The Ballad Of A Working Mom: Guilt, Anxiety, Exhaustion And Guilt : The Baby Project Christy Lilley, a lawyer and mother of two, says the idea of leaving her children with someone else all day while she's at work literally makes her stomach hurt. But putting her career on hold would come with lots of complications.

The Ballad Of A Working Mom: Guilt, Anxiety, Exhaustion And Guilt

Courtesy of Christy Lilley
Christy and Diana, in a carrier
Courtesy of Christy Lilley

All good things must come to an end. That's what I tell myself when I think about my maternity leave ending and going back to work. Even though I'm not going back to work for a while, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since the day Diana was born. Actually, I started thinking about it even before she was born. It's like the Sunday blues times a thousand.

When I think about leaving my baby with someone else and not being with her all day, every day, my stomach literally hurts. I think about her missing me, wondering where I am, and if I'm ever coming back. The thought of getting two kids — plus my husband and myself — up, dressed and out of the house in the morning is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. We were having enough trouble when we had just one kid — how are we ever going to handle it with two?

So, if I feel this way, why don't I just quit and stay home? Trust me, I've thought about it A LOT, and I wish it were that easy.

I never thought I would be a working mom. I always assumed that I would stay home once I had kids, like my mom did with my brothers and me. Then I went to law school, became a lawyer, had James, and all that changed.

About Christy

Christy Lilley, 32, lives in Charlotte, N.C. Already the parents of a toddler, she and her husband, Jim, welcomed Diana Marie on July 7.

I work because I enjoy it. The work I do is interesting and challenging. I have a wonderful boss and a lot of flexibility, the hours are manageable, and the people are great. I like the adult interaction, critical thinking, and feeling like I am part of something. I've been working since I was 14, and my career is a part of who I am. I think I would have a hard time letting go of that part of me. OK, I'll admit it: I like the paycheck, too. I like being able to take vacations, go out to dinner, and give my kids opportunities that we wouldn't be able to give them if I didn't work. And after all, I have to finance my online shopping addiction, somehow!

I've thought about taking some time off and staying home while my kids are little. Unfortunately, that does not seem like a viable option. Everything I've read shows that women who leave their careers to raise their children almost always have a difficult time getting back into the working world. I don't know anyone in my field who has done it successfully. If I give up the job I have now, I don't think I'd be able to find anything like it after I took a few years off.

Diana poses for a closeup. Courtesy of Christy Lilley hide caption

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Courtesy of Christy Lilley

Diana poses for a closeup.

Courtesy of Christy Lilley

I also work because I think it makes me a better mom. It makes me feel like a more well-rounded person, and keeps me grounded and connected to the outside world. I don't think I'm cut out for staying at home full time. I think I would get bored, feel unfulfilled and miss the corporate world. I'm afraid I would feel lonely and isolated, which would lead me to be resentful and depressed. Not to mention that being a stay-at-home mom is hard. Actually, I often think being a stay-at-home mom is harder than being a working mom.

After a particularly exhausting weekend with James, going back to work feels like a break. Even though I'm working, I find little moments of time throughout the day to myself. Whether it's catching up with a friend on the phone during my commute or listening to whatever I want on the radio instead of Raffi nursery rhymes, working out at the company gym during my lunch hour, or reading the news online in between meetings, I savor these moments.

When I'm home, I have no time to myself. It's all kids, all the time. Maybe I'm selfish, but I need that time to decompress. I also think working helps me set a good example for my children, and shows them that they can do or be anything that they want.

Despite all that, being a working mom is extremely difficult. It's a constant juggling act, and not a day goes by that I don't question my choice. I feel guilty that I'm not with my kids all the time, that I'm not the one to comfort them every time they cry, that I'm not there for every first, that I'm not the one to teach them all the new things they are learning, and that they spend more waking hours each week at day care than at home.

The boys in Christy's life bond in baseball caps. Courtesy of Christy Lilley hide caption

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Courtesy of Christy Lilley

The boys in Christy's life bond in baseball caps.

Courtesy of Christy Lilley

I worry that their teachers know them better than me, and that they feel lonely and neglected when I'm not there. James is still too young to tell me how he feels about me working. But if he could, would he tell me that he misses me all day and wishes I would stay home with him? I wonder if I'm being selfish by working because I want to, and not because I have to. Will my working have a negative impact on my kids? Will they turn out OK even though they went to day care instead of being home with their mother?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I spend an awful lot of time worrying about them.

I even manage to feel guilty about work. All the other attorneys in my office are men. Of those who have kids, all of their wives stay home. They never have to leave early, come in late, or stay home because their kids are sick. They look at me disapprovingly when I'm rushing out the door at 5:00 to make it to day care on time. It makes me feel guilty that I'm not able to put in as many hours as they do. I start to doubt my work and myself, even though I know that I'm keeping my clients happy and getting my work done.

Being a working mom is also mentally and physically challenging. My mind is constantly all over the place. When I'm at work, I'm worrying about my kids and what needs to be done at home, and when I'm at home, I'm worrying about what needs to be done at work. I'm never able to just focus on or enjoy what I'm doing at the moment. I check my BlackBerry compulsively and can't seem to give anything my undivided attention. I feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions.

Four generations (Christy, her grandfather, father and children) gather for a snapshot. Courtesy of Christy Lilley hide caption

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Courtesy of Christy Lilley

Four generations (Christy, her grandfather, father and children) gather for a snapshot.

Courtesy of Christy Lilley

Would I be a better mom if I only had one full-time job instead of two? Would James be better behaved if I was home with him and could spend more time on discipline? I feel like I'm trying to do so many things at once that in the process, I end up doing none of them well. I can't help but think that stay-at-home moms are happier because they are not trying to do it all.

I don't doubt that our lives would be easier and less stressful if I didn't work. Things would be calmer, our weekends and nights would be less hectic, and Jim could focus more on his career. But would I be happier? I doubt it. I'm sure the grass is always greener.

So we'll continue with the craziness that comes along with a two-parent working family. When I do go back to work, I've decided to reduce my hours (and my salary). I will work four days and have Fridays off. I hope the reduced schedule will help me find the balance I'm looking for, give me more time at home with my family, but also allow me to hold onto my career. I tell myself nothing is set in stone. If it doesn't work, we can always make a change.

But for now, I'm going to focus on enjoying the rest of my maternity leave.