New mom asking: Go back to work or not?
July 12, 2016 12:32 AM   Subscribe

How could I possibly leave my baby to go back to work? And yet, tons of people have done it, including many I work with. How?? ... And then on the other hand, how could I quit working? (Long -- feel free to skip ahead to the question section.)

I apologize in advance if this offends anyone. I'm seeing things in extreme terms, and I'm posting here to get some help finding moderation and a solution that works for us. Please don't take this as me judging anyone -- if anything, I feel great sympathy for everyone, no matter their decision, because every decision seems hard to me. And then again, if it was an easy decision for you, hearing how you see it would be helpful, too.

The plan was for me to return part time in August when the baby will be 5 months old: half-time in August, 80% time in September and thereafter. I like my work, (though it does seem trivial next to raising my child), and I like having money coming in.

But -- he's my child. Right now, when he cries, it's me he wants. The thought of him crying and me not being there for him makes me so sad. We're a unit right now, me and him. I fear I'd be betraying that, causing him pain, and damaging his love for me. "Fear" is the operative word here -- I know my working friends' children love them dearly. But, having been with my baby almost 24/7 since birth, to suddenly walk out the door and not return for eight hours feels like a cruel thing to do. (::crying::)

Of course, the baby will adapt and grow attached to a new caregiver, but that's cold comfort. On her trial day, the nanny even said (just making conversation, can't remember how it came up) that the worst is when the kids get more attached to her than to their own parents, like one evening she had to stay late and go to urgent care with the entire family because the sick little boy was wanting her. Oh my god, that breaks my heart.

I really wanted to have a kid. I want to have a second child. Family is really important to me. I think of my 9-5 city existence as kind of a superficial rat-race thing I'm doing until the important stuff starts -- settling in to a home and a piece of land (however small) with a family. Rather than choosing to be outside with my child, I'm choosing to be in an office so that we can continue living this expensive urban existence? Why not slow down, move somewhere with a lower cost of living, and focus on family and where we live?

After being home with him all day, the thought of that family existing only from 5-7 pm + weekends seems, just, wrong. The baby's new ever-present companion is a nanny, then the family comes back together for a short visit before bedtime? (::crying again::) I'd be there for about 20% of what I'm there for now. On her trial day, the nanny also mentioned she worked nights at Target until her kids turned two so that she could be with them when they were awake.

Financially, we currently live beneath our means and I'm grateful that we could probably afford for me to quit. It would mean some big sacrifices, but if I knew it was just for a couple years, it's certainly doable. The bigger issue is how hard it will be to get a job again afterwards or build up consulting clients.

Quitting my job would also feel like losing a big part of my identity. I'm in a leadership position after 12 years working my way up. My job pays comparatively well and is as flexible as they come. I'd miss some of what I'm doing, the people, and the feeling of competence I get. I'm not even sure I'd be a good SAH mom. My husband has let me know he'll be supportive either way, but his only two cents has been "it seems like you like work." And in a couple years, the little guy will be in school, and what will I do then? It's nerve-wracking to stop working, not knowing what I'd do and where I'd get hired. To be honest, the idea of quitting my job feels fictional -- the default has always been that I'd go back to work.

Ugh. I keep looking for a middle path. Maybe I could hire a nanny and work from home and take long breaks to also do mom stuff? But we live in a tiny flat so that's logistically near-impossible. Maybe I could quit, find consulting work, and work on a schedule of my choosing? What a leap of faith.

And I know how quickly he'll grow up. Every phase is so unique and precious.

I'd love to hear how you navigated this. Here are a few specific questions:

  • If you quit to stay home with your kid, how did you deal with losing your professional identity? How did you deal with your tighter budget or find ways to make money otherwise?

  • If you went back to work, what was your experience like? On a message board, I saw a couple people describing six weeks of grief -- was that your experience? What were the first couple days like? Did you feel a difference in the connection with your child? If it's awful, could I quit then, or would I have already changed our relationship by being gone for a day?

  • If you work, did you have any trouble conceptualizing your role as a parent? I know great working parents. I always thought I'd feel like them. But now when I try to imagine myself working, and some new person spending 90% of the child's waking hours with him, I almost feel like I wouldn't be his mother anymore, at least not like I have been so far. Babies don't understand "at work to provide you a good life;" they understand hugs, play, and food. How do I feel okay not being the person who provides those?

  • Did you find a middle path? Are there options I'm overlooking?

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Please be gentle; I know I'm really emotional about this decision. In case you're wondering, I'm totally functional and have no signs of post-partum depression. And again, I'm just trying to find what works for our family; none of this comes with judgment on others.
    posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
    There's no perfect solution here so everyone has to muddle through and choose their choice.

    That said, you asked for experiences. I'm a SAHP to a one year old. The experience for me has been great so far. I don't miss my professional role very much but I have been very particular about not solely defining myself as mummy. Yes I'm at home with my kid but I am still keeping up with politics and films and the stuff I liked before.

    Money is tight-ish for us. But in our case that just means thinking more carefully about purchases, having a defined food budget etc (sounds like it would be similar for you). I would not be a SAHP if the household money were not split down the middle or if my partner thought that got him a housekeeper too.

    In your question you talk a lot about not judging anyone. Im guessing this is because on parenting boards there always seems to be this massive contentious divide between SAHP/working parents. Among the parents I know and am friends with irl it doesn't even come up as an issue.
    posted by threetwentytwo at 1:45 AM on July 12, 2016

    If you can possibly make it work.....stay home. The time will go so fast and the rewards are huge....Just my 2 cents..
    posted by pearlybob at 1:47 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I went back to work as a single mom when my daughter was two months old. She's 8 now and I have the means to stay home so I am doing so for a while. If I could have stayed home with her when she was little, I would most definitely have done it. I really regret not being there with her and feel like she really needed me. She would cry like crazy every day I dropped her off, for years, it was terrible. She seemed happy overall, tho, and likely stopped crying as soon as I left, or so I was told. But everyone is different as you say, but that is my feeling on it.
    posted by waving at 2:02 AM on July 12, 2016

    I stayed at home for a year and then my husband did. Turns out he missed work less than I did and he's still at home. I also know a few couples where both groups work 4 days. That seems attractive to me.

    We were very pushed for money in the first year, less so in the second and now I have a promotion we are ok. We also moved out of town a bit further, so we could have a lower mortgage and sustain having one person at home.

    That was our compromise, I guess. I also thought I would put the baby in childcare but found the reality of that more difficult. Obviously not everyone has that option even with compromises for living standards and housing.
    posted by jojobobo at 2:05 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I'm writing this from the husband's perspective so perhaps take this with a grain of salt. We have two kids, and we both took time away from the job to handle the early months, but she ended up taking on more of it than I did. For both kids she took the 6 months of maternity leave that the job offered, and I burned whatever long service leave I'd built up. We tried to do this in a gender neutral way. It... half worked.

    What happened with my partner is that her job very gradually mummy tracked her - she was away just enough from the position that other people took all the opportunities that arose, and various strategic things were taken away from her while she was preoccupied with kids. This didn't happen to me, even though I was away from work for a similar length of time - people parse the work absence differently based on gender. If your professional identity matters to you (and it sounds like it does), you will need to do something to stay involved in the work.

    On the family side, the hardest thing for us to accept (and especially my partner because women get bombarded with the "good mums do everything" thing) was that kids are pretty resilient, and they don't need you as much as you think they do. We have one very anxious kid and one very assertive one, but both of them were totally fine with moving into child care at the 6 month stage. It upset us way more than it bothered them. For the kids, it was a really cool new world with new people and experiences and things to learn. It was an expansion of their world that helped their social development hugely. As a family, we became tied to a larger community - a lot of the neighbourhood kids went to the same place, we met the parents, we started to be involved in community events etc. It took a while for us to see this, but child care isn't abdicating parental responsibility - it's a sharing of responsibility across a community. It's mediated by a weird market mechanism, but a child care centre is a little village, and you are part of it.

    So - if you're looking for stories - for us at least, the middle path was putting kids in child care, and being involved (as much as we could given work constraints) in the community that surrounds it.
    posted by langtonsant at 2:34 AM on July 12, 2016 [52 favorites]

    I have a 20 month old and I've been home with her the whole time, simply due to our circumstances limiting my employment options at the moment. I love her dearly but I hate being a SAHP. I miss work. I miss adults. I miss arguing with people at work. I miss running things and delivering projects and having something to show for my efforts other than "hey, kept the kid alive again." I hate playgroups and baby rhyme time and everything else people keep telling me will solve all my problems. It is not for me. I'll be going back to work full time in a month after we move and I cannot express the happiness and relief that thought brings me. I never wanted to be a SAHP. Everyone told me it would change after I had my daughter. It didn't.

    My daughter has been in daycare two days a week the last six months to give me a break, and she's taken to it like a duck to water. (Then again, she's always been the type who's very chill about her caregiver and she's comfortable with strangers, even though I've always been there and always been the primary caregiver) So while I felt initial guilt for a week or two, it's really been great for her, and healthier for me.

    There's no right answer - there's what feels right to you. It might be better to try out the phased-in plan you have and see how it goes, then quit and stay home if you need to, rather than quit now and try to get your job back in six months if you decide SAHParenthood is not for you. Unless right now you feel 100% certain that this is not something you can do, but reading your question, you don't sound 100%.
    posted by olinerd at 2:37 AM on July 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

    "I almost feel like I wouldn't be his mother anymore, at least not like I have been so far. Babies don't understand "at work to provide you a good life;" they understand hugs, play, and food. How do I feel okay not being the person who provides those?"

    I can't answer most of your question because I am a decided stay at home mom- HOWEVER- I can give you some comfort here. We had to put our darling into creche (like daycare) when he was 7 months because I was pregnant again and I have high risk pregnancies and wouldn't be able to lift him. He LOVED going to creche. He loved being around the other children, and its been a great thing for him, they entertain him more there than I ever could at home and he is now very social. At creche there are multiple care givers and he doesn't love them more than he loves me, he is still definitely more attached to his father and I.

    And now I have another baby at home and I am so happy that he is out there enjoying his life and that we were able to ensure that another baby didn't totally change his life right away... his father and I aren't the only spokes in his wheel!

    Sometimes I think he is there for too long and we've had a few days where his sleep was off at creche... but our nightime routine is so so spectacular and its how he ends his day.... we play with him, give his dinner, have some cuddles and then bathtime with twinkle lights and music... It may be only 2 hours of his day, but its a HUGE 2 hours.

    I wouldn't get a nanny... and this particular one sounds like she said all the wrong things. We actually don't want a nanny because we value our privacy and to be honest we like our boundaries between US the family, and other caregivers... Creche is much better for us, and then a nice relationship with about 2-3 nice babysitters.
    posted by catspajammies at 3:18 AM on July 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

    I went back to work when my son was 10 weeks old, because that's how long I got paid to be out on maternity leave. It was an easy decision for me because we need food and electricity, and staying at home was not even close to a financial option for us. I also never wanted to stay home, and that feeling didn't change when my son was born (I did have some private moments of crying and thinking "why did I even have a kid if I'm never going to be home to see him"). It helps that my job is 35 hours a week, and I'm not expected to work overtime. I go in, do my job, and go home. My boss has kids and understands that sometimes they get sick or there are snow days, and it's not a big deal.

