Returning to work after your maternity leave… or not?

It may seem yesterday that your tiny little baby entered your life changing it forever in all the amazing ways they do (and all the hard working, depressing and exhausting ways too, to be very honest 🙂 ). Therefore, the end of your maternity leave feels so far ahead you have not even considered your options. But as a matter of fact, even when you take the maximum time allowed in the UK (the entire year from when you stopped working, not from when your baby was born), it goes faster than you think and one day all of the sudden you may have 2 or 3 months left to decide what to do and inform your employer as well. It is a very important decision you are taking, that will strongly influence your child’s life and yours as well for the years to come.When you evaluate what is the best solution for your situation, there are a few factors to take into account. Here is a guide of what I personally experienced first and second time around (having a 3 years gap in between my two children).

Financial affordability.

Sadly, I strongly believe this is the first aspect to take into account even if we are talking about making up your mind regarding such a personal choice, especially if you live in London. If you are the first to have a child in your entourage, you may have never heard any of your friends complaining about childcare costs and be totally oblivious to the rates that nursery can charge for a full time position for your baby. This information becomes dramatically important if you also happen to be in a situation where none of your relatives lives near you or is capable of looking after a young child on your behalf whilst you work, even for one or two days a week. If this is all new to you, you will hardly believe me when I say that a nursery can easily charge rates up to your entire monthly salary, sometimes even more.

The rates depend of course on how many days per week your child will attend but also (like properties) on the area you live in. For instance, a nursery in Dulwich can be more expensive than one in Streatham. This could be for different reasons, such as the rented space being at a higher cost depending on the market of the area. But it could also be based on the fact that people around Dulwich area may be earning more on average than people who live in Streatham, so they are also likely to be more willing to pay for a higher rate. This is even more visible if you compare it to childcare providers in the suburbs of London. The rate could as well reflect a better standard of care but not always. I would refer to Ofsted reports and visit it myself to decide if I like the place, and not on the comparison of the different daily charges per child. Therefore, I know this will sound insane but you may consider the option to return to work if you would not be financially jeopardized by doing so and not the other way around, meaning that what you earn should be more than what you pay in childcare.

Once you have visited a few local nurseries and met a few recommended child-minders and you are now aware of their rates, there are a few situations where you will be able to bypass the financial dilemma. First of all if your salary is well above average of course, as you would still be left with some money once childcare is paid, though much less than before you had your baby (in the case of a 40K salary for instance and a childcare at £60 per day, around 50% of your income would still go on childcare). Alternatively you may reduce your working pattern, such as asking your employer to still work full time but spread on 4 days, provided that your partner is generally available to spend much more time with the child in those weekly days you will be working longer hours. You can also check if there is an option for one of you to work on different days, such as on a Saturday. You will lose a bit of family time but it may be an essential solution to make your return at work financially worth.

If this is not possible and you are still in a position where your salary will be nil or almost, once childcare expenses are deducted, you may still want to go back to work. Not only in case you were officially declared insane 🙂 . If you think it’s worth to keep your employment in the long run, you may financially sacrifice yourself until your child turns 3, when the government provides some funds (quite little to be very honest, as only based on 15 hours a week for 38 weeks a year, the rest is still due out of your own pocket) and the following year they should be attending reception class in primary school anyway, where only breakfast class and afternoon clubs top up fees are due from you (if you are happy with public schools of course). Though this option is not really convenient in the case you plan to have another child on the short term (even as wide as a 3 years gap would extend your ‘salary sacrifice’ up to 5 years at least, and so on if you have other kids subsequently).

Individual personality.

Set aside the budget issues, comes the most important question from an emotional point of you: what would work best for you and your child? In the nearly 12 months you spent together, you got to know each other but also you found out so much more about yourself as a person. How did you feel for the whole duration of your leave?

