Attachment Parenting, Guest Writers, Motherhood

A Working Mother’s Sacrifice

12 Comments 21 September 2011

guest post by Jeremy Dyen

I want to tell you how bittersweet it is that we live in a time when the roles of men and women, of mothers and fathers, have become blurred and intermingled.

More and more I find stay at home dads at the park with their kids, while mom is off at work.

I have a number of friends who live that scenario. I lived that scenario. I still do, though it is a bit more complicated than my wife, Madhavi, going off to work while I stay home with our 18 month old Anjali (but more on that in a minute).

Why I think this role shifting is bittersweet

The sweet part is that we stay at home papas get more time with our kids than the typical working dad.

That means more connection and involvement.  It has allowed me to tap deeply into my nurturing side, which I knew I had, but maybe didn’t realize how deep. Somehow I think it’s the role I always knew I would fill.

The bitter part is, especially in the early years, a sacred and beautiful bond is being broken, (at least partially).

It is my strongest belief that, at least in the first year, babies have a biological, an emotional and a physical need to be with their mothers.

Mom, after all, grew this baby for nine months and birthed her. They were physically connected for all of that time. I am reminded of this time and time again seeing Anjali’s reaction when she sees Madhavi, or when she is nursing. I am reminded of this every time Madhavi goes to work, even though she’s only going to the room on our third floor.

A Little Back Story

The short story is that Madhavi earns more than me, and therefore is the main earner in our family.

The longer story goes a little like this. I am a musician, composer and producer. I earn my living mainly from gigs and some teaching, but also from licensing, producing and CD sales. We own some rental properties, so I oversee everything related to that, including financing, bookkeeping, maintenence, etc.

My wife is a Physician…but no longer practicing clinically.

She left her job as a Headache Specialist in March in part because she no longer enjoyed clinical practice (and especially disliked being on call, which is really tough for a nursing mama), because she always wanted to work at home and most certainly to have more time with Anjali.

Since Anjali’s birth, she worked part time at her practice. But it became clear to her that it was time to take the plunge. She plunged and immediately found a job using her skills that allowed her to work part time and to be at home. She is given a few nursing breaks throughout her day, so she was able to ditch the pump.

Now, Madhavi and I are both work-from-home parents.

We recently launched the Birth Relaxation Kit which is a downloadable hypnosis for childbirth program, including affirmations mp3s, music recordings and guide book. Also, Madhavi has a thriving website at, about headache relief, and where conventional and holistic medicine intersect.

The Sacrifice:

Ultimately, something has to give. Especially if a mother is working full time, either the quantity of time she spends with her kids suffers, or the quantity of her personal time suffers.

Sometimes it’s not even a choice.

On the one day of the week Madhavi works a full day, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, she gets very little time with Anjali. Often these days, Anjali is napping when Madhavi has her lunch break. And recently Anjali started going to sleep at 7:30 pm.

Also, Madhavi is breastfeeding, and plans to continue as long as Anjali wants/needs. This makes co-sleeping at night the best option. That means on difficult nights, when Anjali wakes a lot, Madhavi’s sleep suffers (she probably hasn’t had a straight 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep for 18 months!). That compounds by the fact that she has to get up and work the next day.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where food, housing, insurance and the basic cost of living is expensive.

We also live in a culture where moms are now expected, or at least encouraged, to work very shortly after giving birth.

Three months is considered a long maternity leave. Madhavi was given 6 weeks, and used vacation, sick and personal days to make up the difference.

What affect is this having on children? What affect is this having on our society in general?

Jon Kabat-Zinn says in the book, Everyday Blessings, “It is considered perfectly acceptable for people to give one hundred percent to their careers…but not to their children.”

One acquaintance of ours is reluctantly resorting to letting her baby cry it out to go to sleep at night in preparation for her return to full time work. She is in a situation where she is the main earner in her family, and she knows she cannot function well after long nights of nursing and many wake ups.

I see how Madhavi struggles with sleep. Even working part time, she feels like her brain is just being stretched. Madhavi chooses, however, to sacrifice her own sleep and her own time in order to provide our daughter with the love and nurturing she deserves. That means some rocky nights. It means putting some personal and business goals on the back burner, or letting them brew slower than we would like.

It’s All About Balance

Today, on one of Madhavi’s days off, I took Anjali to our friends’ party. This gave Madhavi a good chunk of time to reconnect with herself, to work on some of her goals, and even to start sewing a doll for Anjali, a project she has been wanting to get to but hasn’t had time. She said it felt good and it was much needed. Still, she was torn because it meant limited time with Anjali and me.

