New mothers often face tough parenting decisions months before ever laying eyes on their child. Besides selecting the best color to paint the nursery and searching for a name, many mothers must decide whether or not to return to work after having their child. The decision to resume a career after having a child is one that has faced great emotional scrutiny. Parents grapple with questions such as 'Will my baby feel abandoned? Will I regret my decision? and Can I afford not to work?' These questions haunt parents trying to make the best choice for their family and themselves as individuals.
The self-imposed pressure to be a successful parent and to expertly make a multitude of choices for your baby can become overwhelming. Adding the decision of returning to work significantly compounds your mounting stress. Breaking down the factors that influence your decision will guide you through your decision process.
Look for alternatives
"Explore all of the possible alternatives to going back to the position you held pre-baby," says Employment Counselor, Robyn Reynolds of Albany, New York. Knowing all your options helps you make a decision you can feel comfortable with. Is it possible to modify your work hours, work from home or job share? Can you telecommute, reduce your work load or return to a different position within the company that is more conducive to your new role as a mom? Is an extended maternity leave a financial or employment option?
Fully investigate all the different options of day care before making your final decision. Do you want an in-home care giver, to take your baby off sight or try a variety of sitters? Do you want a licensed child care provider or are you comfortable with a home based day care? Interview and visit several differently structured situations -- with and without your child -- to know which one best suits your family.
If salary is a major factor, consider the expense of child care versus your salary prior to returning to work. Creative work and child care situations can offer the added bonus of allowing you to spend time with your baby. "A babysitting co-op with relatives and neighbors, or working part-time opposite from your co-parent would yield the same amount of financial support as working full-time and paying for child care," shares working mother and president of Camillus Baby-Sitting Co-Op Tania Wilson of Camillus, New York.
Nothing is permanent
If you've determined you need to work, take heart in knowing that you do have many choices. If your baby is becoming excessively irritable due to shuffling out the door early, rethink your day care options. "If the decision to return to work doesn't provide the personal fulfillment you anticipated, or doesn't seem to compliment your family goals, you can always make another choice," says Reynolds, herself a mother who is compassionate and supportive to the needs of working parents.
Don't beat yourself up emotionally if things aren't running smoothly. Revisit all of your prior options to make a new decision based on any changes that crop up in your situation.
The first months of your baby's life are filled with unexpected changes that affect every aspect of your life. The added responsibility of returning to work often shapes many areas of your life. "I found balancing working outside of our home and spending time with my family difficult to accomplish. Compounding that with routine household tasks and errands increased my anxiety about working," notes Debby Chico of Lubbock, Texas.
Stressful situations that Chico found herself in can be alleviated by setting realistic priorities and expectations for yourself as a parent, partner, and worker. If finding the time to spend with your baby eludes you, consider occasionally putting household tasks on the back burner on your day off. "I finally had to accept that going back to work and having time with my family meant I needed to experiment with crock pot meals versus spending hours in the kitchen," says Chico.
Remember no two situations are exactly the same. Just because working may or may not benefit one family doesn't mean you'll share the same outcome.
Ask for help
If after talking with your co-parent, you're still uncertain what decision is best for your family, consult your support network to gain added insight. Asking friends, relatives and co-workers how they blend their careers and family will provide an experienced perspective.
A sign of strength is recognizing your limitations. If you decide to return to work, ask for help to acclimate yourself to your dual roles as worker and mother. Express your insecurities, concerns and fears to your co-parent. Look to your pediatrician to ease concerns for your baby's development that you think may result from your returning to work.
Wearing the hats of co-parent and employee can also lead to the need for hiring auxiliary household support. Using a lawn service, exterminator or cleaning service will help you maintain your home's organization and fluidity.
Your guilt is not unique
Next to unconditional love, one of the most powerful emotions you'll experience as a parent is guilt. It is important to know that guilt does not discriminate between working and non-working parents. "You will always want more time with your family or for yourself, regardless of your choice to work,' offers Wilson.
Ironically, working parents don't always know that stay at home mothers also experience hurtful pangs of guilt. Stay at home moms feel just as guilty for not having the time to play with their baby as working moms. They feel the pressure of staying ahead of household tasks or running numerous errands.
You shouldn't feel guilty because working prevents you from spending every moment with your baby. Quality time with your baby provides immeasurable benefits. Children do not feel unloved or neglected merely because their parents work. They will thrive when you take advantage of the quality time you have to demonstrate your affection and your desire to nurture.
You need to be prepared for the effects of your decision. Resuming a role in the workforce has the emotional and mental side effects of sadness and self doubt. Not working brings a different set of circumstances such as loss of income and professional identity, and the familiar twinges of self doubt.
Try to eliminate some potential stumbling blocks before your first day back to work. Don't wait until the night before your first day back to prepare your list of child care instructions. Give yourself enough time to carefully plan what both you and your baby will need to make the transition back to the workforce. Says Wilson, "Talking to fellow working parents to get ideas to combat any separation anxiety that either one of you may experience is very helpful."
Keep in mind the journey of raising your baby is paved with some amazingly complex decisions. Evaluating all the factors and preparing for the affects of going back to work helps you find the best scenario for your family. You'll be able to make a confident decision that will best meet all of your needs.