When feelings disagree

This week I’m returning to work after spending the last 10 weeks on maternity leave, and I’m finding myself in a place I often find myself: having several strong and conflicting feelings at once.

I’m thankful that I was able to take a good chunk of time off to be with my baby girl so that we could get to know each other and settle into a rhythm. My baby needed me during this time (almost 24 hours a day sometimes). My family benefitted from having a stable presence at home to help shepherd everyone through the transition from one child to two. I needed time to heal, to rest, to reboot.

When I’m snuggling my daughter, I am SAD thinking of leaving her each weekday. I also love my career. I know that I need to work outside the home to be my healthiest version of myself. If I’m being honest, there were times when I felt a little stir crazy during my leave, so part of me is relieved to be going back to work. I miss my colleagues and clients, the fast pace of the clinic, the feelings of accomplishment.

When faced with intense and competing emotions, we sometimes feel compelled to determine which one is “right” or “OK” or “justified,” as if it’s a fight requiring arbitration. The truth is, emotions often come in conflicting pairs. Happiness with a twinge of sadness or nostalgia, fear with an edge of anticipation, regret with a flip side of relief. They’re all fair game. They’re all OK. Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. I often encourage clients to observe and describe their feelings without judgment. This is easier said than done, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless.

I sometimes find myself questioning why I’m not only sad about going back to work. I’ve wondered, Does it say anything about me as a mother that I’m looking forward to it? Then I stop myself. Because who wants to be ping-ponging between sadness, wistfulness, relief, excitement AND guilt? The first four are enough. There’s no need to pile on.

I’ll miss my daughter, and I’ll be glad to be back in my element. Both of these things are true.

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