As a freelance journalist who spent my immediate pre-pregnancy days working from home for myself, going back to work didn't mean going back to an office in the traditional sense. Still, it meant going back to deadlines and commitments and hours away from my son. And while it may sound perfect, splitting my time between work and my son is far from easy. I miss him while I work and I have had to change my work habits to make sure I get everything done in the allotted hours (my days of procrastinating and making up for it by pulling an all- nighter are long over). But I am lucky enough to have the best of both worlds — with the income from my part-time work and a sense of satisfaction at completing my work projects, plus all the joys of raising my son.
Of course, that's just my experience. What does this mean for you as you try to decide to stay home or go back to work? Probably nothing. Your experience may be nothing like mine, or it may be eerily similar. Every mom approaches her work life differently and every family has different needs and challenges. For many women, staying at home is simply not an option. Even so, I cannot resist a few words of advice for anyone mulling over what to do:
- Don't make a final decision until after you've tried it. Let's face it, few women have the luxury of ditching "work" forever, without having to make some serious compromises. And how can you possibly know what to expect until you've tried it yourself. How you handle your employer depends on your relationship, but I'd advise keeping all of your options open until after your baby is born. Use your maternity leave to figure out whether you want to go back. Even if you absolutely know for a fact that you will have to return to work full-time when your maternity leave is up, you may find that the job you had is no longer a good fit for your family life and a change might be in order.
- Talk to other moms who've been through the drill. Since you're not making a decision until after your baby is born, you've got plenty of time to do a little research. Of course everyone's experience depends on their own circumstances, but listening to what others did might give you some ideas about how to handle your own situation.
- Be realistic about what it takes. Whether you stay at home or go back to work, your choice will have benefits and consequences. Find out as much about each situation as you can beforehand and make this decision with your eyes wide open.
- Enjoy the time you have with baby. Whether you've already decided to go back to work or you're still deciding, be sure to enjoy the time you have at home with your newborn. Even if you're eager to return to "work," you will probably feel at least a little sad at the prospect of losing unlimited access to your baby. And since baby is only baby for a short time (in the grand scheme of things), it's important to load up on memories for later.
- Give yourself time to adjust. If you do decide to go back to work, don't expect your new work self to be exactly the same as your old work self. Your old work self probably never worried about whether her six-month-old baby was gumming germy toys at daycare or diving headfirst off the changing table while you're not there to keep an eye on him. And I'll bet your old working self never had to race out of the office in the middle of the day to rescue a sick infant. The new you has new responsibilities and challenges — she's going to take a while to get the hang of this working mom thing.
- Remember your accomplishments. If you're a SAHM and you're feeling like you don't get anything done during the day, try keeping track for 24 hours — every diaper change, burping session (baby's, not yours), bottle warming, play time — of everything you do. You'll probably be surprised at how many little tasks go into caring for a baby.
- Help your spouse remember your accomplishments. I don't know if my husband ever came home from work, looked at me and thought "Jeez, she does nothing all day," but there are certainly days when I thought that's what I'd think if I were in his shoes. Talk to your spouse about what you do and how much it takes. Better yet, get your spouse to watch the baby for a weekend morning (by himself). A couple of hours alone with baby and he'll have a better idea of why you're not waxing the kitchen floor or cooking five-course meals anymore.
Get Out, or Get In
If you're staying at home, getting out and interacting with other adults may be your biggest challenge. Find a play group or sign up for some sort of class — a mommy-and-baby music class, or swim lessons, which you can start when your baby is as young as 3 months — anything that will put you in touch with other adults. If you're going back to work, try to squeeze in a little time for just you and baby. Maybe it means waking up early to nurse and cuddle baby. Or maybe it's setting aside a half hour each night to read a book and rock together. Whatever it is, try to make it a daily ritual, and it will be soothing for you and baby alike.
Christina Breda Antoniades is a freelance writer and mother of 9-month-old Vasili. She has written extensively for Discovery.com including the Travel Channel Online and Discovery Health Online. In her nine months as a new mommy, Christina has come to learn the joys and pains of parenthood.