Returning to work after maternity leave: Finding the right balance

Getting back to your job after maternity leave might be something you can’t wait to do or it might be something that leaves you paralysed with guilt at the very thought.

So what is the correct ratio between the number of days worked and number of days spent with your children?

The answer is; whatever is right for you. There is no magical answer or psychic looking glass that will let you spy into the future and see how returning to work full-time will pan out for you.

So what are the pros and cons of going back to work full-time or part-time? How on earth do you make the decision? Here I’m going to spell out the questions and things you need to think about to make the right choice for you, which I hope will help you make your mind up, or at least put you on the right track to making a confident decision.

Go back just 50 years and the automatic assumption would be that mum stays at home raising the kids while dad goes to the office every day. Thank goodness we now live in more enlightened times.

The fact is this generation of women have choices now. We aren’t expected to give up on a career we love just because we had a baby. And that is fan-bloody-tastic.

So what are the things we are weighing up as we decide what to do after our maternity leave has finished:

Do you actually want to go back to work?

This is the first thing you need to ask yourself. Maybe you’re loving being at home with your child, there’s nothing wrong with that at all! Being a stay at home mum is as rewarding and challenging as a full-time job in an office, in my opinion, although of course you won’t get paid!

If you’re missing your job and want to get back to it, or have dreams of climbing the ladder to your ideal role, then you need to think about how you can make it work for you. Going back part-time shouldn’t be career suicide! Yes there are horror stories about discrimination, but the tide is turning and more employers are catching on to the fact that mums are still just as valuable, if not more so, to their company.

Could you return to your current role on reduced hours? Or could you ask to work from home?

Now you need to think about negotiating the best deal for you with your employer. Most have a flexible work request form that you can fill out and ask officially for different or reduced hours.

Think about how you can make it work for you and your employer. If you want to work three days, explain how your role would work. You should find your employer is really open to discussion.

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.
This is known as ‘making a statutory application’. Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

Don’t be scared about proposing flexible working and know your rights! For loads of information on this topic, visit https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working.

What can you afford to do?

Unfortunately this generation has it tough when it comes to house prices and living costs versus the average wage. We simply aren’t paid enough, on average, to support a family on one salary alone.

And it’s not just about paying the basic bills. You might have a particular idea of what you want your lifestyle to be. You might be saving to buy your dream home or want to send your kids to private school.

Write down what your costs are. Look at whether you can cope with these on just one salary or your reduced salary. Then see if there are savings you can make if the costs aren’t adding up in your favour when it comes to working part-time or not at all.

What’s your ideal childcare situation?

If you have relatives living nearby who are happy to take on caring for your child then that’s amazing, because childcare is so very expensive. My nursery charges £68 a day!

If relatives aren’t an option then research the different nurseries and childminders in your area. What appeals to you the most? Childminders tend to work from home so your child would be in an environment they’re used to already. However nurseries are great because there’s always so much going on, they have bigger facilities and you don’t need to worry about staff going sick, although most childminders have a back-up in place if they’re ever ill.

You could also consider a mixture of paid childcare and relatives helping out, which would take the pressure off of the cost.

How will your daily routine work?

You need to think about what time your child can be dropped off at childcare and what time you need to be sat at your desk.

Can your other half do at least one of the journeys? Maybe they will have to do picking up and dropping off if their commute isn’t as far.

Always think of the traffic. If your child needs to be picked up from nursery by 6pm, you probably need to leave the office well before 5.30pm, maybe even earlier.

Will you have to get up ridiculously early for a long commute? Can you handle that if your baby is still waking up at all hours of the night?

If you have a long commute, will you miss seeing your child in the morning and the evening? Would you be happy only seeing them at weekends? If you are fine with that, then that’s absolutely fine. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right when it comes to returning to work. As long as your children are cared for, then they will be fine.

If you’re returning to work when your baby is still giving you many sleepless nights, can you handle the pace of full-time? Would it be better to propose part-time working for at least six months? You don’t want to burn out because you’re not doing yourself or your child any favours.

What does your gut tell you?

It’s great to do the numbers, and you do have to be realistic. But there’s a lot to be said for following your gut.

Try to drown out the noise of other people’s opinions.

There will always be other people who will look horrified at the thought of a grown woman wanting to have a career and a child, and others who will ask “but won’t you be bored” when you tell them you’re going to be a stay at home mum.

You don’t need any of this clouding your own judgement. The fact of the matter is that if you’re happy, your child will be happy.

Think about how you can make the most of your time with your child

If you are going to go back full-time or part-time, how can you make the best of time with your child? You don’t have to spend a load of money at weekends, but try to think of quality family activities you can do together so you’re making memories when you can.

Ditch the guilt

Working mum guilt is a doozy. You’re trying to do the best thing for your family by making a living, and also you’re doing something that makes your feel personal pride.

You might feel bad about not spending every waking hour with your kids, but you shouldn’t. It’s so so common for women to work full-time now, and it doesn’t make them any less of a mum! Plus your bond with your child will still be strong and unique.

Try to shake the guilt off as much as possible.

I hope you found these tips useful and that you’re on the way to making a decision that’s right for you.

Its worth remembering that when you do make a decision, you’re not bound to it for life. You can always revisit your job and your hours in a few months’ time if it isn’t working out for you.

As I will be returning to work in just six weeks I’m going to write a whole series of back to work tips and observations. Please get in touch by emailing me at themummybubbleblog@gmail.com if you have any topics you particularly would like to see covered or comment below.

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Getting back to work after maternity leave - tips on how to decide how many days to work. Should you go full-time or part-time when going back to work after having a baby? Tips for working mums on how to make the decision here!

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