    The first week back at work was hard, but it got easier quickly. Everyone adapts. It helped that I genuinely like my job, and I felt overwhelmed and a little crazy at home with a challenging baby who never slept. I like feeling competent at work, and I often don't feel competent at stuff like imagination play with my kid or the endless patience that a toddler required.

    My son was in daycare from 10 weeks, and it was a really positive experience. He learned things I never would have thought to teach him. He was well loved by his daycare teachers. He got to play with other kids. He's almost six years old now, and he's currently cuddled up next to me on the couch. Being in daycare in no way affected our bond, he's always been strongly attached to me (and to his dad, of course), and he absolutely loves us fiercely. I was able to breastfeed him on weekends and evenings until he was almost two, if that's a concern of yours. We get tons of family time on weekends and vacations and random days off.

    Every family and mom is different, so I'm in no way trying to convince you that working is the "right" way to do things, just trying to give some perspective that I'm doing it, and both working and parenting are more rewarding for me personally because of it.
    posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:23 AM on July 12, 2016

    Is there another parent in your question? Have they spent any substantial period of time caring for the child? Do they want to?

    From personal experience, leaving an infant in a bad child-care situation felt terribly painful but in good ones felt neutral or good -- give any change a week or two before making a final decision.
    posted by nonane at 3:27 AM on July 12, 2016

    Your main problem right now is the wrong nanny. She is an insensitive, selfish lout. I've been a nanny, as well as a mother, and there is a very big difference between the attachment a child feels for the caretaker compared to the mom. I've also met women who claim to have raised other people's children and manipulate the children into liking them more, for their own devious egos. Do not hire that nanny.

    You want one who is professional, who will love and care for your child while making sure that your child knows that you come first. They are out there.

    I stayed home with my first two and was forced to work 50 hour weeks when my third child turned one. That lasted a full year. I had one of the bad nanny's. I then got on food stamps and got a slacker job with the little one in daycare for short days. That went much better. We did that for a year before I just gave up and stayed home with them. I wasn't making enough to cover childcare and living expenses when I work. After a bit, I started picking up small jobs with flexible schedules and work from home projects. We get by. They would rather have me home than working. I don't discuss money problems with them and they don't know that we are poor. They just think that I'm strict and that is why I don't buy them everything they want. It works out.

    They are all older now and I can return to work. It is not hard to jump back in. It's okay if you want to stay home for a year. It's okay if you go back to work. The baby will be fine. But, don't use that nanny.
    posted by myselfasme at 3:29 AM on July 12, 2016 [20 favorites]

    If you went back to work, what was your experience like? On a message board, I saw a couple people describing six weeks of grief -- was that your experience? What were the first couple days like? Did you feel a difference in the connection with your child? If it's awful, could I quit then, or would I have already changed our relationship by being gone for a day? emphasis added

    Gently, have you considered seeking out a therapist? Perhaps your OB could recommend one? Because this sounds like catastrophizing to me. Children are adaptable and resilient. Being away for a single day is not going change your parent-child relationship.
    posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:42 AM on July 12, 2016 [36 favorites]

    This is entirely YOUR decision, but here's my story:

    I was an up and coming PBS executive when I had my eldest and I took maternity leave with every intention of returning. After a few months, I was blindsided with a feeling of what was the point of having a child if I was paying someone else to raise her? I felt strongly that all the time I was at work was time I would never get back with my kid; I was choosing to miss her childhood so I could get ahead at a job. When all was said and done, it was just a job.

    I couldn't make myself go back to work, so I ended up staying at home with all three kids for the next 7 years. In that time, I thought hard about the type of parent I wanted to be so I decided to go into teaching because I would have the same holidays as my kids; also I really like teaching.

    So I went to school at night and got a few advanced degrees in education and as the kids got older I started working part time in schools. By the time my youngest was in Kindergarten I was hired as a high school teacher.

    This has worked for me and my kids. I would never have been happy if I had gone to work when they were young.
    posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:02 AM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

    I identify very strongly with the struggle you're describing; therapy might help, but I think that time is more likely the right answer.

    When it was time for me to go back to work (four months), I felt exactly as you're describing. I was terrified and miserable and it felt really unnatural to be separated from my daughter. But, you know, food, electricity, etc.

    I went in on day one intending to work full time, and my very kind boss looked at my face and asked me if I wanted to work three days a week for a while. I did that for a few months, then moved up to four days until my daughter was 11 months. I've been back at full time for several years now. Honestly, if I had a different job, or a wealthy family, I think it would have been ideal for me to wait until 6 or 9 months, then do 3 days, um, forever. That's not my reality, though, and I'm ultimately ok with it.

    My relationship with my daughter is very strong, and I don't think that daycare has really impacted it much. The benefits are mostly positive, in that I've had a set of people who are experienced with kids know and love my daughter; they all give me good advice when we're having problems. I was also helped by seeing my daughter develop loving relationships with her caregivers and friends.

    Ultimately, if you're able to put off making a decision for a little longer, it might get easier. Goo luck!
    posted by chocotaco at 4:05 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I am so so SO glad that I continued working after having my daughter. Now, to be fair, I was and have always been the primary breadwinner, so I really didn't have that much of a choice, but regardless of that, it was definitely the right thing for me and my family.

    Recognize that if you stay at home, your job shifts from whatever you currently do to being an early childhood educator. Do you have a passion and interest in that? I've read a lot that emphasizes how important those first years are from a development perspective, and I very much agree with the Montessori philosophy of "play is the work of the child." For myself, although I do a great deal of this on the evening and weekends, I had zero desire to try to fill 40+ hours a week with creative and developmentally appropriate play & learning experiences. I was extremely happy to delegate that to professionals with training and experience.

    I did not have a great deal of difficulty going back to work, there was no "grief" period for me. I was a little weepy the first day back and that was about it. I definitely don't feel any difference in my connection with my daughter - working makes me a better mother because I am much more able to be present and engaged if I'm not with her every second of the day.

    You say you have a very flexible job - I would be EXTREMELY hesitant to give that up if you would probably go back to work in a few years anyways. My job is pretty flexible right now and that really makes being a working parent so much easier.

    As far as a middle way, there are lots of options, which really come down to the flexibility of your work. Could you work part time longer term? Can you flex some of your hours so that you put in a few hours after he's asleep and get more time with him in the afternoon? Some parents I know stagger their hours so that one parent gets several hours in the morning and works later, the other goes in very early but then comes home early. I am able to take off one day every two weeks, which doesn't sound like a lot, but is wonderful in terms of us going and having a nice day with just the two of us. Personally, I don't find working from home while my daughter is in the house very helpful, I like to be focused on either home or work, not trying to juggle the two.

    I also think there are some red flags in your description of your conversation with the nanny that would make be very uncomfortable. Other nannies that I have talked to have discussed how they see one of their primary responsibilities to be encouraging a close connection between parent and child. At the very least, I would be asking her some challenging questions on how she has changed her style since that incident she described. Maybe daycare would be a better choice, where he would get to interact with multiple caregivers and also other children.

    One last thing to think about. I'm currently in the middle of a nasty divorce, and I am so relieved that one of the things I don't have to worry about is my own financial stability. A year ago, I was in what I thought was an extremely safe and secure marriage. The choice to end the marriage was not really mine. I know that no one likes to think about this possibility, but it is a risk, not just divorce but in having all the financial earning responsibility in one person's hands. Lay offs, long sickness, even death are all risks which can be partially mitigated if both partners continue to work.

    This is SUCH a personal question, and unfortunately, it is heavily tied up in all sort of cultural expectations about what it is to be a "good" mother, which the feminist in me thinks is extremely unfair. Good luck with your choice.
    posted by puppetysock at 4:39 AM on July 12, 2016 [21 favorites]

    I'd always assumed I'd be a stay-at-home mother for the first few years, and even during my maternity leave I mentally gave myself the option of quitting, but I went back to work and it was without a doubt the right choice for me. Not because I love my job or have a lot of professional ambition, but I think it's been really, truly good for myself, my kid, and our relationship.

    Why it's good for me: parenting is exhausting. I adore my child, but mothering is like any other difficult job in that taking regular time off keeps you alert and fresh. Too many hours with the baby and I turn into a zombie. It's also been immensely helpful to have someone with more experience caring for my child: daycare figured out his ideal nap schedule long before we did, and they observe his day-to-day development and have a better idea than I do of what is typical. It's also tremendously useful for babies to get accustomed to other caretakers instead of relying on all you all the time for comfort.

    Why it's good for the kid: daycare provides so much more than I can. More activities, more structured time, more variety, more regular socializing with both trustworthy adults and kids his own age. These benefits aren't immediately obvious when your baby's tiny and not really socializing or doing much, but when they're toddler age suddenly they're brushing their teeth or singing all twenty verses of Wheels on the Bus and you're like holy crap how did they learn that. Daycares, nannies, etc. all have different pros and cons, just like stay-at-home parenting.

    Don't do anything you're not comfortable with, and keep in mind there are good nannies and not-so-good ones. And no childcare or career decision is permanent. There's good things about whatever decision you make.
    posted by Metroid Baby at 4:56 AM on July 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

    I went back to work full time when my son was 9 weeks old, because I had to, I'm the breadwinner. I've always worked 40 hours per week. I feel like I get PLENTY of time with my son -- mornings, evenings, weekends, holidays, vacations, sick days. I don't feel like I'm missing out AT ALL, and honestly... I miss him all day, but sometimes, by about 7:30, I'm counting down the minutes until bedtime because he's just exhausting to be around (he's 5 now). I literally don't know how I would survive being with him all the time. I like being around adults during the day, I like being able to have lunch by myself, or use my lunch break to go swimming or whatever.

    That said, we did decide when my son was 6 months old that his dad would quit and stay home with him, because he was the lower earner, didn't like his job, and it seemed stupid for him to go to a low-paying job he hated every day just so we could pay the nanny. He stayed home with the kid until the kid turned 3, at which time it became really clear that BOTH of them needed to not be at home with each other any more... the kid needed other kids to play with, and my spouse needed to have adult things to do. It certainly made things easier in those early years in many ways, and probably my family has a closer bond because the kid wasn't with someone else during the day, but it might have made things harder when the did start work/daycare -- it was hard for my spouse to find a decent job again, and it was hard for the kid to make the transition from home with dad to being around so many other kids at 3.

    I'll also say that we really could not afford for him to not work, we went into some debt while he was at home with the kid. Financially we'd be in better shape now if he'd continued working.

