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Two months ago my daughter asked me, “Mom, will you come to career day at school?” At that moment, I knew I’d achieved what I’d hoped to by returning to work when she was young. I wanted her to see me as more than a mother, more than just the one she runs to for food, for comfort when she skins her knee on the playground and help with her homework. I wanted her to see me as a person of value outside our home, and for the moment at least, she does. After all, she didn’t ask my husband to go, although I admit that may in part be because of our careers: I’m a P.R. consultant who has worked with minor celebrities; he is an engineer. There’s no contest which one is more exciting through the limited lens of a nine-year-old’s eyes. It was, quite frankly, a thrilling moment.

But in spite of that thrill, going back to work after taking time with our newborn was not an easy choice for me. I don’t think it’s an easy decision for any woman.

But I needed to go back, not just because of economic demands, but because so much of my identity is tied to my career. I’m lucky enough to have a job I love, a career with many possibilities ahead, and I couldn’t give that up. Furthermore, I didn’t want to. It felt important to bring in money that would help support our child, give her options in life, like dance and soccer lessons. But I had another motivation, too, one that went far beyond material goals. I want to inspire my daughter, teach her that she could achieve any dream she set her mind to. And telling kids that isn’t enough; you have to model the behaviour for them to witness and truly understand.

Don’t misunderstand – I salute women who stay home while their kids grow up. It takes sacrifice and selflessness to set your dreams aside for the benefit of the next generation. But that was not a choice I was willing to make; I want to work and show my child she can have more than a domestic life, cooking, cleaning, and tending to the needs of others. It’s important that she realize that, just because she’s a girl, just because she has reproductive capabilities, her choices in life don’t have to narrow when she decides to become a mother.  Mine have not, and I think I’m a better mother because I’ve gone back to work.

Interestingly, a lot of my girlfriends who are a little younger than I was when they started having kids felt even more guilt about their choice to return to work than I did. Somehow I thought those days were over, that guilt didn’t enter the equation anymore. I thought we as a culture and society had finally reached the point where women were free to do as they pleased when it came to motherhood and work.  But entrenched attitudes and beliefs run deep and die hard, and it takes time for people to catch up with the progress. Laws and rules may change, but feelings can’t be legislated, and feelings about motherhood are wildly varied and firmly held. Inspiring the next generation is up to each and every parent, and I’m doing that by demonstrating my independence, my satisfaction with work, and bringing new ideas into our home that I’ve acquired by being engaged in this big, wide world.

And my dreams of being inspirational and setting an example are not limited to my daughter; I hope (and believe) I am inspiring my son, too. He is almost 12, and will no doubt soon begin seeing girls through a whole new lens. (Oh dear, the challenges of puberty!) I want him to see girls as every bit as smart, capable and curious as boys are, and I firmly believe that seeing me leave the house each morning, going to the office where I’m working hard in a role other than being his mother, helps him understand that, in some respects, girls are no different from boys. My independence now impacts his choices and his treatment of girls; they are entitled to everything he is, most importantly perhaps, respect.  He understands that on a fundamental level that is not just behavioural, it’s almost biological.  It isn’t weird or unusual or odd that mommies work outside the home; to him, it’s normal. As a mother, that may be one of the greatest gifts I’ll ever give him. Because someday, he may choose to have children of his own, and he will not look to a spouse or partner to take care of all the domestic duties. He’ll pull his own weight. He knows I demand that of his father, and while I don’t always get it – to my everlasting frustration, I’m still the one picking up the dirty socks and tossing them in the hamper – I know my son will try. And he will do better than his father did, because that’s only natural for the next generation. We teach them something, and they run with it and excel at it. What could be more inspiring than that?

And yet, I understand the pull of motherhood, that innate desire to stay home, bond with a child and leave the outside world outside. It took months for me to even consider going back to work. And again, I know I’m lucky because I love my job; I can even work from home if one of my children gets sick. Not all women can.

Ultimately, however, I have no questions raging in my heart and soul about whether I did the right thing, whether I went back too soon, or whether I should have gone back at all. I am happier, and my children see that. They know that when I am with them, I am fully present, fully at peace with my life, both inside and outside our home. And that may be the most inspiring bonus of all: simply by being me, I’m teaching them how to be their own true selves.

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