A friend of mine from college used to say, “It’s all about balance.”

This is one of the many times I hear that phrase echoing in my head. Everything we do as parents is about balance. I think it is a prerequisite, as a parent, to sacrifice at least piece of ourselves, and usually more. It is a balancing act to give so much of ourselves, and yet maintain our individuality.

I am so grateful for the sacrifices, among many other things, that Madhavi has given for her family. I am grateful that we have struck a kind of balance, though we strive for an even better one (that’s a whole other post in itself!).

I wonder how things would have been different if Madhavi was able to take a full year of maternity leave, as is possible in Canada and many other countries. What would it have been like if she didn’t have to go back at all?


I’m curious how many of the Bring Birth Home readers are stay at home moms, work at home moms, working part time or working full time. What is your take on this?

Jeremy Dyen is a musician, father and husband who blogs at Stay at Home Papa. He and his wife Madhavi are advocates of hypnosis and affirmations for mindset shifts about birth. They recently launched the Birth Relaxation Kit, and they even offer a free hypnobirthing mp3.

Your Comments

12 Comments so far

  1. Annie says:

    This strikes a chord with me–a full-time working mama with a stay-at-home hubby. The lack of sleep for mama, feeling blessed that dad & kids have this connection that would be harder to make if I was the one at home, but at the same time knowing that yes, for that 1st year (and maybe beyond, it seems for us…but maybe just because I’m the one less available?), mama is #1. Argh, it’s tough. Ideally, paid maternity leave for 1 yr would be my choice!! I was lucky to cobble 3 months out of sick/vacation, but I would have loved longer of course.

  2. Christina says:

    What a touching post! I am a full-time working mama and my husband is a stay-at-home dad. When I went back to work the demands were such that I wasn’t able to continue pumping on a regular basis and after 3 months I no longer had an adequate milk supply to continue esclusively breastfeeding. Now that my daughter is older (going on 3) there are days that I struggle because the bond she has with her father is in some ways stronger than the one we share. There are times, when she’s being sassy, that she says things that are hurtful or chooses daddy for comfort over me. Even so, I still would choose the life we have. I’m thankful that my daughter has been raised by her parents instead of by a daycare center. And I’m thankful that through my sacrifice, my husband has gotten to bond with her in a way that he might not have.

  3. Brooke says:

    I worked full time night shifts until my older daughters were 3 and 6 years old. My husband and I were a very young couple born and raised in Long Island, NY. A simple life is very expensive and we had our first child at just 19. I took 20 credits a semester and worked hard through winter and summer sessions to earn my degree. My husband who has dyslexia and is very smart but has difficulty taking tests dropped out of college. I started working when I was pregnant with #2 and went back as soon she was six weeks old. I had no choice…I had fantasies about making my own baby food and breast feeding for at least the first year. The reality was that I was always exhausted and cranky and we ate drive through and pasta and I gave up breast feeding after 2 weeks so I could go back to a grueling 13 hour shifts. My husband also worked looong hours and we were NEVER home together. Our relationship suffered some too. I still carried my babies every where and didn’t let them cry…we went to the zoo and parks and I really appretiated the time we shared together. Thjen we decided to move to PA and live a simpler life. We bought a house and had a third daughter. Life is still difficult. My husband continued to commute to NY city for his job in construction and he is rarely home. I have to care for three children all by myself all the time. He didn’t have time to come to “meet the teachers”, doctor appointmets, or even take out the garbage. I had a really good perspective on things though and although it has been tough to do everything all by myself, I am extremely grateful to have had these first two years with my daughter as a stay at home mom. We are still nursing and co sleeping and I made my own organic baby food. Fast food is in the past and we will never go back…I have time to shop around at the local farm standas and cook healthy meals. Now my husband got laid off in July and I am faced with the need to return to work again. Just the thought of it makes my throat tighten. We will see what the future holds for our family. Right now there are no positions available at the hospital where I have worked “on call” for the past 2 and half years. I always felt robbed out of my first two childrens childhood. I am just so happy to have had the past two years with Lily just the way I have always imagined.