    So, really, I think that both working and staying home have about the same amount of pros and cons, do whatever works best for your family.
    posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:26 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I went back gradually, starting a half day a week when my first was 4 months. By the time he was 18 months he was in full time daycare. My partner took leave with our second and because of weird circumstances was able to stay home for 18 months. In both cases the transition to daycare was much easier when it became the daily routine. The first days are always emotional. There will be some days as your baby gets older when you will drop him off and he will cry like crazy. But if you lurk out of sight he'll be happily playing 5 minutes later. It gets easier. If you find a good care centre it is quite wonderful to watch them grow with the educators and the other children. I was the one crying when our daughter left the care centre to move on to grade school. The staff was so amazing. Our daughter's best friend is a child she met at daycare 6 years ago. They are at our local school together and they are still inseparable.

    I loved being with my kids when they were little but I also loved my work (as did my partner). Staying engaged in my job meant that I kept my seniority, was made permanent and took on leadership positions that have served me well. It was also great for my mental health and our bank account. When the children were small going to work and being with adults sometimes felt like a vacation. I too have a flexible job and it is no small thing being able to take off half a day for appointments or a sick kid without worrying about repercussions.

    There are so many things that go into making this decision. My sister stayed home until her youngest started kindergarten and things have worked out happily for her family too. But she loved the idea of staying home, and had children so young that her career wasn't yet established. One thing I have that she and her husband don't is a healthy university account for my kids. But if I asked her I bet she'd say the extra work they're doing now to make up for it was worth the 8 years she spent full time at home with her kids. The right answer here is the one that works best for you and your family.
    posted by Cuke at 5:36 AM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

    A few more things:

    I agree with others that that nanny sounds like she would try to undermine your relationship with your child. If you go the nanny route, pick one who is supportive rather than one who tears you down.

    When I went back to work, the first day was AWFUL. The second day was better. By the end of the week we developed our routine and things were OK. The first year was a lot of work, because I pumped during every break and my son reverse-cycled at night (we coslept) so I didn't get much good sleep, or any time to myself. But after his first birthday, when I stopped pumping and he started sleeping in a crib, things were much better. By the time he turned 2, I started having thoughts about having another baby, because things were so easy (I did not have another baby, we just could not afford it).

    My son does cry and cling at drop-off sometimes, that's the way he is and by all reports he's fine as soon as I leave. That is hard, though, and hasn't really gotten easier.

    Finally, I really feel like having time apart during the day gives me the ability to really appreciate the time I have with my son.
    posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:37 AM on July 12, 2016

    Oh this. This is so hard. I am nursing my four month old as I type, and I have a toddler as well. Here are my long-winded thoughts.

    First, I suspect you need more time. I felt a lot of pressure (self-inflicted) to go back to work when my daughter was an infant. Tried daycare -- lasted a week. We eventually settled on two-three days a week with a nanny share at six months, and my husband taking a day.

    In retrospect though, a lot of my anxiety was because I felt pressure to do STUFF. I wish with my first daughter I had just said, look I had a baby, that's a big deal, I'm going to take a year off and see how I feel. Relieving that self-pressure would have done a lot for me (though I still probably would've had a day a week at least of childcare to not go crazy.)

    So: I bet your career and your skills will still be there after a year. If you are this anxious, going back is going to be awful, not because it will be awful for your kid (it won't), but because you are going to be a nervous wreck.

    That said, I agree with some others that I would not be a great SAHM. I find it very stressful with two kids in particular and I probably read too many mommy blogs that seem to convince me I AM DOING IT ALL WRONG. My God, don't look at Montessori websites, you will want to stab yourself for being such a bad parent. And I'm a good parent, I know I am! My husband's mother was a SAHM. She was great at it, and I think she enjoyed it. And now that her kids have left home, she takes care of the house and her husband and plays a lot of golf. And yet she is ridiculously smart and talented. I think she's happy enough, but I know I would be sad if I didn't have a career once my kids grew up.

    AND I love our nanny so much. She is such a skilled person, and so loving and caring. My daughter adores her. And that's great! I can't do it all myself. I'm not sure about your nanny, but you know what, I LIKE when my daughter is OK saying goodbye to me because it means she is in a happy place. I know she loves me and will call for me in the middle of the night, but it makes me feel terrific that she is attached to someone else. Kids in the early years need consistent, loving caregivers -- and that does NOT have to fall on the mother alone. I really had to get over the "it's all about me" attitude when it comes to motherhood. The more people who love her the better.

    What HAS worked for us very well is that my husband and I both have incredibly flexible jobs. We don't work 9-5. If we have to be home when the kid gets sick, we can do that. We don't work on the weekends. Because, you know, I've only realized recently how much emphasis there is on staying home when the kids are very small. But they still need you when they get older. I mean, staying home when they are babies only to go back to 60 hour weeks when they enter school isn't that helpful -- they still need you, just in different, often more important, ways.

    Forgive the rambling (and feel free to memail me! I could talk this stuff all day, and am still figuring it out.) But my advice is: take more time. Consider being evaluated for PND because you are definitely catastrophizing. And then, think long term about career. Is there a way to make it more flexible? How would you feel if you hit a certain age and had given up your work? Are you ready to make mothering a full time identity? I actually like your idea of just going consulting after a while -- yeah, a big move, but one you can seemingly afford to make, and something you can build gradually. And don't always knock the part-time track. A lot of people are happy taking less responsibility and managing a rich work life with more time with kids. But that should be a choice you make, not one you're railroaded into.

    And in the end, IMO there aren't a ton noticeable differences between kids who started daycare at six weeks who have loving, warm parents, and kids with stay at home parents. It's really about what is going to make YOU happy. If you're happy, your kid will most likely be happy too, whatever you choose.
    posted by EtTuHealy at 5:46 AM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

    My personal experience is that I ran screaming back to work at 8 weeks because I suck as a stay-at-home parent and I don't enjoy it at all. I have a much better relationship with my kid when it's not 24/7 (I'm an introvert, he is... not) I had a number of advantages though that eased me back. I was able to work from home two days a week (possible with a tiny baby, increasingly less possible from 6-12 months, totally impossible thereafter) and the other three days my mom watched him for the first year. After that first year, he went to daycare part time, and remains with my mom part time until he starts school next year.

    Both my parents worked, and both my husband's parents worked, so this is just normal for us, I guess. We both have great relationships with our parents and always have, so we just went into it with the assumption that both parents working and the kid in daycare does not result in any ill effects for the family. And now at four years old, he's thriving. Doesn't mean he never has a sad drop-off, but he also sometimes has sad pick-ups where he doesn't want to leave where he is and come home (sometimes both on the same day).

    I think the advice to talk to a professional is actually a good one. I've seen a number of new parents go through this decision-making process and your description sounds particularly filled with feelings of anxiety and catastrophizing. I think getting an evaluation might help you know whether your making decisions just from the lizard brain or whether it's truly what all of you wants to do.
    posted by soren_lorensen at 5:53 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I have a 2-year-old. My work history has gone like this:

    Before kid: Working full-time in a crazy-hours job (academia).
    Birth - 5 months: Home (maternity leave).
    5-11 months: Working part-time in old job (I did 3 days/week).
    11 - 17 months: Home (unemployed/SAHP).
    17 months - now: Full-time employment, new career.

    When I first went back to work, I had fairly flexible hours and my husband worked from home with even more flexible hours, so that helped. We juggled the childcare between me, him, and my mother-in-law. Our daughter is in nursery (=US 'daycare'?) 4 days a week, and looked after by her grandmother one day a week. She's usually there from 9.30-4.30, with her dad dropping her off (then working 10-6ish) and me picking her up (and working 8-4ish). It works. Maybe in an ideal world we'd be happier if one or both of us was working shorter weeks, and maybe we will look into that in the future, but right now we are all generally happy with things as they are. I would not go back to SAHP-ing.

    •If you went back to work, what was your experience like? On a message board, I saw a couple people describing six weeks of grief -- was that your experience? What were the first couple days like? Did you feel a difference in the connection with your child? If it's awful, could I quit then, or would I have already changed our relationship by being gone for a day?

    Mixed, both times I did it, but not six weeks of grief. The first time (at 5 months old), it was easier in some ways because I was usually handing her over to her grandmother, who obviously I/she already knew, and I was often meeting them halfway through the day to feed her (she refused bottles). I missed her, and I struggled a lot with the transition back to not full-time being her mother, but she was happy from the start and it definitely didn't damage our connection.

    The second time, when she was 17 months, she was bigger and more independent. So I felt less guilty about leaving a tiny little baby, but more guilty because separation anxiety was now a thing and she actively did miss me. The first week/10 days at nursery, as we worked up to full days, was really hard - I cried, she cried, and while I knew she was having fun during some of the day, the fact that she was upset for any of it was horrible. At this point I decided to give it a month, and unless she was actively happy by the end of it - not just coping but happy - I'd ditch the job and we'd find something else. But by two weeks in, she was not only happily walking in there and waving goodbye to us - she was bringing her coat and shoes to me on a Saturday morning and asking "Go nursey now? Please?"

    •If you work, did you have any trouble conceptualizing your role as a parent? I know great working parents. I always thought I'd feel like them. But now when I try to imagine myself working, and some new person spending 90% of the child's waking hours with him, I almost feel like I wouldn't be his mother anymore, at least not like I have been so far. Babies don't understand "at work to provide you a good life;" they understand hugs, play, and food. How do I feel okay not being the person who provides those?

    Well, you still would be providing those. Just not all of those. But sure, this is a big question I dealt with at the time, and when I heard people say things like "I just didn't want other people raising my child" I bit my nails and worried.

    Honestly, though, if someone asked me today "Do you want other people raising your child?" I would say "yes." Not other people raising my child instead of me, obviously! But other people as well as me, sure. Because, it's true that 'two parents working full-time in offices' isn't the traditional or evolutionary model our species grew up in - but neither is 'suburban nuclear family with SAHM & working spouse'. Most of our children, for most of our history as a species, were raised to a greater or lesser extent by an extended family and community around them, not by their parents alone. Having other people in my child's life providing loving care, people she is attached to and enjoys spending time with, does not take away from her love for me and it doesn't mean I'm not as much of her parent.

    I would be a bit worried about your nanny, for the same reasons people have outlined above. It does not seem like she is helping you to think through the role of other loving carers in your child's life, and is bolstering your view of love and attachment as a zero-sum game. Here is my view on that as a working parent: I am glad that my child loves her carers. If she needed to go urgently to hospital while in her key worker's care, I am confident that she'd be okay with someone she trusted and could trust to care for her until we got there. But I really, really doubt she'd want them there instead of me. Remember, you don't know the story behind your nanny's previous family in that situation; you don't know that that child's parents were as loving and caring and involved as you. Not all parents are. And when parents are, children do not see love as a finite resource where giving more to one person in their lives means reducing the amount given to another.

    •Did you find a middle path? Are there options I'm overlooking?

    I can't suggest much in terms of practical options; I can only talk from my own perspective as a parent who is happy being a working parent. And from that perspective, the first thing I would say is that if you truly want to be an SAHP, and you think you can make that work, you should absolutely do that. You have to find what's best for everyone in this situation, and what's best for you counts as well.

