Choosing to be Brave

Packard family photos by

by Anna Packard

No one told me how much bravery would be required to become a parent. I also never realized the bravery required to navigate the messy world of being a working mom until it became my life.

I feel like I am currently in the working mom’s trenches. I am a psychologist by profession but have been at home full-time for the last six months since the birth of my third child, Cami. To provide more context to my story: my husband and I lost our second child, our then four-month-old son, Charlie, to SIDS almost two years ago. Having another baby in our arms has brought so much healing, along with an understandable intense anxiety.Now that Cami is six months old, I feel the familiar urge to resume work part time. The professional I’ve spent years developing is itching to be acknowledged, valued, and expressed again. I long to flex my brain muscles and to get back into the emotionally and intellectually rewarding work of helping people overcome psychological struggles. I have loved my time at home with my daughters, but I feel darkness creeping in the longer I neglect this integral, professional part of my identity.

There is a part of me that wishes I could be content being home with my children! I wish I found it as rewarding as I have heard other moms profess they do. I wish, so much, that Cami’s snuggles, coos, and smiles, and my four-year-old Hailee’s enthusiasm and excitement for life were enough for me. I’ve even tried to convince myself they are. But that self-delusion hasn’t stuck for very long.

I have a strong testimony that I have been given talents that Heavenly Father wants me to use to bless His children outside of my home. But besides this conviction, I also feel it is a personal truth for me that I am a professional who can contribute in my chosen field. There are contributions for me make now. Not when my kids are older. And if I’m just being honest: I want to work.

I feel intense mommy guilt saying that. How can I even think of leaving my kids to go to work after I have learned so painfully the value children bring to life and that the moments we share are all we have? How can I contemplate pursuing my career when I have shed thousands of tears for all those moments I won’t ever get with my son? Why, when the loss of my son changed me in so many profound ways, did it not change that aspect of my personality—the part of me that needs and wants to work outside the home?

AMW - Charlie

Perhaps it is because working is still part of my mission on earth. Perhaps the experience of losing Charlie is shaping me as a mom and also as a professional. Perhaps losing Charlie and moving through the subsequent soul-tearing grief is going to make me a more empathetic, patient, and effective therapist. Regardless of why I still feel the need to work, leaving my children now terrifies me in ways it never has before.

This is where I feel I need to dig deep and be brave. Owning my professional self doesn’t erase my fears that something could happen to my daughters in my absence. And if it does, I will sit with the guilt that I failed to protect them. I think that is a fear each working mom faces every time she turns the keys in the ignition to drive to work. But my personal truth empowers me to take that leap of faith, that step of bravery. I know taking care of myself makes me a better mom. And if taking care of myself means working outside the home, then that is what is best for our family. Doing so will enable me to be more fully present in the moments I share with my daughters. I truly believe that valuing myself and my career does not devalue my children or my role as a mom. In fact, experience tells me that carving out that space for me actually energizes me for my kids! It is with this awareness that I take a deep breath and prepare to return to the workforce.

14 Comments on “Choosing to be Brave

  1. Just beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss. I am confident it will empower you to help others. Best of luck with the transition.

  2. I am grateful for the way you emphasized that needing to work is a “personal truth” for you. I also have had numerous experiences elucidating to me that I need to be working. Sometimes it is hard to remember those feelings when others question my decision to work, especially when I talk about the stress that being a full-time professional as well as a mother can bring.

    • Thanks for the comment Lorren. It’s so hard to stick to our truths when the going gets hard and others question us and it’d be easier to get out of the trenches and dedicate ourselves to one thing instead of navigating the messiness of doing it all.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’ve been working outside the home for 4 years now. I was shocked to realize how much I enjoy it. Looking back, I now realize I should have worked part-time while raising my children instead of being a full-time stay at home mom. I would have been so much happier. I’m learning to listen to myself and trust myself that I can choose what’s best for me and my family.

  4. I think that I’m a better dad because of the Psychology of Gender class I took from you while you were a grad student.

    • Michael! I’m so glad. That class was one of the most rewarding I’ve taught at BYU and you were all awesome! Your little one must be around 3 now right? Thanks for the comment! Made my day!

  5. Thank you Anna. I feel there are a lot of fathers out there who want to be more part of their kids lives then they are currently able to do because of work and theirs a lot of stay at home mothers who want and need to exercise their brilliant brains. Research is showing more and more the importance of fathers being more involved in their kids developmental process especially in the first 5 years. My wife and I have been able to find balance by me working three days a week and she working 2 days a week. This has helped me see how much energy it takes raising two kids under the age of 3 and appreciate my wife for all she does. Everyone is in different circumstance and they need to find what works best for their family.

    • Justin, that is so wonderful you two have been able to negotiate your careers in such a way to support each other and raise your kids! I think my husband would agree with you as he has made sacrifices and picked up a lot of the child care in our home. He is a really amazing dad and it’s wonderful to see how he develops as a dad as he supports me in my career.

  6. I went through this experience myself, but decided to give myself more time than Anna has at this point, I decided on a year and by the time a year had elapsed, my feelings had completely changed. I didn’t even feel the need to go back to work at all. I don’t know how it happened but it did. I also realized how important my presence was in my children’s life. One child said once he felt safe just knowing that I was there when he came home from school; and that when I wasn’t he felt sad and the house was just more empty. After a while even after the children have grown and I could have gone back to work, I still didn’t feel like it. It’s like the urge completely subsided. I have enjoyed so much seeing them growing up and having been able to see and participate of all the little things and moments in a child’s life that we miss while working. I guess I just didn’t think so much about my needs any more, and thought about what was my mission as their mother and how I could help make of this little ones into good, caring, wonderful adults. Make no mistake, I always wanted to be the working woman climbing up the corporate ladder, but all of that changed and I have never regretted it for a minute. Prayer helped a lot. God bless and good luck to you.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience, Carrie. The thing that I love most about personal revelation is that it is personal–that we can all pray asking the same questions about the directions of our lives and still receive different answers. Your comment suggests that with (more) time and with (more) prayer, Anna will realize that her working even part-time is not what she should do, but I suggest that she has already been praying about this path–how else would she discover her personal truth? It’s easy to mirror our own paths onto those of others; it’s more difficult to accept and support those whose paths might differ from our own.

  8. An exceptionally beautiful post. I’m not yet a mother, but sense that I may feel much like you do when I become one. Thanks for blazing the trail.

  9. Anna – so brave to write this and also so brave to know yourself so well! I also appreciate the complexity of you thought, “How can I contemplate pursuing my career when I have shed thousands of tears for all those moments I won’t ever get with my son?” Thank you for sharing part of your soul with us and in doing, help us along our own journeys.

  10. My favorite line from this post: “I truly believe that valuing myself and my career does not devalue my children or my role as a mom.”

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I really appreciate that you shared that it is not clear cut and how a part of you wished you could be content staying home.

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