Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thoughts on Maternity Leave

Yael asked a really great question on a post a couple weeks ago, in response to my comment about a 3-month maternity leave. She said, "I may have missed a previous post on the topic, but are you only taking a three month leave with the new baby? I am in no way judging, I am just truly interested. As a mom of two (2.5 yrs and 10 mo), I find myself thinking a lot about giving equal opportunities to both children, without at the same time renouncing to my and my husband's plans and dreams."
I, too, think a lot about the importance of giving equal opportunities to both children. I also think that my being home with Henry was an important part of helping him develop a core of security and a solid foundation upon which to build the rest of his personality. With Henry, my initial plan was to stay home with him for three years. Then when my school opened, he would enter the inaugural class. At the time, Matt and I thought that we would only have one child, so devoting three developmental years to his care seemed doable. 
However, a couple things happened to change our thinking: 1) I started attending a Montessori mothering class (when Henry was five weeks-old), and the instructor explained that her training believes that children are ready to enter a part-time community when they are 12 months-old. 2) I quickly realized that I'm not an infant and toddler person. I can muster the energy, dedication, enthusiasm, and patience it takes to lovingly care for and meet the needs of an infant and toddler, but the key word is "muster." The process leaves me feeling drained and slightly unhappy on the inside.
Because of those two realizations, I worked to get Henry into Montessori communities in Austin. When he was about six weeks old, I put him on the waiting list for one of Austin's most pure and renowned Montessori schools. They don't start children until 18 months-old (due to the difficulty of state licensing stuff), so I started arranging for him to attend a daycare at a former Montessori teacher's home as soon as my part-time job started and we could afford it.
We moved to Austin when he was 11 months-old, and I quickly realized that I was immensely eager to start working on my school. I was trying to arrange babysitters so I could attend meetings. The Montessori home environment situation fell through for various reasons, so I began exploring daycare options (which was a nightmare because the waiting lists are so long and I wanted something immediately). If I'm remembering correctly, Henry honestly seemed ready to start in a community around 10 months. However, we didn't end up starting him until 14 months because that's when my part-time job started and we could afford care.
He attended a Montessori-inspired daycare from 14-18 months and then started at the official Montessori school.
If I had not had a miscarriage, I would have been able to stay home with our second baby for an entire year, just like I did with Henry. However, the miscarriage pushed back the timeline by about six months.
As it stands, the baby is due to arrive at the end of June. As soon as the baby arrives, I will resign from my part-time job and stay home full-time. I won't interview with the state about the charter until late August (I'll do all of the prep before the baby arrives), and we won't hear the results until early September.
At that point, the baby will three months-old, and I know that I will need to hit the ground running with part-time work. In an ideal world, I will be able to use the Baby Wise approach to get the baby on a schedule like I was able to do with Henry (I know the book is controversial among Attachment Parenting circles, but I loved using some of its strategies, and I credit it with helping me get Henry on a schedule that met both of our needs). I intentionally used the word "ideal" because I know that every baby is different, and I know it's naive and overly optimistic to think that I'll be able to get the second baby on a schedule like I did with Henry. But a girl can dream and plan, right?
If I'm able to get the baby on a nap schedule, then I'll be able to fit in a lot of work. With Henry, I was able to write a book and run e-courses during his naps. I was working part-time, while staying home full-time with Henry.
Henry will continue with his normal daycare/school routine, even after the baby arrives. Even though it's a financial stretch (tuition when up another $1,000 for next year!), it's better for Henry and it's better for my sanity to not have to take care of an infant and a toddler all day, every day. It will allow me to really focus on the new baby and meet his developmental needs without worrying about the conflicting developmental needs of a toddler.
Since I know I have no way of knowing what kind of napper I'm going to have on my hands, I'm going to do a ton of work in the coming months (March-June) to get ahead with laying the groundwork for the school (e.g., teacher recruitment, strategic planning, etc.).
In January, I'll likely need to start working full-time on the school. The baby will be six months old. I'm brainstorming various options for childcare that will most replicate a home environment. I'm also exploring ways to creatively adjust my schedule (for example, maybe I work one weekend day, which would be more convenient for families anyway, or I work in the evenings after the baby has gone to bed).
Long story short: I'm very committed to trying to give the second baby the same solid foundation that Henry had, but I also need to move forward with the school (I forgot to mention that the state of Texas only has six charters left before we reach the cap; it wouldn't be smart to wait one more year, since all of them are likely to be awarded this year). Also, I've been waiting to start this school for years now. I can't imagine postponing it one more year. I know that our family is a system and that part of creating a happy, healthy home is to start with happy, healthy parents.
I think a key piece in all of this is figuring out what we want for our family and then trying to figure out how to make it work. With Henry, for example, I knew that I wanted to stay home with him, so we figured out how to make the money piece work (even though it wasn't easy). Society works really hard (especially American society) to tell us that it has to be a certain way. The options are very black-and-white: you can stay home or you can go back to work and put your child in full-time daycare. I think we have to push on our employers (and ourselves) to generate new and innovative solutions that are better for us and our families. For example, my employer lets me come in at 6am, so I'm able to leave in time to take a nap (for baby #2) before picking up Henry from part-time school and spending the entire afternoon with him. This arrangement also ensures that Matt does plenty of the day-to-day parenting because he's responsible for getting Henry ready for school every morning.
I met a woman at the park who works in a call center for AT&T. She wants to go back to work part-time, but her manager says it's company policy not to allow part-time work in her position. The woman explained that her particular position is actually really well-suited for part-time work; she could easily share the position with another mom who also wants to work part-time.
These are the kinds of battles that are worth fighting. We only get "one wild and precious life," and we are responsible for how we live it. I honestly think we can be a lot more proactive when it comes to creating the kind of lives we want for ourselves; we first have to figure out what we want and then make a plan for getting there.
I'll keep you updated about how Matt and I continue to figure all of this out! None of it has been easy. The impact of living on one non-profit income has been very difficult for us (I really miss going on vacation!). And not being able to work full-time has also been difficult for my sensibilities and preferences. But all of it feels like a necessary investment in our family, and I'm proud of how we're making it work for ourselves. At the end of the day, that's the most important thing: Making sure that we follow the path that leaves us feeling proud of our choices and happy with the outcomes.

