To work or not to work? That is the question… for those mothers who have the choice.

These days, it’s difficult for the average family to survive on a single income. As much as I want to believe all you need is love, my empty fridge suggests otherwise. I can’t help but add a few things to the list of necessities – clothes, shelter, food, and a reservoir of homogenized milk.

Should mothers go back to work or stay home and raise their children? Who the hell knows. I know some women who think putting children in daycare is next to abandonment. I do see the absurdity of bringing a child into the world and then handing him or her over to someone else to raise 8-12 hours a day. I also know women who have returned to work after a second or even third child, even though the cost of child care devours their entire paycheck. A reasonable price for sanity, I guess?

Both choices are difficult. Both entail some sort of sacrifice. And both options have their benefits and their bummers. My year of maternity leave opened my sleep-deprived eyes to the fact that full-time motherhood is insanely consuming. When I returned to work, I would regularly proclaim my admiration for mothers who stay home and raise their kids, day in and day out. “You have the tough job,” I’d declare, meaning well. But one day, my friend Kelly put me in my place with one short reply. A mother of three boys including five-year-old twins, she simply said, “It might be hard for you, but it’s not for me.” Holy crap. She was so right. Who am I to pity her? She loves her job and wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe it’s my shortcomings that make the job tough to me. I no longer say anyone has a tougher job than anyone else. It’s all relative. Every child is different, and no woman is created equal.

I need my paycheck. But even if I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d choose any differently. Maybe I’d work on my own terms. Write a book, or breed puppies, or knit tea cozies (right after I learn how to knit, and figure out what a tea cozy is.) Or maybe I’d miss the high-energy collaboration and water cooler comradery of the working world. Maybe I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now, by choice.

Truth is, I love my job. It’s often fast-paced and high-pressure, but I prefer chaos over boredom. My job is creative, which just so happens to be the kind of soul I was born with, as corny as that sounds. It’s simple logic, really. My job makes me a happier, more complete person, and that makes me a better mother. If I am happy, I teach Max happiness, and I can’t think of a better lesson. Sure, I’m away from him a lot, but at least when I am with him, he gets the best of me.

I respect all mothers for their choice to work or stay at home, but I think it’s important for each of us to be more than a mother. We are individuals, with needs and talents and interests and opinions. Or at least we were before we got impregnated! So for God sake start talking about something besides how cute your kid’s poop face is. Actually, the poop face is pretty cute, so keep talking about that. But most of the other stuff – change it up, sister. Seriously. The stench of the diaper pail has penetrated your brain.

Without a shadow of a doubt, being “Max’s mom” is my number one role in life. But that doesn’t have to define me wholly, no matter what guilt society would have me feel. I am a mom, but I am also a wife, a friend, a teammate, a writer, a unique and complex person who can give so much more than Cheerios to my wide-eyed wonder boy.

Ironically, he’s the one who makes it possible for me to work in the first place. Every writer needs a muse.