I still remember Mary, our new nanny, waving my newborn’s teeny hand at me as I walked out the front door:
“Bye bye, Mommy. See you after work!"
As much as I trusted Mary’s calm, grandmotherly manner and Yoda-like ability to decode Cooper’s cries, fear and guilt weighed on me, heavier than the laptop bag slung over my shoulder. It wasn’t exactly easy watching Mary expertly comfort my baby, while I set off to begin my new life as a working mother. I was eager to get back to work (and interact with other adults!), but I couldn’t help but wonder, as so many moms do, “Am I doing the right thing?”
This would be the first of many difficult mommy-leaving moments. I was the teary mom reassuring my two anxious boys that I’d be home from a business trip after “only two sleeps,” the overprotective mom leaving extensive lists of instructions for the sitter on my way out the door and the panicked mom on the phone during a late night at the office because my husband was pretty sure our son Holden had a broken arm. I had the same heavy feeling every time I couldn’t be there, even though I always came home to two smiley, huggy, completely fine babies (except for the time with the broken arm).
As my boys got older, I started going on more business trips. They liked when I pointed out my destination on a map so they could see where I was going. For one trip I was headed to northeastern Pennsylvania, and I mentioned it was a much more wooded area than the city where we live.
“Are there bears in the woods?” my boys asked.
“There may be,” I said, “but there won’t be any bears at my conference.”
“What if you get eaten by a bear?”
I thought, “When did my boys become the teary, overprotective, panicked ones?”
My kids are 10 and 7 now, and although the nature of my job has changed, mommy-leaving moments can still be a challenge. Whether I’m leaving for just an hour or going on a business trip for a few days, telling the boys where I’m going, how long I’ll be there and when I’m coming back always calms them. For the longer trips, a visual calendar was especially helpful, particularly when they were young. My husband, who works full time outside the home, calms me when I’m away by sending photos of the shenanigans happening at home—like the time he got the boys to pose on a street corner, pretending he dropped them off there instead of at school. (Insert loving eye roll here.)
These days I work as an author-illustrator, and my boys are old enough to “get it.” I share every book-in-progress with them, and trust me, they don’t hold back in giving their honest opinions. They experience the fun things with me, like meeting young readers and going to events, but they also see me push through challenging times when I’m struggling creatively. I think (at least I hope) they’re learning a lot from their working mom—so I’ve learned to let go of the guilt (mostly).
Having a support system of fellow working moms helped me realize I’m not the only one who feels guilty—or feels guilty for not feeling guilty. I’m not the only one who sometimes misses out on school events. I’m not the only one who comforts frowning little faces that sniffle, “Bye bye, Mommy. See you after work.” It’s actually what inspired my latest children’s picture book, Bunny’s Staycation, about a traveling Mama and her little Bunny who has to stay behind (and isn’t happy about it). So many kids these days see their moms going to work, and I’m proud my boys see me working with passion. I hope little readers will see in Bunny that they’re not the only ones with working mamas!
Whether it was for a business trip or a regular day at the office, leaving for work was one of the toughest parts of my job as a mom: What milestones would I miss? Would I make it to their preschool graduation? How was I supposed to choose between a presentation and an appointment with the pediatrician? But wouldn’t you know, when I got back from that trip to woodsy Pennsylvania, I was once again welcomed back by two smiley, huggy, completely fine kids—and they by one not-having-been-eaten-by-a-bear mom.
Lori Richmond is a corporate creative director turned picture book maker. She’s the author-illustrator of Bunny’s Staycation (Scholastic, coming in 2018, now available for pre-order) and Pax and Blue, which The New York Times called a "sprightly debut." Lori is also the illustrator of A Hop Is Up and several other picture books. Before her career as an author-illustrator, Lori was a sought-after expert on all things baby and parenting as a contributing editor to The Bump. She has appeared on Today, Good Morning America and other TV shows. Visit her at LoriDraws.com..