    However, the second thing I'd say is to outline the things I, personally, was overlooking when I was facing the decision and dreading returning to work.

    The first is that I am a lot happier as a working parent than I was as a SAHP (and I wasn't an unhappy SAHP!). I've done both, and this works better for me.

    The second is that I had not appreciated how much my daughter would gain from being at nursery. She is thriving there. It's not just a holding place for her until I'm done with work; it's an environment where she is loved and cared for and has her own community of people she loves and cares for. It is a good thing in her life, and that above all is why I'm happy it's the right thing for my family as a whole.
    posted by Catseye at 5:53 AM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

    Can you stay completely home for a few more months and then re-assess? Babies get a lot busier around 9 months, lots of changes versus 5 months when most aren't sitting up yet.

    If I were you I'd interview another nanny or two (you need one that supports you) and see if you can work part-time for longer, can you stack your hours so that you work 3-4 days a week, even longer hours on those days with your husband taking the evening shift? If your job is flexible and you like it and you can get some extra leeway for a couple of years that's very valuable. Consider group childcare if you wait until your baby is older, they really do like having other kids around (as long as the ratio of kids-adults is good) and I think it's really good for them.

    I went back to work (which was a phd program...9-5 hours Mon-Thurs) when my son was 13 weeks old. I wish I could have stayed home until at least 6 months but I needed to finish/needed my stipend. My mom and his other grandma babysat which made things easier, and my son is a night owl which was hard on me but meant he was up for a fair bit of the evening so we got lots of time together. He never preferred anyone else to me but is used to me going to work (he's 5 now). He doesn't understand work very well but he understands that I always come to pick him up. I know how hard emotionally it can be to leave your baby with someone else but if you go back and hate it you can always quit, and children are resilient.
    posted by lafemma at 5:55 AM on July 12, 2016

    I just want to second the people who are red-flagging the nanny - not from a mom's perspective, but as a former nanny. She is BONKERS. That's just not how nannying works. I mean, sure, I could totally imagine a kid getting upset and wanting the nanny at urgent care, but it's a massive leap from that to "oh no, the kid has bonded more with me than with his own parents." I feel like someone who interprets the situation in that way - and then openly talks about it with a new mom! - must have a deeply screwed up idea of interpersonal relationships. Like, personality-disorder level screwed up. Kids can love multiple people! Loving a nanny a lot doesn't have to mean loving parents less! And the Target story - I mean, congratulations to her, I guess, but as you can see from this thread, there are lots and lots of people who believe that children can grow up healthy and happy even when their moms work during the day- and I think you deserve a nanny who believes that, too, instead of one that apparently believes in her heart that you're harming your kids irreparably by hiring her.

    Beyond that, maybe a useful thought experiment for you would be to ask yourself if you'd theoretically be comfortable leaving your son with another family member - with the kid's grandmother, for example. Because that's something that happens everywhere, and always has - it's a very "natural" thing to happen across cultures, and it doesn't have the same kind of guilt-inducing (and sexist!) cultural baggage that accompanies hiring a nanny or sending a kid to day care. Even if it's not realistically an option for you, it might help you separate out your own emotions (leaving a baby for the first time is hard!) from your beliefs about whether you're permanently damaging your child.

    Finally, one more thought experiment - full-time child care is a hard, draining job, and in a lot of ways, it's just a job. The qualities that make someone good at it are patience, an even-keeled temper, an ability to multitask, and a a high tolerance for boredom. Apart from your love for your child, do you think you'd be good at this job? Could you imagine doing it for someone else's child for a wage? I feel like this is hardly ever a question that gets asked, but it seems so, so relevant to me: apart from romantic ideas about mother-child bonding, it's a job some people are good at, and some people aren't. If you'd be good at it, great; if you'd suck at it (which, frankly, lots of people would!) you might be doing your child a great service by hiring an expert.
    posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:07 AM on July 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

    Oh, last thing that maybe needs some unpacking-

    If you work, did you have any trouble conceptualizing your role as a parent?... Babies don't understand "at work to provide you a good life;" they understand hugs, play, and food. How do I feel okay not being the person who provides those?

    But we imagine that children do understand this, when it comes to their relationships with their dads!
    posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:13 AM on July 12, 2016 [29 favorites]

    Oh, my goodness, I remember these feelings! I was home for about 5 months then went back to work full-time. although with one day at home per week.

    First, the hormones. Oh my God the hormones. They lead to imagining such horrible catastrophes! My interpretation is that we're just supposed to be all scared of everything at first, to keep the tiny bundle alive. I had all kinds of fears that I wouldn't have had before or after, like when I took the baby for a walk, I felt afraid that a car would, for no reason, jump the curb and hit the stroller.

    And then, after a while, those kinds of thoughts and feelings just went away, at about a year.

    Second, I would be a horrible SAHM. And I knew it at the time. Even so, I was really sad when I went back to work. Then it got better. I like my work! And I'd kind of forgotten about that part of myself while I was home. I loved thinking about how happy he'd be when I got home.

    So, my interpretation of your question? You are going through normal, hormonal-induced anxiety that is incredibly helpful in some ways such as "don't let the baby get eaten by a tiger" and incredibly not-helpful when dealing with such abstractions as "money." So, you need to find a way to trust something other than just that anxiety when you are making decisions about your work and living situation. If you can't access the part of yourself that is calm and rational, then find someone else whose perspective you can trust.

    Because it's *good* for kids to form strong attachments with more than one caregiver.
    Because you will ALWAYS come first and ALWAYS be "Mommy!!"
    Because once your baby is a little older, staying at home becomes less and less fun, if you're not the kind of person who really loves taking care of toddlers. (Like me.)
    Because many couples stagger their work schedules so that the child spends less time at daycare and more with one parent--I love the ride home with my 4 year old because of all the cool stuff he tells me.
    posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 6:17 AM on July 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

    I went back to work and used daycare for the next years. My daughter is 13 now and she is ridiculously bonded to me. I wonder if maybe high quality daycare might be better for your specific fears than a nanny? Like a Montessori?
    posted by corb at 6:29 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Honestly, though, if someone asked me today "Do you want other people raising your child?" I would say "yes." Not other people raising my child instead of me, obviously! But other people as well as me, sure. Because, it's true that 'two parents working full-time in offices' isn't the traditional or evolutionary model our species grew up in - but neither is 'suburban nuclear family with SAHM & working spouse'.

    Also! This this this! I love having what I refer to as Team [Kid's Name]. This week, for instance, he was at daycare yesterday, today and tomorrow he's with my mom, and normally he'd be back at daycare Thursday-Friday but this week his other grandparents and aunt are in town and we just bought a new house so the kid will be with grandparents + aunt Thursday-Sunday so we can move. We're insanely lucky that we have a) four living grandparents who b) we have great relationships with who c) love our son and are physically able to care for him. And that we also found a great daycare center that's close to home and affordable. (And once we move, I'm going to put "find a local college student to be a regular babysitter" at the top of my to do list. It's time.)

    Because of our big brains, human children are born in a state of underdevelopment rarely seen in the animal kingdom. They take years and years of intensive care and human social structures evolved largely because of that. We have a lot of technology now that mitigates how our social structures have moved away from large extended family units (electric baby swings instead of an widowed old auntie rocking an infant for hours), but I don't think any parent should feel guilty for feeling like hey, this is all a bit too much for one person to handle. Yes! It is! (And oh man once they start walking and talking and then they start dropping their naps? Jesus take the wheel.)

    But we imagine that children do understand this, when it comes to their relationships with their dads!

    posted by soren_lorensen at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

    I am not a parent, so take my answer with a grain of salt (or ignore it entirely; whatever). But whether you go back to work or not, your baby is going to grow up, and the "unit" that consists of you and him will evolve. Like you acknowledged already, your kid will be going to school in a few years, and before that he will go through developmental phases that will require or at least be strongly enhanced by interactions with people other than you. He will always need you, but the idea of needing you with him all the time and suffering if you are not there all the time -- which many would argue is not even true when he is as small as he is now -- will cease to be true within the span of a few months.

    Are you mourning the idea of leaving your son to go back to work, or are you mourning the fact that he is growing and changing? To my eyes, even if you decide not to return to work, you are going to lose some of the things that you express sadness about in this post just by nature of your son growing out of the infant phase of life. Make sure you acknowledge to yourself before you make any big decisions that choosing to stay at home is not the same thing as preserving exactly how your relationship feels right now.
    posted by telegraph at 6:33 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I was lucky enough to have a year of maternity leave with my daughter, and I loved it. attached as I am to my daughter, and as much as I loved being home with her, I found as I got past the 6 month mark, I was actually missing work. I missed the adults, and the challenge and the variety. I am a better person (and a parent) when I have time away from that role.

    If I had the choice to return to work 50-80% now, I think thats where the sweet spot for me would be. I like having some time to be 'mom' without being exhausted. But I love my work too... Finances and practical considerations have limited my choices, but I've been luckier than most!

    When I went back to work, my work means I could be gone (unplanned) 2-3 days after I walked out the door...without coming home at night. The biggest challenge was my daughter was still nursing. But we made it work. Our relationship did not change. She was securely attached to her Grandma, who was her backup caregiver, as well as securely bonded to me. I think maybe if I had to go back to work at 3-4 weeks, it would have been harder, but by 4-6 months we had a very established relationship. She had an equally secure, but very different bond to Grandma. I think babies do fine with a few reliable caregivers, regardless of the relationship with them. Its the nurturing and and consistency that matters most to them.

    At five, she seems none the worse for Mom working. Babies and small humans are adaptable creatures. What matters most is that they have reliable, attached caregivers. Preferably ones who are happy themselves. Whatever you decide will be fine!
    posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:35 AM on July 12, 2016

    Just popping back to agree with the person who said that older babies are a different type of baby as when they are only just sitting and stay where you put them- once they start crawling, suddenly they need a lot more watching and stimulation and it really gets tougher, by then you might be dying to drop her off or have someone do the entertaining for a while every day so you can focus on other stuff... With a small baby you can look after them but sneak some time on the computer, think about other stuff- suddenly with an older baby/toddler they get bored, crawl on you, want to use you to stand, pull cords, etc. you definitely shouldn't feel bad about choosing a path that ensures you're growing too!
    posted by catspajammies at 6:40 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    My experience: I totally understand how you’re feeling, because I also felt gutted when I went back to work after maternity leave (although my catastrophizing was more along the lines of daycare being like a Russian orphanage where my daughter would wither from emotional neglect). But it’s really been great for both her and me. She’s had excellent caregivers, a few of whom she’s really bonded with, but I’ve never had a moment’s doubt that she might prefer them to me or my husband. When we moved and I had a few months’ work gap when she was about 14 months, it was a nice interlude for both of us, but she was so happy to go to her new “school.”

    Now that she’s two, she absolutely understands that “Mommy and Daddy go to work. R go to school. Mommy come get me later.” And while she does sometimes wish for “home time,” she’s also really excited to tell us what she did at school. I’m so charmed by the ways she demonstrates that she’s a separate little being, and I think that’s really enhanced by our time apart.

