It is impossible to avoid the unhelpful advice that people will give you throughout your life. There were a lot of unhelpful things said to me as I was pregnant and as we were getting to know you, but one in particular sticks out to me. People would ask me when I was going back to work, and then they would say something along the lines of, “It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, leaving him.”
I cannot fathom how this was supposed to help me in any way.
Additionally, I knew that it wasn’t true. It was hard to leave you to go back to work, yes. Mostly because I was tired and because we were charting unknown waters. But I have meaningful work and my salary is important to our family. Your dad and I have chosen a way of life that includes me working. There isn’t an option for me to stay at home. It wasn’t hard to leave you because I knew that I had to, and when you have to do something, you find the strength to do it.
The second day was the worst. At the end of the first day, when we were reunited and I nursed you, you clung on so desperately, as if you were gathering strength as well as milk from me. And, oh, it broke my heart. Because knowing that this is what we have to do is one thing. Being unable to explain it to a confused little baby is another thing entirely. On the morning of the second day, I nursed you. And then your dad had to take you out of my arms, because I was having a little bit of trouble letting you go.
Still, if that is the hardest thing I ever have to do, I will consider myself very lucky indeed.
It is hard to be a working parent. I wish I could stay in bed a little longer. I don’t want you to feel that being sick is a burden or a problem for us. I want to give you the best of what I have, not the leftovers. We are lucky enough to be able to believe that me working is part of giving you the best we have, giving us more financial stability, summers off as a family, and a mom who feels fulfilled by her work. In addition, you get to go to a great school with kids your age and people who love taking care of babies. It’s a good situation for all of us.
You will have to do many difficult things in this life, Atticus. The things you dread will often be both easier and more complicated than you think they will be. One thing I hope I never do is to discourage another mother by making her feel that things are overwhelmingly hard, that they will never get better. It is better to be the person who listens, who offers a shoulder to cry on, and who encourages. Those were the people who helped me when I went back to work, who exuded the grace that we all need to live in this messy world and do challenging things. That is the kind of parent I want to be to you, and it’s the kind of person I hope to teach you to be.