The decision to return to work after having a child can be agonizing for many women. We may feel guilty if we do OR if we don't, but remember that the choice is yours, and there is an option that's right for you.
Throughout my first pregnancy, I counted the days until maternity leave started, but I always assumed I would return to work. We needed my income, and for the most part, I enjoyed my career. But after a few short weeks with our new baby, I dreaded the thought of going back.
Is staying home an option for you? Here are 10 things to consider if you don't want to go back to work after maternity leave.
Can you afford to stay home? Weigh your salary against the costs of returning to work to determine how much you're really giving up. Costs of returning to your job might include the following:
- Day care
- Commuting (tolls, gas, public transportation)
- Dry cleaning
- Incidental spending money
- Work clothing
- Housecleaning service
You may be surprised at how much it costs you to work once you have a baby at home! But as you contemplate your stay-at-home savings versus your lost income, remember to factor in any other perks you receive from your job. Which brings us to…
The big financial picture involves more than just your paycheck. Consider insurance, retirement plans and any other benefits your employer provides. Will you be covered under your spouse or partner's benefits? How much will it cost to add you?
I was already on my husband's health insurance plan, but our dental and vision were provided through my employer, so we had to factor in the cost of purchasing that coverage on our own or paying out of pocket.
The social benefits of working in an office are less tangible than money, but every bit as important. Is work a big part of your identity? How is your support network outside the office? Do you have other friends who are home with kids? Are you comfortable with "getting out there" and meeting people?
Life as a stay-at-home-mom is rewarding in a thousand different ways, but it can seem lonely to someone who is accustomed to having constant access to social interaction. Be sure to seek out friends to help you and your little one fill your daytime hours!
Are you leaving a career, or just a job? Will you be able to pick up where you left off? What will it take to keep your skills and industry knowledge current?
Talk to colleagues who have taken time off and returned to careers in your field. How long did they stay out? How did they get back in?
If you do choose to stay home after maternity leave, stay in touch with your coworkers, and keep up on all the happenings in your field through online networking, industry news sites and professional associations. That way, when you're ready to go back, you'll be prepared.
Does your company have a telecommuting policy? Could you freelance, work part time or jobshare with someone?
A few weeks before my maternity leave ended, I called my boss to ask about the possibility of "alternative work arrangements." There was a seemingly endless moment of silence, and then he burst out laughing. This was probably not a good sign, but I pressed on.
I asked to work from home, and when the company didn't go for that, I asked to go part time. To my great relief, they agreed to a two-and-a-half-day, 20-hour work week. Luckily, many companies today have a variety of options for working mothers.
My hour-long drive to work never bothered me before I had kids, but once they arrived, it meant losing a precious hour of sleep in the morning and another at night with my family. Even with the new part-time schedule, my commute ultimately took its toll, and I left the job after a year so I could be home.
How long are your work days? How long is your drive? If you do go back to work, how will you and your husband coordinate day care pickup and drop-off? Would it make sense to look for a new job that's closer to home or offers shorter hours?
The vision: My baby and me, smiling, taking walks in the early summer sunshine, then heading home so he could nap while I turned our home into something resembling a picture from a magazine.
How do you picture your life at home with a baby? Are your expectations realistic? Ask friends who have been in your shoes to describe a typical day (preferably without crying). If you think you'll go crazy staying home, returning to work might be healthier for you and your baby.
Think back to when you were a child: What did you want to be when you grew up? Is staying home something you've always wanted to do, or is it now just an escape from an unfulfilling job that has you burned out?
Sacrificing time with your baby for work you don't love may be less appealing than giving up some quality time at home to continue your growth in your dream job.
Is it important to you that you be the one home with your child, or is your biggest concern simply that your child is able to stay home with one parent or the other (as opposed to going to day care)? Can you both continue to work but modify your schedules so that one of you is always home with the baby during the week?
Ideally, you and your partner will be able to make the decision together and support one another in whatever you both decide.
What feels right? A close relative who made a different home and career choice than I did gave me the best advice I've ever heard: When the time comes to decide, you'll know.
There is no right or wrong answer, and choosing one over the other doesn't make you a better or worse mother. Your decision doesn't have to be final; it just needs to work for your family right now. Talk to your partner; work through the planning, number crunching and soul searching; then sit with your thoughts for a while and go with what's in your heart.
Are we in a golden age of paternity leave? Find out why this employee perk is becoming more common at HowStuffWorks Now.
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- Baby Shower Quiz
- How Sleep Works
- How to Choose a Nanny
- How to Balance Work and Home Life
- How to Figure Out if You Can Afford Not to Go Back to Work after Maternity Leave
- Can workplace skills help parents?
- Will my baby prefer the nanny over me?
- What are the advantages of both parents working?
- How much does it cost to be a stay-at-home mom?
- BabyCenter.com. "Staying at Home: Can You Afford It?" July 2006. (Oct. 22, 2010) http://www.babycenter.com/0_staying-at-home-can-you-afford-it_6026.bc?page=1
- Crittenden, Ann. "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued." Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 2001.
- Martin, Ray. "Can Working Moms Afford to Quit?" CBS News. Oct. 10, 2007. (Oct. 21, 2010) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/10/earlyshow/contributors/raymartin/main3351756.shtml
- Palacios, Nicole. "Work after Baby: Should You Stay Home or Should You Go Back?" Disney. (Oct. 21, 2010) http://www.babyzone.com/pregnancy/maternity_leave/article/work-after-baby-what-should-you-do