    I do think the countries where a year of maternity leave is standard have the right idea, but as much for me as for her. I won’t claim that I’d still be working if money were not an issue… but it is, so.

    However, I will n-th that the nanny you spoke to sounds not only overly self-important but tactless. I’d also suggest considering daycare where your son will not only have multiple caregivers but will be able to socialize with other babies. Babies love other babies.
    posted by Kriesa at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    So here's a perspective on daycare from someone who was very very happy to bring her child to daycare every day. (So happy. OMG. To answer one of your questions, I had no grief period, quite the opposite. I feel a bit of that pull with a 5 year old that I love to talk to and draw with all day, but none when he was an infant and I felt like I was merely providing life support until he turned into a person. I was embarrassed to talk about it at the time and because of that avoided pretty much any parenting forum, so you wouldn't have heard that voice there.) Humans are designed so that multiple people can care for a child--childbirth is so difficult and rare compared to other animals that humans need a drive to care for all infants for the species to have survived. For the first couple of months, yes, the food-provider and the child are a pair, but young babies cry from a desire to end discomfort, not for a particular individual.

    When my son was three months old on his first day of daycare, he hardly ate or slept because he did nothing but smile at the bigger children all. Day. Long. He was certainly happier there than he was at home staring at one or two faces all day. The experienced teachers he was with were a wonderful resource; they recognized causes of unusual behavior that I didn't ("poor kiddo, all his teeth are coming in at once, of course he can't sleep well!"), they gave advice when requested ("here's how we get him to enjoy tummy time"). I am still friendly with his primary caregiver from his first year. I call her his second mom out of love--when he moved to the bigger kid rooms, he still went to get hugs from her almost every day. This takes nothing away from our bond, or his bond with his other parent. Frankly, I think it adds to it. It's kind of unnatural to me, the idea of being the sole source of good in a child's life. Children need a village. Like I said, it's how we evolved. It doesn't mean that children don't know where their home is.

    Other notes: I did all my parental leave in one go, but my husband was able to split his up as one-day-per-week for the first year. Do you have a co-parent? Is this something they could do? Alternatively, could you go down to 80% time and do this yourself?

    >If you work, did you have any trouble conceptualizing your role as a parent?
    Other members of the village drift in and out of his life. His parents are a constant. It didn't really matter that some days, at some times, his bottom was cleaned by a different person. He is strongly bonded to us but is also happy to go out on his own adventures.
    posted by tchemgrrl at 6:44 AM on July 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

    I have a 5 and a 10 year old and benefited from Canadian maternity leave, plus I freelanced a bit when my eldest was 18 months-2 yrs.

    I am so glad that I had them in their Montessori. I feel like our whole family's universe was expanded by becoming part of a community of like-minded families...not in any cult-like way, it could have been any good quality daycare. There have been moments when I was sad or that I didn't agree with the way the school handled things, and I sometimes physically ache to be with my kids, especially the week after a holiday. But it has really clearly been a net benefit to us.

    I also do love that my kids do not have a primary parent and secondary husband and I really are equal in their eyes and they are really into my job and coming down and helping me out for an afternoon event or whatever it is. We have such a different family rhythm than I had (I had a SAHM). Sometimes it is crazy and too busy, and sometimes I cry, and sometimes it is great. It feels right, but it took a while to get there.

    My kids know who their parents are. They just also have learned that there are a lot of people in the world who will love (in a professional way) and care for them too. They are maybe a bit more trusting that way. I like it. It feels like a village.

    One thing I did not expect was that my sheer joy at picking them up or coming home every day has been communicated really strongly. When I was at home, at 5pm I was starting to wait for my husband to come home...desperately needing time to be an adult. I think my kids picked up on that when I was home. This is very personal obviously but for me the long solo parenting days were tiring in a way that I think was not great. I'm confident I would have worked it out but this -- assurance -- that my kids have that I want. to. come. home. to. them. is really something.

    What I'm saying is that yes, you lose some things, but you do gain others. My opinion is that as long as the care is good quality, the child will be fine. It is often about choosing the type of family that you want.
    posted by warriorqueen at 6:48 AM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

    I remember feeling almost exactly like you at six weeks, and then six months, as I contemplated how everyone else went back to work full-time and I just didn't want to. Now my baby's a year old, and I could do it. She's on a waitlist for a Montessori preschool that starts at 18mo, and I'd like it if she got in because now there's other stuff I want to do, and she's no longer an infant with lots of daily down-time. I have been working at the best-paying of my part-time jobs since about the eight-month mark, and it's nice to have breaks from All Baby All the Time. When I'm at work, her dad watches her (very flexible schedule, has been back at work since she was a couple months old), so she (usually) hardly misses me. Overall, this has been the right arrangement for us. I do enjoy doing all the early childhood developmental stuff. The baby and I basically never hang out with other parents/babies though because I'm a giant introvert, and I probably should start correcting that now that she's coming out of the stranger-anxiety phase. Again, I'm hoping the preschool toddler house will happen because that'd effectively outsource all of her socialization needs and then I could continue in my hermit-like existence without guilt. On the whole though, even if I have to get over myself and find baby-friends for her, this was the right path for us and I'm glad I didn't force myself to do the thing I thought was expected, and that we've been able to make it work financially.
    posted by teremala at 6:55 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    My wife went back to work fairly briefly when our older child was 9 months old. It was a cool job close to home when not traveling, and we got a live-in nanny. She enjoyed the work but even with the nanny it was still stressful to be away, especially on business travel, and the tax hit was ridiculous. When #2 came along she left and hasn't gone back. For her, and many accomplished women, the hardest part about full-time mothering is being stuck at home with a baby. Once you're out in the world with the other SAHM, playing tennis, volunteering at the Parent Association at school and the Junior League, etc, it gets a lot better.
    posted by MattD at 6:58 AM on July 12, 2016

    I should say that my experience is based on living in communities where SAHMs are the rule, not the exception. I expect the social aspects might be very different where SAHM are rare or mostly confined to an economic or demographic category to which you don't belong.
    posted by MattD at 7:01 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Also also also: If you do stay home (and you are in the U.S.), please please make sure to arrange your financials so that you have a retirement income for yourself. You need money that is your own and no one else has access to. You need to make up for the money being paid into social security that you'll no longer be paying in by not working. If you have a 401k keep in mind that it'll grow a lot more slowly once you stop paying into it. There are a lot of knock-on effects of leaving the job market and you need to think about those now. Plan accordingly. If you stay home, make sure you're putting some of your husband's income away into an IRA or other investment account. Look after your own future well-being.
    posted by soren_lorensen at 7:06 AM on July 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

    But now when I try to imagine myself working, and some new person spending 90% of the child's waking hours with him...

    I skimmed some of the answers, but strong emotions may be affecting your math. If your kid fits the typical baby stats and sleeps 14 hours a day while being awake 10, and is awakein the hours from 5-7, then you are spending 20% of kids awake time with them on a weekday, and the weekend hours bring the total facetime up sharply. (5x2 = 10 hours together on weekdays plus 10 Sat and 10 Sun. That's 30 out of 70 waking hours. Something like 40% of the total time.)

    Yes, it's a big loss from what you have now. I stayed home for my child's entire childhood and then couldn't re-enter the work force. (2008 was a bad year to try.)

    When your kid learns to play Candyland, you will wish you were at the office. (wink)
    posted by puddledork at 7:17 AM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

    In my (Canadian) experience (we get up to 1 year leave), 5 months is too early but by 10-11 months I couldn't provide enough stimulation at home and I am looking forward to daycare so my boy will get the variety of experience and exposure to other kids that he needs. He's ready to explore.

    5 months is small. Not even sitting up in most cases. If you can stay home till your child is crawling/cruising/walking then you may feel differently about going back.
    posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:29 AM on July 12, 2016

    My son is ten months old. I went back to work at 3 months. He is/was very attached to me. When he cries, he wants me. At three months, he would look for me in a room, he would watch me wherever I went, he always wanted me to hold him, I could soothe him faster than anyone. I had to go back to work, I carry our health insurance, so staying home for a year (my preference) wasn't an option. And I live in the sucky U.S., so they wouldn't have held my job for that long.

    I was so worried about his first day in daycare. I imagined him being sad, scared and confused that I'd left him with strangers. I imagined him sobbing all day. I imagined him wondering if I would ever come back. I couldn't imagine leaving my baby. I made my husband turn off the episode of John Oliver where he was talking about maternity leave because I started crying. I couldn't even talk about it before I went back.

    None of that happened. He loves his daycare. He has so much fun there with his little similarly aged baby gang. He's very bonded to two of the teachers. One is his teacher, the other is a teacher across the hall. (He crawls over to the baby gate at the door, pulls himself up to stand at the gate, and yells across the hall until he gets her attention. Then he smiles and babbles at her. It's hilarious.)

    I cried off and on the first day. I cried the entire drive to work. I forced myself to wait until halfway through the day to call and see how he was doing (he was fine). I have lots of videos and pictures of him on my phone that I watch an embarrassing amount. Honestly, I mostly got over it pretty quickly. I felt much better by day 2. I still have days where it's hard to leave in the morning, but I also have days where I'm happy to leave and listen to NPR in the car, and drink my coffee without anyone trying to grab the cup, and where, if someone tries to stick their finger up my nose, I can call security.

    Here's what we do: my husband and I work different shifts. I work 9-5. He works 3-11. Husband takes care of our baby in the morning, drops him at daycare around 1:30. I pick the baby up by 5:30, take him home, hang out, play, bath, bottle, book, bed. We do the family bed thing because we don't get much time as a family of three. Our weekends as a family are pretty sacrosanct. I still feel like his mother and primary caregiver. I'm the one he wakes at 3 am. I'm the one he throws up on. I'm the one he clings to like one of Harlow's monkeys. I'm the one he greets with a HUGE smile when I pick him up (the best part of my day).

    If you hate working and having your child in care, you can always quit. No, leaving him or her for a day, week, month will NOT damage your relationship. My mom left me with my grandmother for a MONTH when I was less than a year old because we were moving and had a lot going on, etc. That didn't affect our relationship at all. People put their babies in all kinds of child care situations all the time and have for decades. If there was a rush of children being turned into serial killers by daycare, we'd know it by now.

    This is hard. Either way, it's hard. You guys will be okay!
    posted by Aquifer at 7:34 AM on July 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

    I stayed at home for the first 5 months with our daughter (1.5 months paid, rest unpaid), and then put her in daycare.

    The first day I dropped her off was very hard on me: I only put her in for 2 hours, but I sat outside for 10 minutes crying because I felt like I was abandoning my child.

    But 2 hours later when I picked her up, she was fine..... and happy to see me. After a day or so of this, she went into daycare fulltime from 7am - 4pm every day. The first few weeks were very hard for me, and but only a little bit hard for her. She wasn't too happy about eating there at first, but she got used to being with others. She would cry a little in the morning, but the daycare people were very good at distracting her. As a side note, it's crucial that you find a good daycare that you like and trust. (If it's a big center, make sure the Director has been there for a while, that shows stability. And ask about staff turnover rate...)

