Are you thinking about returning to work after your maternity leave? Wondering whether it’s worth it? Wondering how to keep all those balls in the air at once? This week’s guest post is written for you by Sara, an Italian Mum of three living in London. So without further ado I will hand over the keyboard to Sara for this week’s guest post.
Returning to work after having a baby is a massive decision. You’re a mum, often the main ‘home-maker’ (things are changing in this space, but this is still true for the majority of families) and if you add a paid job outside the home to the mix, there are lots of factors for you to consider.
I returned to work 3 times, after taking one year off on maternity leave after the birth of each of my boys. Each time I made different choices as I firmly believe that your decisions will always change around YOU and your family and circumstances.
So, in an attempt to put together a few tips as succinctly as possible, here’s what I think you should focus on when considering your return to work.
Things To Consider When Returning To Work.
Money, money, money
It would be a lie if we sat here saying that money is not an issue or that it shouldn’t be one of the decisive factors. The truth is that it almost always is! When I returned to work after having my first son I was 29, I hadn’t been in my career for too long and like most people we had a brand new mortgage. I couldn’t afford not returning to work, so I went back full time – thankfully my workplace had a nursery on site, which was slightly cheaper than my local nurseries, and it still made sense for me to work, financially.
Fast forward 3 years, with 2 children in full time nursery, I was probably earning around £500 a month working 4 days a week. Was it worth it? In the long run, not really, but because my eldest was 9 months away from going to school, it was an arrangement worth seeing through.
Sometimes though, the cost of childcare is higher than your salary. What then? Do you still work, knowing that you have to ‘work for free’ and either dip into your savings or rely on your partner’s salary? Do you work knowing that it’s cheaper for you to stay at home and be with your children? If it’s a temporary choice, it could be one you still want to make – at the end of the day, if your main objective is to keep your job or progress in your career, it might be an option. But generally speaking, money considerations do play a massive part in the decisions that we make, not just around whether we should go back at all, but also around how many days / hours we are prepared to work for.
The logistics – how are you going to get them there?
The logistics of how you are going to get your child(ren) where they need to get to in the morning is another important one. If you’re returning to your job pre-maternity leave, your workplace is probably still in the same place it was before, so your commute hasn’t changed. But now you really need to think about where you childcare options are. Who is going to drop them off and pick them up? How long do you need to do the drop off’s and pick up’s before you need to leave for your commute to or from work?
My first two children came to work with me (how lucky was I?) – I’d drive to work, drop them off, park the car and walk up to my desk. At the end of the day, I only needed to allow 10 minutes tops between packing up my laptop and collecting my children.
By the time I had my third boy things were a lot more complicated though – my eldest was in a local school, and I had moved jobs. I couldn’t afford 2 sets of nursery fees for the younger two for one year, and I didn’t know how to manage the drop off in two different places (school and nursery) on my own before even leaving the area to go to work. So we hired a nanny and decided to send my second boy to nursery school (mornings only and in the same school as his older brother) – for us that looked like the only feasible solution.
How long are they spending in childcare?
I’m not a morning person, and I was never one to be able to start work at 8am to finish early, for example. Getting out of the door early in the morning with X amount of children with me has always felt like a huge struggle (and I know I’m not alone here!) So when my first two were in the workplace nursery, they’d have a 40 minute commute with me in the car each way and an 8.5-hour day at nursery. I was ok with that, as they were really just in childcare for the amount of time I was at my desk, effectively.
But when it came to my third, I was working elsewhere, and putting him in a local nursery would have meant him getting out of the house before 8am (how??) and not being home before 6:30pm. That’s over 12 hours out of the house for a baby who is just over one year old, and for me, that was way too much. Maybe by the time you have your third you’ve got a little older and a little softer, who knows, but I wasn’t prepared to have him out the house for so long. And that’s where the decision to have a nanny slotted it nicely.
The age of your children
Where your children are in the day, and how long they are out for also depends on how old they are, in my opinion. Now that my eldest is nearly 8 he leaves the house at 8:30am, and, at least 3 days a week, he returns at 7pm. He has school in the day and a few after-school activities, including a one-and-a-half football training session once a week. It’s a long day for him, but he’s now able to handle it. His younger brother, just turned 5, comes back straight after school and has no after-school activities yet as he needs some ‘down time’. As for my little one, who’s now 2, I’d be happy for him to go to nursery a few hours a day, but I still wouldn’t be ok for him to have a 9-hour day outside the house. I think it’s fair to accept that different children have different needs depending on what stage in life they’re at, as well as different personalities, and they can adjust to situations in different ways.
There’s no right or wrong decision
When I returned to work after my third boy, I made a fundamental mistake. I didn’t actually want to return to work at all. Talking to my parents, they strongly recommended I didn’t make the mistake of leaving my job, and it did seem silly to walk out of a well-paid job and a good career, now that I had finally got to a point where I was at a good level of seniority, and I was being paid a good salary. But my priorities had changed, I was no longer as passionate about my job as I had been in the past, and it just didn’t ‘feel right’ anymore. There are a lot of reasons why I left my job in the end, but I should have listened to myself and not returned in the first place after my maternity leave. In a way, I’m still glad I gave it a go for one year before handing in my notice – at least I can say I tried and thought it through properly – but I could have spared myself a few months of feeling quite unsettled and stressed.
The bottom line is, there is no one-size-fits-all here – there are probably as many work / childcare arrangements as there are families, and whatever you do has to be the best for you and your family, no one else!
So, good luck Mums – whatever choice you make, you’re doing a great job!