Recently my best friend and I were able to get out of work for one afternoon to catch up on a sunny park bench. It was such a rare treat for two working moms to have weekday time together and without toddlers running in opposite directions. We were able to have adult conversation, finish sentences without interruption, and actually sit still for an hour soaking in the warm Spring day. Amazing.
While we shared stories about our work, we watched women leisurely strut past in yoga pants, sipping Starbucks, and pushing their Bugaboo strollers. Finally, I turned to her and said, “The life of these moms is so foreign to me.” Having time to stroll around the park with friends is a novelty and not a routine. If I had my son with me in the park, I would be covered in mud and disheveled. “I think those are nannies,” my friend suggested, offering me some hope. We then played a game of Nanny versus Mom for each designer-clad, perfectly coiffed, caretaker. We assumed that only a nanny, who was able to go home, get a full night of sleep, and shower and dress in the morning without children, could manage these pulled-together looks. In contrast, our mornings entail juggling our own hygiene with preparing our children for school and managing to get both of our breakfasts and lunches together before rushing out the door. Ponytails aren’t perfect. Lunches aren’t gourmet. Starbucks is a necessity to combat the sleep deprivation. I began to envy the nannies.
As we watched the weekday park crowd like spectators at the zoo, we confessed some of our struggles as working mothers. One in particular is defending our decision to work to others. I shared a recent encounter I had at the playground with a homeschooling mom, who expressed her concern for my unborn child related to my short maternity leave. For some reason, it seems socially acceptable for strangers to criticize working moms for the time they spend away from their children. I’ll be the first to say that the U.S. needs to have longer, paid maternity (and paternity) leaves. However, when the parent eventually returns to work, he/she should not be judged for doing so. The other thing that this playground mom assumed was that I needed to return to work for some external factors, like money, rather than the actual reasons, like loving my career and taking pride in my work. She focused on what possible damage would be done to my infant from my absence, rather than the benefits of having a happy, satisfied mom who teaches her children about following their dreams. I hoped that our conversation would show her that my love for my children and my career were not in competition, but rather enhanced each other. This was one point that I did not have to explain to my friend in her professional clothes on the sunny park bench as we swapped recent iPhone photos of our children before running off to meet them.