So, what does it mean if I return to work full time?
The previous plan of Gwen in daycare for two days, with Grandma one day, and with me two days gets tweaked a bit. Instead, Gwen would be in daycare three days a week, with Grandma one day, and with Chris one day (because he doesn't work for the government, so his hours are a lot more flexible). If I examine this schedule objectively, I realize that it still gives Gwen a wonderful, well-rounded week with a good balance between family care and professional care. Gwen is not losing out, here. I am.
No more taking Gwen swimming in the mornings. No more walks with other moms and babies. No more baby boot camp workouts at the gym. No more storytime at the library. No more playdates.
Ultimately, no more opportunities for me to socialize and compare notes with other moms. And no more chances to spend quality time doing fun activities with my daughter.
I'm scared that if I work full time, arriving home at 5pm five days a week, my time will be fully claimed by preparing dinner and getting the chores done, and I'll have no time to spend with Gwen. I'll be in a mad rush for an hour, and then it will be time for the dinner-bath-bedtime routine and that will be that. Aside from my own feelings of loss, there's a bigger reason I care about this.
There's a psychologist who claims that whomever your kid spends the most amount of time with, will have the biggest influence on him or her. Especially in the younger years when value systems are being formed, it's crucial to be your child's primary influence, rather than peers. Yes, peer time is valuable, but it's still an adult's job to 'socialize' a child: throwing a bunch of kids in a room together doesn't turn them into good citizens.
This rings true to me, and so it contributes to my fear as well. How can I be a primary influence in Gwen's life if we have no time together? Or, put another way, how can Gwen know that she is important to me if we don't have time to spend together?
This is all compounded by the fact that I am convinced Gwen is going to become a lot more fun to be with, right around the time I have to start leaving her. She'll be mobile, she'll be starting to talk, she'll have definite preferences for different toys and books and activities, she'll be even more interactive and yet somehow more independent as well. When we go to playdates, she'll actually be able to play instead of just lying on her blanket and watching the big kids. When we go for a walk, she might actually walk a bit herself, and be interested in our surroundings and what's happening around her. When we go to a playground, she'll actually be able to play on the equipment. You know - she'll start to be a kid, not a baby. I don't want to miss that! I want to be a part of all of it. I want to be the one who teaches her what a cow says, and what colour lemons are. I want to take her to the petting zoo and help her learn her numbers and letters. Is that selfish?
On the other hand, this is a situation that millions of families have to face, and they all survive. Yes, working full time sucks, but millions of other moms have done it and I can do it too. Or so I try to convince myself.
I spoke to my sister last week about her experiences, as she has two young boys and works full time. She was full of good advice and a thoughtful pep talk, including the point that if I worked full time I could hire a cleaning woman to come and take care of the house, so I would have a smidgeon more family time.
The irony here, I suppose, is that I'm not full of perfect bliss during this time when I am with her all day every day. I get frustrated when she's whiny or when she needs a nap but won't take one. I snap at her when she's so clingy she won't even let me put her down to get the bottle she's so hungry for. I get relentlessly bored and cabin fever-y. And yet when I'm away from her, I miss her so much. It's a ridiculous dichotomy, and I guess that's why I wanted to work part-time, to give not only Gwen but myself as well the best of both worlds.
Anyway, I am far from reconciled with the thought of working full time (obviously), but I am working on it. Hopefully sometime within the next six months the perfect answer and accompanying mental peace will present itself.