Q&A: going back to work full-time after being SAHM

Alicia writes:

"After 3 years of being a SAHM it is necessary for me to get back into the workplace because of financial reasons. What can I do to make the transition easier on my son and on me? My husband and I are separated, and I do not even want to think about how I will miss my son on the weekends he is with his dad after I have worked all week without seeing him for more than a few hours each day. Granted, I am *kinda* looking forward to getting back to my career and using a different part of my brain, I'm just apprehensive about the time away from my son, trusting someone else to influence and teach and nurture him, and dealing with the anticipated "mommy guilt"

I hear you. I felt enormously guilty when I went back to work when my kids were 5 and almost-2, but it was time. And the readers really pulled me through going back.

The first thing I want to say is that I think this is a great time to go back. Age 3 can be seriously frustrating for SAH parents, because the kids go through all the independence and separation stuff right around the middle of the year, and for some kids it can be like one long 6-12-month tantrum. If you've read the Ames & Ilg book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, you know that they observed this as normal. In fact, their number on recommendation was to get a babysitter, which still cracks me up every time I think about it.

But you're coming in to this time when he may clash with you constantly. So going back to work and leaving him with other kids to play with all day so your time with him is more focused can be a good thing. If you're lucky, things will be peaceful and lovey when you're home with him after the initial adjustment period. (If you're not, he may act out even more when he's with you and he hits the real center of the 3.5-year cranky stage. But that's another post entirely.) And, he's old enough that he can understand that moms and dads work, and that his work is to play with his friends at childcare (or the babysitter if you're having a babysitter who comes to you).

My advice is, if possible, to find a job that you like. I know, easier said than done, but I've experienced it myself and have noticed it time after time among the regular commenters that the ones who are happy about being working moms and who see the bad things about not being at home as just the price they pay (as opposed to being really tied up about it) are the ones who really enjoy what they do. Especially if you feel a sense of mission about it. I couldn't be happier about what I do and the company I work for and how we are changing things in a substantive way for kids who might otherwise be disengaging from school. And that makes it so much easier to leave my little guys in the morning. Those of you who also love your jobs are probably nodding right now. (I've also been on the opposite end of things. Remember when I quit my job to freelance? A huge part of that was because I just could not stand to leave my kids to do work I thought didn't mean anything to anyone, least of all me. I bet lots of others of you are nodding and maybe crying right now agreeing with that statement. If so, I'm sorry, and I hope the right thing for you falls into your lap.)

The other key is to find childcare that you're happy with. Because of the way the economy of childcare works in NYC, I've had babysitters/nannies, not center-based daycare. And we've had some amazing, amazing nannies and a couple of mediocre ones and one really bad one who let me wonder for several hours where my children were (not acceptable). So you might not find the exact right situation for you straight out of the box. But if you know what your priorities are, you'll be able to find good care that you're satisfied with.

If you've got a job you like and childcare you're happy with, everything else will fall into place, although you'll still feel like Lucy in the Candy Factory for awhile. The thing that helps me most, when I remember to do it, is to plan out my outfits for the week, dinners for the week, and kids' clothes for the week on Sundays. Then I don't have to think so much when the pressure's on.

Readers, what say you? About any of this. Tips and tricks? What's really important about working? How hard it can be to work? Having a three-year-old?