Working Mums: What are your biggest concerns when returning to work? Part I
Nearly all new mums will take some maternity leave to have their baby.
Some will take really just the minimum and return to their jobs within four to eight weeks, with everything at work pretty much the same. But most will take longer, and not quite know what is going to happen with their jobs.
In Australia we are fortunate to have reasonably good laws around maternity leave. You are entitled to take up to 12 months plus you can request another 12 months, unpaid, but still have your job held for you when you get back.
However, what your job will look like by the time you get back could be quite different. And you and your homelife have both changed rather significantly through this time away; so, your old job may not really work for you anymore.
It is very natural for new mums who have taken time off to feel a bit uncertain about going back.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
Some mums know with great certainty that they will be returning to work without much time off, and have their childcare options confidently sorted in advance. Some are a little bit more unsure.
In some cities, good childcare facilities and those in high-work areas can have waiting lists of up to 18 months (and maybe more) to get a spot in the baby room. This is partially because the staff to child ratios are lower, so that each staff member has less babies to care for, meaning most childcare centres offer less baby spots.
These kinds of waiting lists mean that you have to put your name down BEFORE YOU ARE EVEN PREGNANT which can be a tad inconvenient for regular people.
Some childcare centres will take babies as young as 4-6 weeks, others won’t take them before three months, so be sure and check out what your chosen childcare centre’s policy is.
There are a number of options for childcare; a long childcare centre, a family childcare setting (where someone takes them in their home), or for those very lucky few, grandparents for free.
No matter which childcare you choose, leaving your baby there can be a daunting concept, and it completely natural for you to feel not good about it.
Choose a childcare centre where the staff and the children seem happy. If the place has less staff turnover, and people who enjoy their jobs, they will be able to provide your child with more consistent care, and you will feel better about leaving them.
There are some gorgeous, brand new centres around, but if the staff hate working there and changeover often, you won’t be as comfortable with the care.
No matter what care you choose, or how many days a week your baby is there, he will never not think you are his mother! This is a normal fear for mums going back to work to have but is does not turn out to be true.
Being a mother is an incredibly special role and connection that only the mother can fill. Your baby will still love you, want you and need you exactly the same.
Judgement or feelings around leaving your baby
Journalist, and incredibly clever woman, Annabel Crabb said:
‘The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.’
Mothers place a very high level of guilt and self-punishment on their own head for returning to work. They feel guilty for their children that they are not there more and feel guilty for taking time off work or not being able to focus on it as much as before.
We often feel as though we have to explain ourselves or justify our decisions to others. People in social situations will often ask, ‘What do you do?’ Do you describe your job, or say you are a mum, or both? What will other people think of you?
We often think we won’t be as respected as much at work or thought to be as competent as we once were by our colleagues. And at the same time, we think other mums or older generations will judge us for not devoting all our time to our kids.
Do you feel bad if you are not doing both perfectly? You really shouldn’t, but most likely you do.
It is very common for working mums to want to be equally awesome at both. You may have been excellent at your job before, so you should be still that good, right?
Well, no. You have a baby and twice as many things in your head and your life, as before you went on maternity leave.
You should not expect yourself to perform at your job to the level that you did before, and you absolutely should not be hard on yourself when you can’t. Working mothers need to cut themselves some serious slack.
Other people are far less inclined to have opinions about your work/home balance that you think they will. We tend to greatly overestimate how much judgment other people have about us.
Your close family might have an opinion, but it is probably based on love and concern about what is best for you, not on expectations of what you should be doing.
When I returned to work after my first child, he was six months old. I had a lot of difficult feelings about this, and I did a lot of research into what was best for him. And do you know what was best for him? If I did want was best for me.
Happy children are raised by happy mothers. If you want to work, or love to work, your children will flourish and thrive. If you want to stay home, they will flourish, and if you are happiest doing a bit of both, they will thrive.
If you are miserable in which path you choose, especially if you do it because you think it’s expected of you by your employer, family, society or anyone else, then your children will likely feel this unhappiness too.
So, try to find the balance that you are most comfortable with, and then ease up on yourself, and forget about what anyone else thinks. I know that sounds virtually impossible, but you will get there, trust me.
Should you be a working mother, or decide to stay home and be a full-time mum?
There are pros and cons to both sides.
If you return to work, you may have more money. However, once you account for childcare costs, travel, lunch, uniforms and other expenses, you may not really be financially better off.
If you return to work you will stay abreast of learning and development in your industry however, and will be continuing to feed your superannuation, which is a big minus for mums who stay home.
If you work you will be having interactions with other adults and stimulating parts of your brain that can feel a little mushy if you stay home.
You also have the pleasure of having people dealing with you by speaking, instead of screaming and crying, which is mostly what you get at home. This depends on where you work of course, some colleagues act an awful lot like babies, so you might not notice a difference.
If you are working, you still need to be a mum and partner when you get home. You will have to give your kids time, cook the dinner, and probably be responsible for the majority of the household tasks.
Evidence shows that women still undertake the bulk of the housework, even when both partners are working the same hours, so you may need to deal with this reality.
Stay at Home Mums
If you stay home, your family will need to survive on one income, so it may really help to start getting ready for this from the moment you get that positive pregnancy test. You may need to start saving, and start cutting back on non-essential spending, and get better at hunting for bargains than before.
You may need to become comfortable with being given money by your partner without feeling like it is his money, or you are being ‘kept’.
It is YOUR money as a couple, and the reason he earns it is because you have taken on the majority of your family’s unpaid workload. So, you are entitled to some without guilt, or having to really ask.
You will have more time with your child and to undertake household tasks, which can seem less stressful somehow. But being a full-time mum can have a whole different and new level of stress and loneliness, so you may quite reasonably prefer to go to work.
You may suffer from a lack of adult interaction and mental stimulation, so it is important to make sure you schedule this into your days.
You may have more time for exercise (even walking with the pram) and will get some daylight hours outside, which is helpful.
If you stay home, you will face challenges when it’s time to go back, because you will be out of touch with your skills and any changes in your industry.
For more information about these challenges read our second article in this series.
Neither option will make you less tired. Whether you work or stay home, you will be tired and lacking in sleep. This is the reality no matter what, because you are a mum. I’m sorry I don’t have better news about that.
Staying home becomes a bit more necessary when kids hit school hours, which are far less flexible for working mums than childcare hours, so you may need to make this decision all over again in five years’ time. And again, (and always) whatever is best for you is best for your little ones.