    2.5 years on, I believe she's a lot more well adjusted socially than if she was just at home with me. It's amazing the things she comes up with every day, and a lot of it is from being exposed daily to lots of different kids of different ages. As an only child, she is also learning at daycare how to share and interact in groups. Also monkey see monkey do can be a great thing... she will eat a wider variety of foods because she sees what the other kids do every day. She loves her current daycare: she runs in there happy every morning.

    For myself, I have worked very hard to get into the position that I am today, and if I had become a SAHM it would have definitely hurt career progression and my overall earning potential . For myself, I didn't want to sacrifice all my years of graduate school and hard work to get where I am today. It's a personal choice, but I think we're all (Munchkin, Husband, and I) happier with myself working, plus I think I'm being a good STEM role-model. I definitely feel more well-adjusted that I'm not at home with her all day, and get to interact with adults. It helps that my current job is very child friendly, and I have the option of working from home if I have to (kid is sick, well child visits, etc...)

    And the hours of 5pm-8pm after work/before bed I try to make special. No matter how tired we are after a full day of work, we still need to play, eat dinner, have a bath, etc... It's all very exhausting, but I don't think it would be any less so if I was at home.

    Plus when she's being a threenager, it's nice to drop her off at daycare and have someone else deal with it ;)
    posted by starbuck43 at 7:39 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    i have a 14 month old child and it has been great to be around him (maternity leave, quebec gives us about a year) for the first year, but i miss working. i think the ideal situation would be to work a couple days a week once they're 1. in my experience, when they're walking they turn into A TON of work, plus they're more independent and could use the social time with other people and especially other children. that is the true middle path - could that work for you and your situation? i agree with you that 5 months is very young to leave your baby (not to judge those who choose or are obligated to do so, just to tell you that i empathize). could you get a few more months off and see how it goes?
    posted by andreapandrea at 8:25 AM on July 12, 2016

    I went back to work after 3 months of maternity leave with my oldest, and then when I had another kid, I took off a year because we could swing it financially and I also hated my job. I started working full-time again when my youngest was 1 (he's 4 now).

    I will say here that I've not been "mommy-tracked" in the least. I've been a mother for the last 7 years and my career is better than it ever has been. If anything I am slowing it down a bit so I can be available for family/kid stuff. Nobody's ever given me grief about having to pick my kids up or leaving early so I can catch a school performance.

    That said, dropping my daughter off at daycare for the first time was incredibly hard. It took me a bit to adjust. Maybe a few months, I would say. What helped was that I really liked the daycare she was in, and I also really liked my job. It is hard to leave them when they are so tiny. She did feel like another appendage for me and leaving her there was like leaving my arm. It slowly got better.

    When I stayed home with my son, that was also difficult, but for different reasons. He had a milk protein allergy and reflux so he cried a lot and didn't sleep much, and I also had to wrangle a 2.5-year-old. It was physically and mentally exhausting. We kept my oldest in daycare 2 days a week just to give me a break and even those days were hard. Being alone with just a baby is very isolating. I found some moms/parents groups, which was good and very helpful, and if you decide to stay home longer or for awhile then I'd recommend you find some because they are really great at getting you out of the house talking to other adults. But as a SAHM I felt like I never got a break. I was nursing the baby so even when my husband was home with the kids, I still had to feed the baby and couldn't be away from him for more than 2 hours. That's a hard part of it - your home becomes your workplace and you can never get away from it. Going back to work was kind of a relief. And now that they are both older, we've all figured out a fairly smooth(ish) routine with daycare, school, aftercare, etc.

    It really depends on what works best for each family, which isn't the best advice, I'm afraid, but remember that nothing is set in stone. You could quit your job now and go back to work in a year or two. You could go back to work and decide it's not for you, and then quit and let the nanny go. You could quit your job, give it a few months and realize, "hey, this SAHM thing isn't working out for me" and go back to work anyway. You could go back to work and realize that it's great and you're enjoying it. You don't have to make the SAHM/working mom decision for ALL TIME right now. Things change all the time. Between my husband and I, with maternity leaves/layoffs/time off we've both been a working parent and a stay-at-home-parent, over the course of 5 years. I know it feels like you're making this big momentous decision that will stay with you for the rest of your life, but you really don't have to.
    posted by sutel at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2016

    So, these feelings have happened to every new mother I know, including myself when I went back to work at 3 months after my first baby. I was having fantasies of quitting the work I had spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars learning to do in order to be a stay at home mom. This was completely impractical since my spouse was not working nearly enough to support the family at the time and in fact was poised to become a part time stay at home dad while I was the breadwinner at a job I really liked. And yet, the feelings were there.

    In our case it was simply impossible to make a SAHM scenario work and so we just pressed forward with our original plan. Basically, as soon as I was back at work and we had a day care situation that we liked, I was actually happy to be working again and everything worked out great. My son loved his day care providers but he certainly knew who his mommy and daddy were, and it was very good for my spouse to figure out his own parenting style. When we had #2 I had the Feels again but this time I was prepared for them and knew that everything would be OK, so it wasn't as hard.

    I think it is hard to go from being the Provider of All Sustenance to a tiny helpless being to going to work and leaving him/her all day, but babies grow and develop and start to need more external stimulation and to eat solid food and the end of that particular bond happens no matter what. BUT, I can promise you that your child will still love you, will still want to be with you, and will know that you are his mommy.

    However, I also know people who decided to cut back for a few years or even become full SAHMs, and they have not regretted that choice either. Most of them fortunately had jobs where they could re-enter without too much difficulty, but some had difficulty re-entering.

    Remember that whatever you decide to do right now is not what you need to do for the remainder of your time as a parent. If you are just about to go back to work, I would go back as planned and see how things go for a month or two before making a final decision. If you are otherwise a loving and capable parent (and it sounds like you are) there is NO WAY you will ruin your bond with your child.
    posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    O.P. , the next time you're at your public library, look for this book.
    You'll find it eye-opening, in a very good way.
    posted by BostonTerrier at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2016

    I am not a Mom. I am a daughter. My Mom stayed home with me. Being somebody's ENTIRE WORLD is a really big burden for a kid. My mom still tells my sister and I how we're basically all she's done worth her life. Even now there's an undercurrent of "you have to be perfect otherwise it means my life's work was meaningless. "

    So... yeah. There's that.
    posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:55 AM on July 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

    SAHM of 2, oldest is starting kindergarten this fall. Tl;dr: I love staying home with the kids. However, if you truly like your job, and it's flexible, I would advise you to NOT quit it.

    IMHO, staying home (that includes with a nanny) is better for babies. No, being in the care of multiple strangers is not, in fact, better for infants. They don't need 'stimulation' or 'early childhood expertise'. They just want to hang out with you or other caregivers, nurse, go for walks to the park, and sleep. BUT, a nanny (stable, loving caregiver) is completely fine and won't harm kiddo. And, they are not babies for a long time and you do need to think about an exit strategy early on. Because you'll ALSO be their mom when they're 3, 5, 15, 25...and it will be tough on you and your family if you can't reenter the workforce, or have to reenter it as a very disadvantaged participant. I will have stayed home with the kids for 8 years when my younger starts preschool. It is unlikely I'll find fulfilling employment. In retrospect, given our circumstances, I'm still OK with my decision to stay home, because I didn't particularly like my job, and we wouldn't have been able to arrange for a nanny. If you like your job, and can afford a nanny, that sounds perfect. Maybe not that nanny, though. Very insensitive...
    posted by The Toad at 10:11 AM on July 12, 2016

    No, being in the care of multiple strangers is not, in fact, better for infants.

    I think anyone would agree with that statement. However, it also doesn't describe daycare. In a good daycare, the caregivers are consistent from day to day and babies do bond with them. It's not like you're leaving the baby with strangers any more than a nanny would be a stranger.
    posted by Kriesa at 10:22 AM on July 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

    I am one of the few voices of dissent in that I was looking forward to returning to work once my maternity leave was over.

    My son is 5 months old, and being back at work has been a relief. Don't get me wrong - my son is my entire world. However, after a particularly rough pregnancy (complications, hospital stay, bed rest) and four months of 24/7 baby, I had had enough of the four walls of my house. With the understanding that YMMV, losing my own identity and feeling like suddenly I was "N's mom" and nothing else was frustrating, particularly because I'd worked so hard at establishing a career, tons of years at school, etc. My first day back was not hard. We have a great nanny, whom I have come to accept will never love him the way his dad and I do, but in her own way shows him love and affection. He is comfortable with her. I've also had a questionable nanny, resulting in a visible difference in his demeanor. Your choice of nanny, should you decide to return to work, is of paramount importance. I live within ten minutes of work and can and do stop by unannounced during lunch or breaks to make sure things are well. We also have nanny-cams with her consent. She sends me pictures and videos multiple times a day, and most most most importantly, when I get home he's happy and smiling. When he sees me, he gets super excited and I am in no doubt he knows who his mommy is. The first couple weeks I did feel like he may have been a little clingy when I got home, but he's gotten used to her now. When I get home, I have precious time with him until he goes to bed and our connection has never waned. We're co-sleeping and babywearing a lot during the time I'm home to make sure that he knows his mommy always comes back.

    Babies understand a lot more than hugs, play and food. Their instincts are razor-sharp when it comes to knowing mom and dad, especially when those individuals spend stretches of time with them doing things that are unique to that relationship, e.g. babywearing/ bathtime/ cuddles. Baby Everyday knows my smell, he has little smiles and gestures that only I get (not even Dad, and I don't think the nanny does because when I mention it she'll go, "oh, he's never done that for me!") Does it tug at my heartstrings a little bit? Yes, but his emotions and behavior translate to a seemingly happy baby, so his dad and I try to give ourselves credit for being good parents. Oh, we know we're going to make mistakes, and we probably already have... but why beat ourselves up when parenting is hard enough as it is? We each have had to sacrifice our "me" time, and "us" time so we can spend more time with the baby when we get home from work, but it helps us know that our baby is happy and gets to bond with us. We've adjusted our lifestyles so that our relationship doesn't suffer, and now things like taking the baby in the pool or going on a walk with him also serve as time for mom and dad to share a kiss and a hug and talk about fun stuff we talked about before we were parents! In the five months prior to returning to work that I had to 'learn' my baby, I find that I am still the one who knows his little quirks and habits the best. Any personality changes I am quick to observe and convey to the nanny (and Dad!) He responds to me well, and somehow my own instincts with regard to him have remained sharp - if the nanny reports bouts of crankiness or crying, many of my solutions have worked in either adapting him to whatever developmental phase he's going through, stopping that behavior completely, or easing him through the difficult phases.

