Life at Work

One Mother, Preparing for Take-Off

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

My first workplace column, in 1998, was about how single people got stuck at the office more often than those with kids and how they could defend their time. Now, my final column before I go on maternity leave for six months is about how parents decide whether to work and how they handle it after a child is born.

When I wrote a piece for the Outlook section about my own questions on the matter, I knew to brace myself for an onslaught of e-mails.

After receiving at least 100 notes from working moms, working dads, stay-at-home moms and dads, and other people with very definite opinions, I've felt touched, supported, angst-ridden and even a bit stung.

Several dads were quick to accuse me of ignoring my husband's thoughts, needs and desires when it came to raising children.

"Bottom line: PARENTS face these choices, not just women. It is the height of gender self-centered behavior to diminish the man's parenting role and issues during this time (and quite non-feminist if I do say so)," wrote Jeff Miller, a father of two and a stay-at-home dad.

As I told Miller, that wasn't my intent at all. The personal piece was a look into my thoughts as I prepared for leave -- not to mention a reflection on motherhood, as it was published on Mother's Day and all. I ended up having a good exchange with Miller, who can't wait for the day when stay-at-home dads aren't ostracized on the playground. Take note, moms.

Some held back less.

"I read your column 'What to Expect' to see if you are any different than any other work-obsessed mothers I've known. You are not. Your story is all about YOU. Not a mention of your child and his/her needs," wrote Kevin Lamarque, a 43-year-old Falls Church father of two children. "You will go back to work soon after giving birth, then spend the next 10 years justifying to your friends and colleagues how 'day care' is the best thing for your child. You will spend weekends trying to do 'special' things out of guilt to make up to your child the time you did not spend with him/her."

But as Valerie Young, advocacy coordinator with the National Association of Mothers' Centers, told me: "Every other person's opinion is irrelevant. Interesting, maybe, but irrelevant."

Peggy Sand, 45, is a Silver Spring mother of two. "The best advice I ever got about balancing work and family was from a mom who had decided to stay home. She said, 'You just need to do whatever you need to do to not be bitter.' This will change depending on the age of your child and the type of job and also assumes that the bills will get paid regardless of your choice," wrote Sand, who works in housing and community development.

If a parent decides to stay home, beware -- that's all about work, too, said Lisa Scott, 52. The mother of a 15-year-old and 17-year-old said staying home with a child, which she chose to do, is "astoundingly difficult."

However, "only when you can put yourself out of the equation will you be able to make the choice that is genuinely right for your family," she wrote. "Back to work? Not back to work? Believe me, either way you'll suffer. Every mother does."

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