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Christie O. Tate Headshot

What Not to Ask a Mother Who's Returning to Work

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"Is it so hard being away from the kids?"

That's the number one question I get these days now that I have returned to work part-time as a lawyer. I understand why people are asking me that. After all, just weeks ago, I spent the majority of my time with my two children. Now, I spend two full days in an office downtown and a half-day working from home.

While it seems like a perfectly logical question to ask someone in my position, I hate it. I mean, I really hate it when someone asks me that. Maybe it's the emphasis on "so hard." It makes me feel like I have to say yes and affirm that the hardest thing about resuming part-time work is being away from my children. Something about the leading nature of the question makes me clam up and offer a trite answer.

"Yes, it's so hard to be away from the kids but I am getting used to it."

But then I feel shame, because it actually hasn't been so hard being away from my children. Frankly, I have been happy to have some space from them and the role I play at home. It's been refreshing to use my brain to think through legal issues and take a break from playing chauffeur, referee, cook and butler.

But there's something about the question triggers in me a doubt about myself as a "good" mother because my chief complaint about my job is not about missing my children while I am gone. Hearing that question makes me wonder if I should miss my kids more than I do.

Should this feel harder? Would it feel harder if I was a more devoted mother?

And it's plenty hard to start a new job, regardless of whether you leave behind two children to do it. For me, it's been stressful to keep up with the workload, learn my new boss' preferences and get back up to speed after two years off -- all while still learning where the bathroom is.

The hardest part of my new job isn't being away from my kids. It's learning how to work again. That part is so hard.

And the truth is that I do miss my kids on those long office days, but I don't let myself "go there" for very long. I've committed to the job and need to focus on my work there. I know that my kids are in safe, loving hands while I am at work, and this is our new life.

So if you want to ask me about this new transition in my life, feel free to ask me about it. Ask me if I am finding the work interesting. Ask me if it's fulfilling to be back in the legal world. Ask me if I've found the quickest route to the bathroom. Just please don't ask me whether it's so hard to be away from my kids.