    My middle path has been moving close to work and not putting him in daycare. Nannies are expensive, but we can manage without too much pain. Daycare is another beast - I want my son to be comfortable in a familiar environment at home, and have the full attention of his caregiver while I'm gone. It also helps that my boss is a huge proponent of work-life balance and emphasizes flexibility in our work location and hours (I can work from home any time I like, show up at work any time I like, etc., as long as I get things done.) My husband works in hospitality so his hours tend to be different from mine, and that reduces the time that baby is home with the nanny with both mom and dad gone. My career is in a place where I can easily move to make more money, but finding the flexibility this place affords is rare so I'm being patient. This may not mean much to you, but if your husband has observed that you like work, then you may indeed find that the need for exercising your brain, achieving tangible goals and adult interaction in an intelligent, goal-oriented setting is not just important, but necessary. Studies have shown that children ultimately do benefit from moms who work outside the home. Personally, returning to work has made me a better mom. I get to see friends, go to lunch, take part in short social activities at work - this recharges me and allows me time away from a tiny, extremely dependent being who doesn't understand physical and temporal space. After all, I'm only human, and my reserves of patience aren't infinite.
    posted by Everydayville at 11:23 AM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

    I've done both. I went back to work when my first was 3 months old. The first day I felt bad, but mostly because of the message that I should feel bad. He didn't cry until he was sick, he drank his bottles, he was fine when I picked him up and nothing changed between us other than total amount of time spent. I still got the evenings and weekends with him, and it was still wonderful. My husband never felt bad for being away, he didn't feel bad for revising our plan to have him SAH while working remotely after I went back to work- he might have felt a bit silly at underestimating the care an infant takes.

    If you go back to work and quit because you hate it, be it a day or a week or a month or a year you will not have destroyed your bond with your child. Especially ridiculous is the idea of a (partial!) day apart being irrevocable- even BEFORE you go back to work you should leave the child with your spouse for 4 hours and something other than actively parenting.

    I stopped working after a relocation. I didn't lose my identity. I'm not my work OR motherhood. I'm a person who has worked and will work again, and is also a mother. I still have my knowledge and skills, and even while not employed can keep the skills polished. Being hired again when I'm ready to work again...yeah, that's a potential problem, but does not diminish me.

    When it comes to money- before we even had kids we were living on just one paycheck, so that too was NBD. The relocation came with a pay increase for my husband-and we're also good at living within our means. The RISK part of no longer working is a bigger deal to me, and this is mitigated a small bit by making sure our savings are in good shape, I have my own access to money, and we contribute to an IRA in my name. The rest is me accepting that there is risk to my future earnings posed by being not actively employed for a period of time, and that risk is worth it.

    I have a second child now, only a few months old. My first is 3. He goes to daycare, despite me staying at home, because we can afford it and he gets to play with other kids and have a semi-structured, school-like atmosphere. With me, he would get not enough attention at this point (and his brother would get not enough attention). He still loves his parents. My husband works and has other activities outside the house, and never spent time as SAHP, and still has a fantastic bond with his children. My oldest asks for his father, is excited when he sees either of us walk into a room, and has never asked for a daycare provider instead of us, though he has at times asked for his grandmother, who he has spent much much less time with than us or any daycare provider.
    posted by pearshaped at 11:28 AM on July 12, 2016

    My daughter is almost ten weeks old. I'm planning to go back to work after Labor Day. I expect it will be hard and some days, I can't imagine leaving her but I've convinced myself that returning to work is the best thing I can do for me, for her, and for our family.

    I think it's good for my daughter to see that Mommy works a professional job just like Daddy and just like she will someday. My mother was a stay at home mom and I kind of feel like I could have used women role models who worked outside the home. Most of my friends' mothers were stay at home moms so the only women I really knew who worked were my teachers. That made it hard for me to imagine the wide range of careers out there. I anticipate that most of my daughter's friends' moms will be working moms and I look forward to showing her that women can work and have families just like men.

    I also think it's important for me to go back to work to protect my family's financial future. Sure, my husband and I have life insurance but things happen. Keeping my job means that, best case scenario, we can continue saving money and, worst case, we'll be okay if something happens to my husband.
    posted by kat518 at 12:01 PM on July 12, 2016

    I also thought about how when I put my daughter in daycare that she'll be spending more waking hours at daycare than she spends with me. But daycare workers and later, teachers at school, will come and go. My daughter has to deal with me for the rest of her life.

    Regarding the concern that spending a day at work will destroy your bond with your child - my daughter had to spend 16 days in the NICU after she was born. I was sad that we didn't get to spend her first few hours outside the womb together. This probably sounds crazy but before she was born, I thought taking care of her umbilical cord would be gross but then when she was in the hospital, I felt sad that it fell off without me have big had anything to do with it (though now my daughter has the cutest belly button). But even though she was in the NICU, that came after we spent 34 weeks together 24/7. And even better, we get to spend the rest of our lives together. Sixteen days in the hospital or 40 hours a week in daycare are nothing compared to the rest of our lives. I'm probably crazy but that makes me feel a little better about eventually going back to work.
    posted by kat518 at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I am a working mom and have a son who is 15 months old. I went back to work when he was 14 weeks because my job provides 40% of our income as well as the health insurance (my husband works for a tiny business, no insurance). ToddlerBravo is in daycare three days a week and with his grandma two days a week. I fantasized briefly about becoming a SAHM but economically and personally it was not the right decision for us. The health insurance alone has certainly paid for itself.

    The first two weeks of daycare were hard for me, but peaked right away in the morning when my husband left with him to bring him to daycare. Once I was in the physical office environment, it lessened, because there are no reminders of my baby in that setting and I was able to socialize with coworkers, stay busy, etc. I'd also had some practice leaving him with others, since I also had two enthusiastic grandmas who were urging me to get out and run errands/get my hair done/whatever so they could watch the baby while I was on maternity leave.

    My son did not particularly care if he was in daycare or at home. I was actually mildly insulted at first - no shrieking? no clinging? did he not love me? -but I got over it and reminded myself he was being fed, changed, entertained, and soothed. He'd accepted these services without complaint from my husband, my mom, and my mother-in-law, so adding a few more people to the roster would not bother him.

    He didn't cry when we dropped him off, and he greeted me with a big grin and happy wiggling when I picked him up. His personality has always been "independent" so that is likely a partial factor (not much of a cuddler, slept better in his own room, always on the go).

    I think daycare is good for him. On days when we stay at home, he starts to get antsy and wants to go do something (crawls to the front door and shouts "DOOR! Car! Car!" then fusses if we try to redirect him). He gets lots of variety and experiences at daycare - other babies! finger paint! backyard picnic! walk to the fire station! - and we're about to enroll him in a toddler program where they only teach in Spanish, so I feel like he's getting some benefits. He knows his teacher by name ("Joo-lee!") and they rotate toys and games each day so it's not the same old routine. He'll have a head start on a few things when he starts kindergarten: socializing, classroom routines, being away from Mom, and a more experienced immune system. He handles us leaving with a minimum of fuss but always crawls up to me with a gigantic smile and shouting "MAMA!" when I return. Daycare has also been helpful in pointing out things we were slow to realize, like that he was ready for solid foods, for drinking from a cup, for one nap a day, etc. etc. If I were a SAHM I think the quality of time spent with him would not be that great...always stressed and tired, noodling around on my iPad, counting the seconds until my husband got back. I am better able to fully engage with him in evenings and on the weekends (but I admit by Sunday at 4 PM I'm looking forward to his bedtime).

    As far as "do you want someone else raising your child?" I mean...there's only so much they can influence? I was cared for by my grandma until age 4, and in daycare full-time from four onwards. My daycare lady was great and funny and I really enjoyed going to her house for the day, but I also don't like '70s country or selling Amway or chiropractic medicine or watching COPS or birds as pets (all things she enjoyed). And that was going to her home for daycare from age 4 through 12. My relationship with my parents is strong, even with a mom who worked full-time and was going to weekend college. My take on it is, do what feels best, but a kid's personality and taste is largely preset and they'll turn out mostly the same regardless of if their mom stayed at home or went to work.
    posted by castlebravo at 12:18 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I probably have the best and worst of both worlds, depending on your perspective, because I work from home parttime while watching my two kids fulltime. I felt strongly about staying home for the first year with my first child, and that snowballed into a second year. I'd considered going back to work fulltime when he turned 2, but I ended up having a second baby so now I'm home with 2.5 year old and a 9 month old.

    Working from home with a baby is ... difficult. Now I have a toddler and a baby and it's basically crazy, although my mother watches my toddler several mornings a week to help out. I squeeze in what work I can during the day (usually about 2-3 hours during naps/cartoons), and I work a lot at night once the kids go to bed. I often work from 8pm-12am, go to bed at 12:30am, and then wake up at 7:30 when my husband brings me the baby to nurse. My husband feeds the toddler breakfast and gets him settled with some morning cartoons before he leaves for work. Then I spend the day with the kids playing, reading, cleaning, laundry, eating, etc.

    I love getting to spend so much time with my kids, and I love being able to use my brain at a job. But, this schedule means I rarely have "me" time during the week, which can be really stressful. I'm extremely introverted, so I'm mostly content with talking to coworkers through e-mail and instant messaging, but sometimes it can be pretty lonely. I not infrequently feel like I'm falling behind at work, a shitty mom, and a boring husk of what used to be an individual person. But, other times I feel like a total rockstar who is balancing work, kids, and a social life on the evenings I'm not working.

    I wouldn't be able to do this if my husband weren't 100% supportive, who views childcare as an actual job in addition to my paid job. He couldn't care less that I don't get much if any housework done during the week since he knows I focus more on paid work during their naps. I think a big part of any mother's decision on this has to be how her partner will realistically support her decision, because if my husband was regularly (or ever) a dick about the house being messy every day, I would have lost my shit ages ago.
    posted by gatorae at 12:18 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I totally understand the feeling of devastation of being separated from the little person who is completely bonded to you. When my daughter was 6 months old she started daycare and we both cried pretty hard after the first drop-off. We were really attached to one another at the time (and five years later still are to some degree). Just walking away from her I felt so heavy and sad.

    However, after a while we both adjusted. The first few weeks were really hard, but I managed to get back into and even love my work again. My daughter really grew to enjoy her new caretakers and baby friends. It took a little while for my brain to shift, but it happened even though I just wanted to run back in the nursery and grab her each day that first week.

    A few things helped my frame of mind. First, was to embrace "good enough" motherhood. It was good enough for my daughter to be loved and for me to give her as much time as I could manage.

    Secondly, I focused on the results. My kid was and is fine. She hits her milestones, is curious about the world, and has real smarts. And honestly, if she didn't hit her milestones there would be little I could do as a stay at home mom to change that. If someone wants to imply that they're better at moming than me because I work, I usually take it with a grain of salt because everything is okay, we're all trying our best, and our best is good enough.

    I doubt that this will work for every kid, but we ended up moving my daughter's bedtime until it was something closer to 9pm so that we could have plenty of time to see each other after work on weeknights. We also hired a friend as a cleaner so that our weekends would be less focused on chores and more focused on doing enjoyable things together. We also used amazon to minimize store runs.

