I felt like going back to work meant the end of my time being my daughter's mom. In that way, it felt like her grandparents were going to become her new parents and I'd be chopped liver.
Our childcare is covered entirely by grandparents. I know, we're the luckiest. My mom watches my daughter three days a week and my in-laws watch her two days a week. We don't have to pay for childcare, we never have to worry that our daughter isn't feeling loved every second she's away from us—and we trust our caregivers fully.
So how could someone as lucky as I am feel anything but fortunate?
In the midst of preparing to return to work from maternity leave, I struggled with giving up my full-time caretaker responsibilities for my daughter. What surprised me even more was that I struggled to cope with the fact that her grandparents would care for her more during the weekdays than I would.
As grateful as I was to have family eager to help us, I also felt jealous that they got to step in and—as I rationalized it—take my place.
This made me feel insecure about our care situation, and I struggled with figuring out how to appreciate something I knew I should be beyond grateful for. Fast forward a year and a half later to the present, and I wouldn't trade their role in my daughter's life for the world.
Like much of what I've experienced with the transition back to work, the anticipation and build-up were much more difficult than the reality. But in the build-up, I had a hard time reconciling the fact that other family members might know my daughter better, or have a more significant role in her life, than I would.
I'm lucky to have parents and in-laws who went along with the hoops I made them jump through as I prepared to return to work. One night, after lying awake in bed—anxious, stressed and unable to sleep—I decided that although our parents had successfully raised numerous children, and were total naturals, they needed to be certified just like any nanny or daycare staff would be.
So I made them enroll in a 3-hour infant safety class. Like the amazing grandparents they are, they happily attended without compliant. And then, a few days before my return to work, I invited them over for a full-day baby boot camp.
I had spent days writing a 14-page baby manual (complete with a table of contents). I can look back at it now and chuckle, but in the moment, this thing was my lifeline. If I wrote every detail down about my daughter, they'd have to absorb every word of it and care for her exactly as I did—right?
During our full-day boot camp, I took them through every word in that 14-page manual and taught them how I wanted them to care for my daughter. Again, they were happy to oblige my demands and somehow didn't disown me.
Though this may sound like an extreme approach, it was how I was able to cope with handing over such significant responsibility to anyone who wasn't me. In a way, I felt like I had to still establish that I was the mom—and I was trying everything possible to leave my mark when I wasn't physically present. In that moment, this process helped me cope.
But here's the silver lining. As I reflect back on that volatile time, I see that so much of what I stressed over before returning to work has transformed into the things I value and appreciate most today. For example, I felt like going back to work meant the end of my time being my daughter's mom. In that way, it felt like her grandparents were going to become her new parents and I'd be chopped liver. I'd think to myself, they already had the chance to raise their own children, and now they get to raise mine too.
In reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. Mama is always mama, no matter how many close relationships your children develop in parallel. I truly love how close my daughter is to her grandparents and I'm grateful they have the opportunity to be present and active in her life. What I most feared has now become one of the things I most cherish.
I was worried that they'd be better at raising my daughter than I was. And that when we were all together as a family, they'd take over and I'd be stuck on the sidelines watching everyone else parent my kid. In reality, it's been humbling to learn that they are in fact better at a lot of things, and that I don't have to fear not being the expert. Their patience, zest and creativity far surpass mine.
I was worried that I'd lose control over how I wanted my child raised—that they'd do it their own way and it wouldn't match my wants or values. In reality, there have been only a few situations where things have happened that my husband and I haven't agreed with. It's been hard to speak up, because it's always more sensitive with family involved. But when we have, it has always been well received, respected and acted on.
I was worried that they'd care for her in ways that didn't follow my 14-page manual. And in reality, they did. Because they're human, and have their own methods and instincts. While the idea of it stressed me out initially, I've come to value the diverse ways we all care for her.
Truthfully, I think it's one of the best gifts we've given our daughter. She's adaptable and well-rounded, which I chalk up to the fact that she has so many different people watching her during the week. I've swallowed my pride, and have started to appreciate all of the different ways we each approach raising our girl.
When I think about all the things I feared or stressed over, I find that most revolved around the impact on my role as mom. While I want the absolute best for my daughter, I don't want to compromise my experience as her mother either.
The biggest lesson I've learned is that the amount of time I spend with my daughter isn't what makes or breaks my role as her mom. It's my responsibility to fill her life with wonderful people and experiences to nurture and support her as she grows. I am one of those people, but I don't have to be the only one.
And I know that so much of her wonderful personality has been shaped by the many people who help raise her. I'm thankful for my village who loves my daughter unconditionally, and is shaping me into a better person and mother every day.