporate world, so I disappeared into diapers and rattles and pacifiers, then walking and running, then pre-school, then play dates, and before I knew it, I'd lost all my contacts, and my work equilibrium.

Then, when Phillip was three, I was diagnosed with cancer, and surgery and treatment threw all my work plans out the window completely.  I had a recurrence two years later and more surgery followed, and by that point, I pretty much figured I was done with work.

But there was still a huge hole in my life. Two years ago I found a gig that I liked, writing blogs about healthcare trends but a payment dispute disrupted that and so I'm on the lookout again.  I've come to realize that work is what defines me.  I love being a mother, but I love working more.  And with this op-ed, I've learned I don't need to be ashamed anymore.

  

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