    I don't know if my daughter will remember the day-to-day stuff, but I know she will remember the special things that we do together like eating off of the raspberry bush in the front yard or going to the library festival and meeting a ballerina. I make sure that we do out of the ordinary things so that our time together really counts.
    posted by Alison at 12:21 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I don't know how much this will be helpful, but here's an experience that's not all-or-nothing: My son is 6 and I am still working part time. It just felt/feels wrong to me to work full time, and even though we could definitely use the extra money, we're doing OK without it. I am very lucky in that respect. That is not to say I think it's wrong for anyone else -- most of my mom friends work full time and their kids seem to be doing great. Just for me, I really feel like I can't for now. I took a full-time job for a short time a few years ago and didn't even last a year -- I soon realized it was just the wrong choice for me and I had to get out...

    I am happy to have something in between -- I don't want to work full time and I know I don't want to be a stay-at-home mom either. Unfortunately, working part time usually means fewer (or usually, zero) benefits, less money, and fewer opportunities, both in job openings and advancement, but it's worth it for me. I do see openings for certain full-time jobs and think, "Hey, that's such a cool job! I would really like that!" but then still feel sure that it wouldn't be worth it for me. Also, I'm already so stressed out and overwhelmed, I don't know how I would cope if I worked full time.
    posted by trillian at 1:28 PM on July 12, 2016

    I would try to remember that the circumstances are making this decision feel a lot bigger than it is. It's not a monumental, one-time only choice that you'll make which you and your baby will live with the rest of your life. It's just not. You can change your mind. You can not go back to your job and find work in the future. You can go back to your job and then quit if you don't like it. You can ask your job to let you work at 50% for longer. There are lots of options.

    It doesn't need to a time of panic and despair. You don't have to be absolutely certain to make a decision. Just breathe.

    It seems pretty clear that you want to be with your baby. So do that. Daydream about all the different ways that might look. Not in a panicked way, but in a wondering kind of way.

    It sounds like your anxiety is about what would happen if you followed your feeling. Like your heart wants to stay but your brain is running in circles.

    You had a plan before your baby came, but you can't plan with certainty for what it's going to be like when the baby is actually there. Dan Ariely talks about how horrible we are at predicting what will make our future self happy or what our future self will be like. It turns out the plan you made doesn't feel right. That's fine. Make a new plan.

    It's going to be OK. It already is OK.
    posted by orsonet at 4:39 PM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

    Oh, my heart really goes out to you. 5 months is still itty-bitty, and there is still SO much going on in that primary infant/mother relationship.

    Even if it's "just the hormones", those hormones may be trying to tell you something. Not necessarily to be a full time stay at home mom, but maybe you're not quite ready and the baby is not quite ready to go straight into you being gone 40 plus hours per week.

    I agree with the people that say 5 months old is most likely quite different than it will feel even 4-5 months from now. I have a 12 month old right now, and I'm like, "where did my BABY go??" I am not planning on working full-time just yet, but at the year mark, I definitely can see doing that if I wanted that and had a job I really liked. Until like 10 months she still felt like a little baby/infant. Now she's walking around, about to talk, moving almost faster than I can keep up with, sleeping through the night, very social -- it's really different all of a sudden just in the past 1-2 months.

    My husband HATED being away from our baby so much (he was working an 8-5 until fairly recently that was not very flexible) that he quit his job and started his own business. Now he still works a lot, but it is so much more flexible, and we often see him during the day, or he can take a long weekend, etc. I am working part-time and planning on going back to graduate school after another year. It is SO much better with our schedules being more fluid and flexible.

    So if you can, keep your options open at work as long as possible, while also trying to spend as much time with your baby this first year. It will go super fast, and if you can figure out a way to keep your work options open, you may be much more ready in just a few more months to go back more full time, and your baby may be much more ready for daycare, or something like that.

    Just some thoughts: Is is possible that you can see your baby during the work days (at lunch could the nanny come bring him and visit? Could they come hang with you while you work occasionally?)

    Can you work from home some times? Can you work one or two less days per week?

    Can you get a medical note saying you have an issue that requires you take more time off work?

    Can you take more vacation/sick days/personal days this year? Can you go on sabbatical?
    posted by Rocket26 at 5:31 PM on July 12, 2016

    If you quit to stay home with your kid, how did you deal with losing your professional identity?

    It is gone, gone, alas. I was sad about it for a while, but currently -- and this changes -- I'm fine with it. You can't have it all. Some people don't have kids, some don't travel, some don't have hobbies. Me, I'm career-free.

    How did you deal with your tighter budget or find ways to make money otherwise?

    Every full-time parent I know has some kind of side deal going on, once the kids are preschool age if not before. I do freelance editorial work. I know a jeweler, people who work part-time at their kids' schools, someone who sews cloth-diaper covers, a dog walker, etc.

    Mr Corpse has a professional career that's doing well and I take a lot of credit for it. Because I'm available to answer all the calls from school, stay home with sick kids, be here so he can travel, and wait for the furnace repair guy, he's been able to dedicate a lot of time to his job (he's a hard worker and wiling to put in crazy hours). The whole family benefits financially.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2016

    I have a three year old and a 11 month old. I'm in Canada and qualified for maternity leave with my first so I was home with him for the first year. I loved being with him but I found it very isolating and repetitive and because he was the ONLY thing I had to focus on I worried about every little thing. My job was remote at that time though and they had contracted with a firm while I was off so I decided not to go back. I started freelancing part-time and my son went into a co-op daycare at 14 months. Daycare was so good for him. I love kids but I don't have any training in raising them so I learned a lot. Like he was totally capable of sitting at a table and then taking his plate to the sink and cleaning up after himself! I would have never thought to have him do that on my own.

    We switched to a regular home daycare and he stayed there through my second pregnancy and my daughter's first nine months. I continued freelancing but my income was much reduced. I was happy just to cover the daycare costs some months (even though my partner insisted we think of that as a household expense).

    Both kids are home with me for the summer and I just have one contract that I'm working on while on I have babysitters during the week.

    Being home with them is amazing and rewarding but also very hard. There is no break. I have to work to make sure we have a playdate/playgroup to go to every day. But I have friends with kids now and a support network and my city has lots of free resources.

    In the fall my son will start afternoon preschool three days a week. He needs the structured kid time. My plan is to work while my daughter has her afternoon nap.

    But we're still figuring out my daughter's personality. She's becoming more and more of a people person and she might not be satisfied being around just me and her brother most of the day so I may have to change the plan.

    I am a million times happier when I have paid work I can focus on during the day. My work involves a lot of thinking and then writing and mostly emailing though so I can manage this most days.

    Everything depends so much on the the needs and preferences of your kid and how you respond to everything and what resources you have available. And it will all change and then you have to reassess and make adjustments.

    When you're a stay at home parent you get basically zero positive feedback. When you're working you have dozens of positive interactions with adults who say things like "great report. You really summarized that well. You were very helpful today." My three year old is *just * now is starting to say "I love you" unprompted. Your partner will try to be interested and supportive but there's only so many times they can hear "We had breakfast, we went to the park, we had lunch, we had a nap, I tried to clean but I was emotionally exhausted so I just looked at metafilter on my phone."

    If I had a full-time job, I wouldn't be making much/anything after taking out daycare costs for two but I am giving up a lot in future income. Right now I don't know if I'll go back to a full-time job once the kids are both in school but I'm keeping up the freelancing and I volunteer so that I maintain my professional contacts and keep current. In a way, it's pretty selfish of me to say "my enjoyment of the kids now is worth more to me than all these future earnings" but I really hated rushing to get my son up in the morning and dropped off and then only having time for dinner and the bedtime routine at night. Now we hang out all day. Really, it's the best.

    That said, I don't know how successful I would be now if my son hadn't gone to daycare and had someone with a lot of experience get him on a schedule and set up expectations.

    Reddit has a couple of subs for nannies. I would read through those and it should be ok for you to all ask questions about how to make everything work.

    I would probably recommend trying the schedule you've set out just to see how it goes. Especially if you're in a leadership position, there are a lot of things you get from work that you just won't get when you're home with your kid.

    I guess the td;dr is that I love being home with my kids and it's working for us right now but I also need something to think over and work on so I don't go crazy.
    posted by betsybetsy at 7:08 AM on July 13, 2016

    The fact that staying home is even an option means you're in an awesome place financially compared to most.

    Do consider what being this isolated and "Unit" with your kid will feel like in 6 more month, 2 more years, 4 more years etc.

    I've seen a lot of cases were very close stay at home parenting had unintended consequences on personal well being, social networks and marriages that in retrospect don't seem worth it.
    posted by French Fry at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2016

    I know you got a lot of answers already, but just to add to the chorus: I had to go back to work when my daughter was 16 weeks and when my son was 9 weeks. I work about 50 hours a week, so definitely full time plus some, and I've been back to work over a year since my son.

    There is absolutely no question about the kids having a preference for the nanny (and she even lives in my house, so she's always around). In fact, it still sucks to have to go to work sometimes because they cling to me crying or tell me they only want me to do everything for them. We have a blast together and I love spending time with them, but I also love my job, and I think there are a lot of positive things that come from my career, so I'm sticking with it through the hard times. As far as a period of grieving, I had none. I thought it was sad to go back to work because of bonding and nursing etc, and I think that the policies in the United States to support parental leave are shameful, but I did not experience grief, and I enjoyed being back at work (I may be in the minority with this but I'm just telling you how I felt).

    So I'm not here to tell you that it is easy by any means, but I can see no problem in my relationship with my kids that working has created, and I work more than most people do. They are very attached to me (right now physically as well as emotionally, which is certainly a challenge when your 30 lb three year old and 25 lb two year old both want you to carry them around all the time). I hope that will help to reassure you that time apart is not the threat to your bond that it seems from your vantage point. I've even talked to other physician moms who have had to spend months or even YEARS apart from their kids while the kids live with grandparents because of trying to finish out a demanding residency training program or being deployed in a combat zone internationally. They have also said that the kids still know their mom and are attached.

    There's certainly a lot special about being a mom. Hope you find the best way to do it on your own terms.
    posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:56 PM on July 15, 2016

    You don't have to make a forever decision now. You could try extending your leave, or even quitting your job with two plans in place: one to make sure your finances are in order as a SAHM, and the other to enable you to reassess and re-enter the workforce when the baby is 1 or 2 or older.

    If you choose to be a SAHM for now, it doesn't mean you'll never work again. You can figure out ways to keep a toehold in the workforce, especially if you're worried about having something that keeps you intellectually engaged; work part-time or as a freelancer, consult, write, start a blog or something. I know quitting your job feels like a huge decision, but your current job is not the only job out there.

    As a working mom, I've never had an ounce of guilt except when my choices weren't aligned with my values. My kids are 5 and 9 now and they are very much mine, and reflect the way I have raised them. It's true that I have not provided all of the hugs, play, and food that they have received during their lives, but that's fine with me; when they were babies and I saw the amount of socialization and enrichment activities that they got at daycare, I often thought that they were better off with a caregiver who actually knew what they were doing!
    posted by chickenmagazine at 3:36 AM on July 19, 2016

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