Did you have great fun with your child, going to baby classes and swimming lessons; having more social life than before, making so many new friends amongst mums with babies as you; cooking creative meals for your baby, smiling whilst hanging their lovely clothes to dry; singing them songs, reading them books, teaching them to speak and to walk?! Did you find this is what you wanted to do all of your life and you now wonder why you did not choose a career in parenting consultant or child psychologist much long ago?!

Or did you find yourself mainly wrapped in the vortex of post natal depression; full of anxiety dubious of what were the right things to do; longing for some spare money to go away for a hens do weekend; stressed not to have a life of your own any more; missing the buzz in the office; feeling your mental capacity completely wasted whilst trying to remove poo stain from a pillow cover of your sofa?

I have of course made caricatured examples. However it is just to say I really believe it is important you don’t lie to yourself. Don’t do what others expect you to do, ignore your friends or family’s comments in one direction or the other (‘Stay home, your husband earns a fortune, who wouldn’t take this chance?!’ – ‘I don’t know how you can even consider staying home, it would just drive me nuts, I’d rather stay for a drink with my colleagues after 10 hours in the office!’). To make it simple think about how would you feel and how would your baby feel if this type of life would not end when your maternity leave is over, on a day-to-day bases?

Everyone has a right to be mother, but not everyone is a mother in the same way. Also take into account how did you child seem to prove to be in their first year of life: are they very sensitive and shy or are they quite easy going, sociable and curios? If you consider both prospectives, without completely scarifying yourself or your child, you can find the right balance that works for your and your family only.

Staying home for the sake of your child may not be good for any of your family members in the long run, if you feel devalued by just being a mother as the whole family will pick up on your frustrations or worst, your misery even when subtle. Also remember at some point they will almost have a social life of their own, going to primary school 5 days a week, leaving you alone at home and out of the employment market for nearly 5 years.

On the other hand, bear in mind that several psychological studies have proved that adults that were a lot in contact with their parents and grew up with them more than with any other carer are usually self confident and internally happier than those who didn’t, as a child learns about self esteem from their parents behaviors towards them. Once again to make it simple a child feels they are worthy if parents are willing to spend time with them.

My personal outcome.

I remember one moment looking at my son when he was under 1 year old, thinking: ‘He has no one from is family in London but us, he will still be such a little baby when the maternity leave will end… I could not see him staying with strangers for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and desperately waiting for the weekend to have some time with us, mummy and daddy, his only family…’. However I also vividly remember all the symptoms of the post natal depression, the desperate need to be human again, to be once in a while the first and only person to feed at lunch time, wanting to have adult conversations and not only hearing the ‘gugugu’ and ‘rarara’ of my bundle of joy. So I found what felt the perfect compromise to us as mother and son and still does now that I will be returning to work after the birth fo my daughter last year.

Considering we did not have a mortgage but only a rent to pay, what worked for us emotionally and financially was the following. My husband had a teaching position at 0.8 (4 days a week) and I made a request for flexible working due to childcare (accepted back in 2012, legislation has changed since) to cut one day out of the previous 5 days position, making sure the weekly day off did not match my husband’s. This logically meant for me a sort of pay cut, since my yearly income was now pro rata my new working pattern, despite my hourly salary remained the same.

This way our son needed childcare only 3 days a week, as he would spend Wednesdays with his mother and Fridays with his father. If one of the parents earns a lot more than the other, it is probably best that the person with a lower income reduces their working days, for instance from 5 to 3, whilst the other stays on 5 days a week. In our case, it did not affect us that much and our priority was that our son (and subsequently our daughter) was bound to his mother and his father at the same level, spending on average a similar amount of time with both of them.

To me it meant the perfect outcome. I had a life again, I was not just a mother, I was a person, I was a woman, sitting in the tube and reading a book, picking up the customers calls and using my brain. I could juggle house chores and personal satisfaction, without feeling extremely exhausted, just a bit 🙂 . I would not feel in debt with my husband for any single expense I made and I would enjoy my son growing up so quickly as they all do ❤

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