We all experience parent guilt. In fact, if you’re anything like me, the worry that you’re doing the right thing for your child will have been felt from the moment you saw those little lines appear on the pregnancy test. But when it comes to deciding whether or not to go back to work after your baby has been born?
Well, it’s a toughie, to say the least. It certainly put the guilt that came with giving my toddler pre-packaged purée a few times (when we were both too tired to peel and mash our own butternut squash) into perspective.
From logistical to emotional, the questions that swam around my brain (or extended “baby brain”) when weighing up the back-to-work conundrum included:
Am I setting a good example for my child? Am I teaching them the importance of a career? Am I putting my family’s financial security at risk? Will my child resent me for leaving them? Will I lose that special bond? What if I forget their raincoat and it rains?
Oh, the guilt!
But the good news is that almost every parent is, or has been, in the same boat. After all, we’ve made another human being – we’re forever changed people!
Every situation is different, but ultimately the right decision will be made – and, most importantly, it’ll be made together – so you know you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and that it’s the best option for your family unit. So, how exactly do you come to that decision? Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years:
Banish the guilt!
Feeling the undeniable urge to go back to work? That’s absolutely nothing to feel guilt-ridden about. We all crave adult conversation, as well as an escape from Peppa Pig and cold tea, and there are times when work can even be seen as (dare I say it out loud!) a break. Discuss this with your partner and they are sure to understand that your job is more than just a paycheck; it’s a huge part of your life – you thrive from it, you love what you do, and it’s what makes you who you are.
A numbers game
Just as likely, it could be financial constraints that lead you back to work. For me, it was a combination of the two.
If your family’s finances rely on your income, it may be unrealistic (or impossible) for you to give up work completely. Once maternity pay comes to an end, couples can struggle to maintain the lifestyle they’ve become used to and, as such, returning to work is the only viable option.
Sit down with your other half and look closely at your income versus expenditure, making detailed lists of all possible avenues. Could you/would you want to work from home for some of the week? Could you go freelance? Could you do half days or start early and finish early?
It’s also important to weigh up childcare costs and work out exactly how much you will be bringing home. Will returning to work actually leave you financially better off? It’s worth bearing in mind the current legislation* which means 2-4-year olds can receive 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year, and be sure to explore your options for support – such as Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and childcare vouchers through your employer, which can offer some tax relief.
The silver linings
Rather than seeing returning to work as a negative thing, I tried to focus on the positives:
- Although you won’t be with your child 24/7, the time you do spend with him/her will be quality time – something you will cherish. That ‘welcome home’ bear hug will be waiting for you!
- Children can really benefit from spending time in playgroups or nursery – and often develop better social skills as a result of being around their peers. It also prepares them for when they start school – it won’t be nearly such a shock to the system (for either of you!) when you have to wave goodbye on their first day.
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – there may be flexible working options that could suit your set-up perfectly. Once you’ve been through your finances with your partner, consider whether part-time hours could be a good middle ground. Or perhaps you could take a leaf out of Sweden’s book* and your partner could cut down their hours to help with childcare?
Time for a change?
Wherever possible, try to do something that will help develop yourself as a person – as a parent. If you weren’t enjoying work pre-baby, now could be the perfect time to do something you’ve always wanted to. Yes, this might require retraining – certainly a new mindset – but it’s time to think long-haul and what would lead to a fulfilled you and a happier family.
Whatever you and your partner decide, you can always change your decision if it’s not working out as planned. And remember, you’re a parent now – you officially have superhuman status – but that doesn’t mean you’re in it alone…
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