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts Monday. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Yael said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer so thoroughly and thoughtfully to my question. Many of the considerations you mention resonate very strongly with my own reflections. I do come from a different country (Italy), but the issue about staying home/going back to work is no less black and white. I managed to stay at home full time with my first baby, while studying towards a second degree and working from home part time. I was very lucky to be able to do that and honestly it was only possible because we managed to get her on a good napping schedule (even though we've got there only because we realised that was what the baby needed). But, unfortunately, we did not have the option of a Montessori or Montessori-inspired daycare (or even a daycare that we felt comfortable with). So, when we (as you did) decided to have a second child, contrary to our previous plans, we had far less options. We eventually decided that I would stay at home with both girls, which is both an extremely tough and rewarding journey, even though my husband is a very (very!) involved parent. We are still, very much, in the planning and decision taking stage as far as our next years are concerned. Hence the deep interest in your own choices. We are also part of a group of families trying to start a small Casa dei bambini, which, if successful, would greatly expand our options.

Heather said...

I always love your honesty in your posts and appreciate it as well. While not everyone's circumstances are the same it's important to do what is right for your own family and your own mental and physical wellness. I unfortunately had to go back to work when my son was 6 weeks old, but as the months went on I also realized that we were both thriving much better when we had our own routines. My son has always been incredibly social and loves getting to play with kids his own age every day, and I do better when I'm able to get out of the house and work. While we both get along fine when spending extensive amounts of time together, like yourself I feel as though I often have to "muster."

RebeccaK said...

It's great to make plans, and it's also great to reevaluate your plans if and when you need to. Adjusting to life as a family of four is a big transition for everyone in the family (our youngest daughter is nearly 5 months old), and a lit of the adjustment depends on what happens in the next months and what life is like with your new baby. You can't plan for all eventualities, and that's okay. Right now is an exciting time too!

Lindsey [homegrown spud] said...

I am saddened by your lengthy response in this which I feel compelled to respond as if you were one of my best girl friends talking to me over coffee. I have been following your blog for years...and I am touched by your insight, sentiment, list writing, montessori influence... however I don't feel like you need to justify your life or choices to others or even yourself. Taking different times "off" for henry or next babe- who cares. Do what is right for you or your babe. But make life simple and adjust to what you need. I think you get a lot of flack here on your blog because you appeal to others like you I presume- earthy, organic, natural- with motherhood and life. But some are quick to judge and say negative comments that quite frankly might make life less desirable. Which is counter-intuitive, right? Isn't the goal simpler, happier, more fulfilling lives? Anyways, enjoy your pregnancy, your goals, and your life...sounds like you have an exciting time ahead! I don't think it's bad for your children to see you having goals to strive for, working, and balancing it all. It's empowering. And it doesn't detract from their very nurtured lives.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Lindsey! I didn't feel like Yael's question was an attack against my choices that required a defense; I read it as a sincere and genuine request for my thought process. For me, part of living an intentional life is thinking through nearly every choice I make. At times it borders on over-analytical and neurotic, but, for me, it's the best way I have to make sure I'm maximizing my "one wild and precious life." I love sharing my thought processes on this blog (for myself) and for others.

But thanks for your concern!

Kristy said...

In Canada, the vast majority of women (those who work) get a year off with employment insurance (maximum of about $850 bi-weekly). Something that I've recently encountered among friends and friends of friends is shaming of women who don't take the full year off. It is almost expected that because the benefits and time off are available that parents (part of those 52 weeks can also be used by spouses as parental leave) must use them. Also, most child care providers will not take children younger than the age of 1 so even if you want to, or have to for financial reasons, go back sooner, the system makes it difficult for you.

Though I'm quite happy to live in a place where parents have the opportunity to stay home with some remuneration and job protection, I think everyone needs to stop being so judgmental and trust that others are making the best choices for their own families. We should also be cognoscente of the messages we are sending to others when we comment on their choices - even well meaning messages - like "how awful that you have to go back to work so soon"

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