The transition to first-time motherhood involves a load of decisions to be made—including whether to go back to work or not, and what kind of childcare arrangements to make if you do decide to go back to work. This is, of course, on top of the uncertainty and anxiety from not having had prior experience with taking care of a newborn. All these decisions and changes can be so overwhelming for the new mother who is already so emotionally and physically vulnerable after childbirth.
For some women with PPD, returning to work aggravates their PPD due to the added stress of trying to achieve work/life balance with an infant to take care of after a day at work. For many mothers, returning to work can be a cause for added anxiety, guilt and sadness.
For some women with PPD, returning to work promotes recovery, finding it a welcome relief to be able to return to the structured, stimulating environment of adult interaction and intellectual challenges to which they are accustomed.
With or without PPD and regardless of financial situation, many new mothers will struggle with deciding whether or not to go back to work. Though we are in the 21st century, let’s face it, many people still observe such traditional values as believing that mothers should stay home and raise their children themselves. The decision is easier to make for some mothers than for others. Despite what most people will say, which is that the mother belongs at home, you must do what’s right for you. Only you and your husband know what’s best for your family. If you feel you should stay home (and can), then stay home. If you feel you have to go back to work, go back to work. Don’t succumb to societal or “peer” pressure. Don’t let other people’s opinions push you in one direction or another. What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for you and your family. This is a highly personal decision that requires careful consideration and weighing of options relative to you and your husband’s financial situation and personal preferences.
Different people have different personalities, preferences/beliefs as to what is best for their babies, financial situations, family arrangements, etc. It’s these factors that influence a mother’s decision whether to stay home or return to work. It’s because these factors are based on individual preferences/beliefs that they should never be compared with that of someone else. Each person’s preferences/beliefs have to be respected as unique to that person. What’s right for one family may not be right for another family.
One or more of the following factor into the decision on whether the new mother returns to work or stays at home after her maternity leave is up:
- Some women decide to stay home because their income relative to childcare costs doesn’t justify returning to work.
- Some women firmly believe no one else is capable of taking good enough care of their babies.
- Some women don’t have to return to work for several years until their children are in elementary school or even older.
- Some women may not need to return to work but do anyway because their career has been so much a part of their lives for so long they can’t imagine not going back to work. Their careers are too important and too much a part of who they are to leave them for so long, as entry back into the job market after several years can be difficult. These women are fearful of losing their drive and focus, not to mention all they’ve done to get where they are today. They’ve worked too hard up until now to just put their careers on hold.
- Some women don’t have a choice and must return to work in order to help the husband support the family.
- Some women have a choice and opt to stay home not only because it is economically more feasible than to pay for childcare costs but also because they prefer to take care of their babies themselves.
- Some women have a choice and opt to return to work not only because their careers are important to them but also to maintain a certain lifestyle which would not be possible on just the husband’s income.
- Some women return to work, while their husbands stay at home with the baby.
From the end of November til mid March, I was stuck inside the house with no routine, no face-to-face adult interaction, and no structure to my days stuck inside the house. Going back to work proved to be my lifesaver. But I will tell you this….it was a lifesaver not because I could get away from my baby for pretty much the whole day, 5 days a week. It was because it got me back into a routine, which is what my mind and body were very accustomed to, since that defined my life for the past 16 years. I had a set schedule, a routine I followed every day. Going to work enabled me to exercise my mind and mingle with people, both of which have benefits to the average person.
You may have every intention to return to work—with no intention or desire to stay at home—but I have to warn you that there is no real way of knowing how you would feel about going back to work until after your baby’s arrival and you’ve had a chance to do some bonding. There is no way to really predict how you’d feel until the time comes. True, you need to plan ahead, but don’t assume it’s no big deal to transition from taking care of the baby 24/7 to going back to work and having to leave your baby in someone else’s care.
For some mothers, leaving their babies in someone else’s care is too much to bear. It is not uncommon for a woman to plan to go back to work but when it came time to do so, changed her mind, giving up her job to stay home with the baby. Of course, this can only happen if one salary is enough to support the family and/or there was more benefit in the mother’s staying home and saving on childcare costs versus the woman earning her income, having to find acceptable childcare arrangements, having to cover the cost of childcare, and working out a drop-off and pick-up schedule amenable to both her and her husband.
Returning to work after maternity leave can prove to be one of the most difficult decisions a woman has to make in her lifetime. My gut was telling me that I should go back to work because that is something I was meant to do until I retire. I couldn’t imagine myself staying at home 7 days a week for 5-6 years. I needed to be mentally stimulated and multi-tasking, as I did all through high school, college and the past 20 years at my company. If there are other new moms in the workforce, managing to balance family life and their careers, I could do it too. I’d invested so much hard work in college—not to mention my parents’ hard-earned money paying my way through those 4 expensive years—and the last 20 years of my career to just throw in the towel now. Realizing this made me feel so guilty, like I wasn’t being a good mother by wanting to go back to work. This guilt and anxiety of leaving my baby in someone else’s care—particularly if that someone else is not a relative and I wasn’t certain about the quality of care that they would be providing—was very difficult to come to terms with, especially while I was in the deepest days of my PPD. Then, once I returned to work, I experienced a continuous internal battle over trying not to be worried about the baby all day long, which would prevent me from getting any work done, versus “letting go” and focusing on my work, which would make me feel guilty that I wasn’t thinking about my little one as a mother should. There was this constant internal battle going on inside me. That’s why I think it is great that my company allows flextime for employees with particular circumstances like mine. That way, I can spend more time with the baby after work and before she goes to sleep.
Having to find childcare arrangements with which you are satisfied adds yet another element of stress to the mother who is dreading the day she will need to leave the care of her baby in someone else’s hands. I will have to say that quality childcare is tough to find. My daughter has been with childcare providers since she was 3 months old, when my maternity leave ended and I had to return to work. From March 2005 to September 2007, we had 5 childcare providers. Two were private and operated out of their own homes, and three were daycare centers. One of those daycare centers, which I’ve been dying to blog about since 2006, was an AWFUL experience that I will never forget. I’m not going to really do that on this blog because it’s not really relevant to my PPD. Perhaps one day….
It was tough going in the beginning, but once we found the one great daycare center (which we are still using today), it’s been GREAT. I can’t tell you how stressful finding a great childcare provider was for us. It was after we found someone we felt confident would take good care of my daughter, I was able to relax somewhat, grow accustomed to the new routine, and feel more comfortable and happy about my decision to return to work. Before I knew it, I was in my element once more and I felt a tremendous relief. Returning to work increased my self-esteem, which in turn, boosted my confidence in taking care of my daughter.
Different childcare arrangements work for different people. Some prefer the childcare provider who works out of her own home. Others prefer a daycare center. Both childcare options provide such benefits as development of socialization skills through earlier, daily exposure to other children, learning to adjust to a school environment, and being apart from parents at an earlier age.
I wholeheartedly believe we made the right decision to put my daughter in daycare at an early age. Socialization skills are very important, and it occurs more easily the younger the child is put in an environment where they can adapt and learn from, as well as interact with, peers their own age. For me, having evenings and weekends with my daughter and working during the day is an achievement of work/life balance with which I am satisfied and over which I have no regrets whatsoever. I didn’t want my daughter to be shy like I was. And I’m not saying all this to justify my decision to go back to work and entrust my daughter in the care of others. It’s the truth.
My next post will be on my experience searching for the right childcare arrangement in the midst of my struggle with PPD.