The Momplex: Trials from a Working Mom

It seems more and more women are living in a tug-of-war between being a wholly devoted parent and a career professional: moms with full-time professions lament about wanting to spend more time with their kids; full-time stay at home moms would love to work just a couple days a week. There is a whole tribe of women in this same Momplex conundrum. Career or parent? Why do we have to choose one or the other?

The simple answer is we shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be an either/or situation. And yet it’s plaguing moms (and dads) everyday.

 

As a first time mother of a now, nine month old boy, I can confirm that all the clichés about having a baby are true. It changes your life forever; you realize you never knew how much you could love another being; your priorities invariably shift; and so on, blah, blah, blah.

But what I didn’t know was how I would really feel when I went back to work after four and a half months of maternity leave. Now let me be clear, I thought about it PLENTY before I actually went back to work. At first, when I thought about it, it made me so depressed, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. But then, my Type A, OCD-esque personality kicked in and I decided I needed to have a plan in order for when I returned to work. After much ado, my plan was simply to go back to work full-time, with no preconceived notions (or as few as possible), and see how I felt. If I didn’t like it, then I would start exploring options for a new, “part-time” position.  

Oh the best laid plans.

I should take this moment to mention I’m an attorney. I practice civil litigation, mainly on the defense side. If you don’t know what that really means, count yourself lucky. And if you do, I’m sorry. Just kidding! Sort of . . .

In any event, I remember the first day I went back. I hardly said good-bye to Luke when I left him with the nanny – I kind of just ran down the stairs and out the door after a quick kiss and a wave. I think I was in denial and just didn’t want to really accept I was leaving him. And while I teared up, I didn’t have a full blown breakdown like I expected. So I gave myself a little pat on the back for that.

Then I actually got into the office. I exchanged pleasantries with my long lost co-workers and fielded the oh so banal questions, “How does it feel to be back?” “How was it leaving, Luke?” “How was your time off?” (Don’t even get me started on how WRONG that last question is – a rant for another time).

Then I got my first assignment. It was pure and simple legal research. I could handle that.

After 20 minutes of scouring secondary sources and case law, I felt the neurons in my brain firing; I felt the familiar thrill of solving a complex problem through rules and analysis. I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time – I felt accomplished. It was awesome.

Not that being a mom isn’t an accomplishment – it is. It’s actually a lot more than that. But as many first time parents know, you really have no idea what you’re doing. And the fear, anxiety, and overall WTF is going on thought-process that comes with that can make you lose sight of just how amazing you are for just getting your child (and yourself) through the day.   

But when I completed that small, probably insignificant research memo upon returning to work, I felt good. I had the instant gratification of achievement.

And that was somewhat weird and unexpected. Hmmm, how did this fit into the plan?

So I got through my first week back. Then a second. Then a third. And, as with many jobs I suspect, there was a lot of other BS and “unpleasantness,” I’ll call it, that started dramatically outweighing the little moments of fulfillment I gleaned from certain assignments. And that’s when I determined that those “other” less than positive work experiences were not worth being away from my child. Not even close.

So what was I to do? I wanted to be the best mom by being with my son, Luke. But I also enjoyed the intellectual stimulation and problem-solving aspects of my work. It was a true Momplex.

Interestingly enough, I discovered I was not alone in this weird tug-of-war between being a wholly devoted parent and a career professional. I talked to other moms with full-time professions who would lament about wanting to spend more time with their kids. Then I’d talk to full-time stay at home moms who would tell me how much they would love to work just a couple days a week. There is a whole tribe of us in this same Momplex conundrum that I didn’t even know about. Career or parent? Why do we have to choose one or the other?

The simple answer is we shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be an either/or situation. And yet it’s plaguing moms (and dads) everyday.

At that moment, I began to address my Momplex much like any other query – information gathering. I tapped my network of friends, co-workers, alumni, acquaintances, and their networks of friends, co-workers and acquaintances, all in an effort to unearth some guidance and uncover hidden wisdom I’d missed out on somehow. I had phone calls, I connected on LinkedIn, I scheduled coffee dates and lunch meetings and any other form of communication to harvest the knowledge of others who’d shared my dilemma in some small way.

And it paid off. But it was not easy. And I suffered a lot of doubt and fear along the way. But I’m now in the middle of a transition from a full-time litigator to, drum roll please, a part-time litigator! TA-DA!  

Ok, so it may not seem like a huge, life-altering career shift, but I have great expectations. And what’s more, it happened, in part, because I was unapologetically upfront about my role as a mother and that my family comes first.

Yes, I have yet to start this new “part-time” position. And yes, it may not pan out how I imagined. But I know what I’m doing feels right. And if I find myself in another Momplex down the road, so be it. At least I know I’m not alone and that there will be other paths to explore.

Laura Williams is a litigator/momboss living in Southern California, and a contributor to badassladybosses.

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