Deciding whether you have to return to work is a huge decision and unfortunately one that some of us don’t have the luxury to choose as circumstances dictate what we need to do. It isn’t just a financial choice though, it can often be driven by our mental health or our desire to do what is right and as always, what works for one family will not always work for another.
My personal story meant that I didn’t feel I had a choice about whether I stayed off work with my first. I found out I was pregnant two weeks after moving into our first home and with a big mortgage to pay it didn’t seem like an option to take time off. However, I didn’t expect that my employer would ask me to come back just 6 weeks after having our baby! I was very lucky in the respect that I was allowed to take my baby with me to work and she kept me on full pay.
I ended up having 2 weeks off before my due date as I developed high blood pressure and so ended up with a total of 8 weeks off. Would I have chosen this? absolutely not, but I was lucky in the fact that I got to take my baby with me and that’s what I kept in my head. Now when I reflect, I can’t believe I took my tiny baby on the London underground with all those disgusting germs! (I won’t even let her on the bus at the moment while we’re in Alert level 2 – she’s now 13!)
Returning to work was intense and I struggled hugely with guilt as when I was at work, she was second on the list as my charge (the baby I was nannying for) came first. Strange but true. I am a hard worker and ethically to me I was being paid to look after my charge and I had to do my absolute best, which meant that sometimes my daughter had to wait. Did it hurt her – not at all and she was lucky to grow up with another family who loved her and essentially got a special big brother out of the arrangement. I was incredibly lucky that she was an awesome sleeper and due to my training, she settled into a routine that suited us really well. My husband and I also adapted life to make it work for us. His office was very close to where I worked so he would take her home early occasionally or make dinner for when we got home. On Friday nights we would go home together and have dinner out on the way home. Our daughter was incredibly flexible and easy going which was so lucky as I don’t know how we would have managed if she wasn’t! We also hired a cleaner to ease the strain.
I went back to work for financial reasons, but I soon realised when I had baby number two and ended up taking 8 months off that I needed to work for my mental health, and I liked working. Being a Mum is the most amazing job in the world but for me, I always needed more. I needed to feel busy and although motherhood is incredibly busy, I liked someone else appreciating the work I’d done, and I liked some recognition. When my second child was 6 months old, I started working again and was lucky enough to take both my girls with me to work. I only worked in the afternoons and although some days were incredibly tough, I really enjoyed it.
Working and being a Mum is hard, you essentially end up doing two jobs – depending on how hands-on your partner is. I might also state that for my mental health working was beneficial for me. I wish I had been able to take more time off with my first, I felt that I was just starting to get to know her and develop a rhythm when I had to go back to work. I am, eternally grateful that she could come with me as I would have found finding childcare incredibly hard. The cost would also have been a factor and would have certainly meant that a good chunk of my wages would have gone towards it.
It’s great that in New Zealand we are now able to split maternity leave between both parents, but in a time when we often live further away from our extended families and our villages/communities are becoming smaller it is hard to find the right solution and support. Unfortunately, maternity pay is still not at an acceptable or affordable level and leaves many families struggling.
Thinking about returning to work needs to be thought about long and hard and often the earlier the better. Ask yourself and your partner questions such as, what childcare is right for us and our child? Do I/we want to work? Can we afford not to work? How will we make life work?
Having a baby changes life completely, always for the better, but is a huge change in so many ways. Take your time and remember any decision made doesn’t have to be permanent. Keeping options open until you have had a chance to be a stay-at-home parent is okay. Communication is the key and ask yourself the tough questions. Remember to follow your gut instincts, it will get you far and make you feel calmer and more comfortable with your choices. Good luck!