  4. Elizabeth Walker says:

    I’m a temporary work away from home full time new mom. I had to go back to work less than 3 weeks after I birthed my baby. I worked through the whole pregnancy putting my husband through school. We had hoped that he’d be able to find a job before I had her, but that didn’t work out. Right now (baby is now almost 6 weeks, which is the time I would have been allowed off), I’m pumping on my breaks and lunch (which means no REAL breaks throughout the work day). I’m able to feed my baby and feel like I’m providing for her the best I can while still taking care of the rest of my family. I hate, hate, HATE the fact that I’ve had to leave my baby so soon after birth, but I won’t let the rest of my family go without either (won’t do to end up homeless). Unfortunately, the place I work doesn’t offer any kind of insurance (including a paid maternity leave), so the 2 weeks I was off, was totally unpaid. This left us scrambling to find the money to pay the bills…which wasn’t/isn’t easy. My husband just recently found a job (not in the field he studied in, but it’s a job that will allow me to go back to being a mostly sahm again). It’s a hard deal, but I think in the end you just do what you have to to survive (especially in the economy today…and here in MI)

  5. Kate Nolan says:

    I was a student when my first baby was born and a stay-at-home mom once my second came along. Sleepless nights were difficult for me, too, even though I did not have to be at work. And the connections I had with both babies were incredible, though different. I hope that all moms and dads can understand that we are human. Our ability to be there for our babies is never perfect–and probably shouldn’t be. Our babies are resilient, much more than we think they are. No matter what situation you may think is perfect, being as present to your family as you can be is all any of us can do. My mother was a stay-at home mom until I was in third grade–but she was NEVER present to me. Show up, be gentle with yourself and your partner (if you have one) and your babies. Laugh as much as you can. And forgive yourself and everyone else.

  6. This really resonates with me. My husband is with our daughter during the week more than I am. I work 40+ hours while he works part-time and goes to school full-time. He also serves in the Army National Guard. While I enjoy being out of the house, I do NOT enjoy all the time I’m missing out on with my 3 month old baby (I’ve already been back to work for a month). We are working on making some changes so I can be home more but it’s hard! We’ve already cut back SO MUCH. The most extravagant thing I do is wax my eyebrows once a month. Other than that, we’ve cut out all un-needed expenses, like cable TV and dining out (although we do for special occasions).

    It makes me sad that we live in a country that gives so little support to working mothers and families in general. That quote about giving 100% to careers but not children is SO TRUE! Sad, sad, sad.

  7. Mara says:

    I’m a SAHM, but, not by my husband’s choice. We’re stable financially, but, he’d rather I was bringing in a second income, so that we could be MORE than stable. It’s hard to not be in agreement with your partner on what is more important. I think it’s been drilled into too many heads that the career and money is far more important than raising our children. I also find it sad. And I will fight for being able to SAH as long as we can really afford it.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Thank you all for sharing your comments and stories. It is so interesting to read all of the different circumstances each of you have.

    What really touches me about it is that you are all involved and caring…You are all engaged in a community like BBH, seeking and finding information, communication and validation.

  9. KaritaG says:

    great post! I too am the primary earner in my family and we stretched ourselves financially to the limit so I could take a full three months of UNPAID maternity leave. I loved every second of it and it was nowhere near long enough. I agree that babies need their mamas the first year, and mamas need their babies – I miss mine terribly every single day, even though I truly enjoy my work! we were lucky that between my going to a 4-day workweek and my husband working 4 10-hour days (two days on weekends) and taking FMLA time (my workplace isn’t large enough for me to qualify) we were able to avoid using a babysitter until our son was 8 months old. I wish the US offered better maternity policies. We completely wiped out our savings and emergency fund to do this, I keep telling myself it was worth it but I’m not sure. But the bigger part of me knows I couldn’t have left my little baby with anyone else until he was at least 6 months old :/ I also know we were very very fortunate and most families would not be able to afford to take 3 months without pay. It makes me sad that women (and men) in America are so often forced to choose between their children and putting food on the table…where are our priorities?!

  10. Sarah McHugh says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Though my SO is not a stay at home dad, I feel like I can relate well with you and your point of view. My boyfriend and I both work full-time jobs. He works during the day and I go to work as soon as he gets home until 2am. The lack of sleep is really starting to get to both of us after 14 months! I think it is very neat to see my sons connection with his father, however. They have a bond that you do no often see with toddlers and their fathers. I love that they have had that special time together, and that my boyfriend was able to get in touch with his nurturing side! The worst part about our work situation is that we hardly get to have family time. My son, Judah, doesn’t get to see his parents interact as often as he should, simply because we don’t interact as much as we should. We have finally come to a point in our lives where we can afford for me to quit my job, and I have just put in my 2 weeks notice! I am ready to be a family and spend my days and nights with my son. I hope you and your family do well, and I am glad there are such great fathers as you in the world!

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