By Rosemary Marchese
Editor, B.A. Applied Sci (Physiotherapist)
Stay Home or Return to Work?
That’s the BIG question on a lot of mums’ minds after having a baby. Interestingly it is becoming more common a question for new dads too but let’s face it, it’s still more of a ‘mum’ issue these days than dads. New mums are often left feeling uncertain about what the ‘best’ thing is for their baby and their family situation. The answer is (in my humble opinion and after being both a ‘stay at home mum’ and a ‘working mum’) there is no right answer for everyone. And what is right for you at one point may not be right for you at another point in time.
The reality is that more and more mums are returning to work in this generation than past generations. There are loads of reasons for this, and again, it’s different in every family. Whether it is because of opportunities to work, the need to work (let’s say because of financial circumstances or a reduction in job status if she stays out of work too long) or the desire to work, each mum will have her own story.
One thing I have learnt over 10 years of parenting so far (I have three children aged 10, 8 and 6) is that no one should ever judge! I once thought I would be a ‘stay at home’ mum and that was the way it should be. Then circumstances forced me back into a little more work than I had planned and now, with 10 years parenting experience under my belt (and believe me, I am still learning) I can honestly say I am happy that I continued to work. But I didn’t think it at the time. It was really tough and oh, the guilt. The guilt, the guilt. It is heart wrenching. I don’t know any mums that don’t have a sense of guilt for one thing or another, whether it be leaving children too early, working too much, not earning enough money…whatever. It never ends and it’s a common trait amongst many mums.
The Pros and Cons of Staying Home
Let’s consider the pros and cons of staying home and having at least a significant period of time off work after having children, say five years (or more). The biggest plus I’ve seen with this is the ability to focus. Focus on one ‘job’ so to speak and that is ‘being a mum’, homemaker or whatever you want to call her. For some mums this is bliss and comes without the hassle of wondering what to wear to work, how to function at work with such little sleep and how to meet those impending deadlines. There is time to focus on just being with the children but that doesn’t always mean there is lots of time! The mum that stays at home is often (and no, not all families but from what I’ve seen) busy with caring for the home, child (or children), partner and sometimes even extended family members. Then there’s the extra assumption that this mum has all the time in the world to bake for bake sales at preschools and to not only find dress-up outfits for the school concert but also attend EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. The point? Stay at home mums don’t always have ‘lots of time’.
Then there’s the other side of how this mum will eventually return to work, if she so chooses, when she has been ‘out of the game’ for so long. Going back to full time work with restricted work arrangements can be challenging, and is one of the reasons I see so many mums try to start up their own home business, but that’s another story.
The Pros and Cons for the Working Mum
Now, before anyone flips out, I am not saying that stay at home mums don’t ‘work’ nor am I saying that ‘working mums’ are part-time mums. This is just about looking at both sides of the story and finding ways to understand the choices that both mums make.
As a working mum myself (remember I have been both) I now see that my children have really benefited from seeing me manage my time to achieve things. They have seen me publish books, write blogs and manage a business. Particularly because two of my children are girls, I now think (well, at least I hope) that the work I do is inspiring them to believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve. The major drawcard for me is that I can, for the most part, create my own hours and work when I want to work, within reason. I must admit when there is a meeting or a flight that dictates that I be somewhere at a particular time it is a little more stressful but I just have to make sure I am super organised. The other great part to my story (and not all mums would find this great, I admit) is that my husband now also works from home. We can share the parenting experience more as a result of this. But it wasn’t always this way. He used to work long hours and I had to juggle work and children and it was tough. But we did it and are now really pleased we did.
For mums that are not in that position things can be a little tougher. My kids are now at school but if yours are not then there is the added consideration of who will mind them. This can be tough. Rather than looking at the guilt factor here I like to suggest (with the benefit of hindsight) that parents consider this as ‘forming their village to raise their child’. That old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ couldn’t be more true than in this situation. By carefully picking the care and environment that your child will exposed to you can try to let go of some of the guilt (if you have any) and realise that the children CAN and DO benefit from being around people other than you. They also quickly learn that mums can go to work, and they do come back.
On a more negative note I do find that working mums have to be super-duper organised. Meals have to be planned in advance to avoid that dreaded expensive take away meal. Clothes need to be washed and a system needs to be in place for just about everything! But it can be done and there has to be a point where sometimes near enough is good enough. You can only do the best you can do in your situation!
What is your situation? For more tips you may like to take a look at my book ‘The Fit Busy Mum: 7 Habits for Success. Whatever your choices…try to enjoy them along the way!