Making decisions about going back to work after maternity leave is always challenging. D-day looms large and is unavoidable. Decisions have to be made eventually. The period leading up to the return to work can be one of great stress.
What goes on for the new mother?
- Guilt and angst : this plays a massive and understandable role. The arrival is a bundle of joy who has become the centre of your new-found universe. You love being with your new-born and are fearful of missing major moments in your baby’s life. You worry about his/her well-being, developmental needs and even safety if you make other childcare arrangements. Only you can make that call. It might be helpful to put this phenomenon of a full-time stay at home Mum into historical perspective. The notion of a stay at home mum whose sole activity was to focus on children and home is rooted in the post World War II demand to keep jobs open for soldiers returning from the war and a need to increase a decimated population. At the same time we saw a distinct separation of work and home and the development of a child centred culture. However, throughout history children have been raised by many people other than their mothers, or by their mothers who took on economically related tasks. In lower income groups women always worked and the upper classes farmed their offspring out to wet nurses and nannies. So this “mummy” dilemma in the overall historical scheme of things is relatively new.
- Too much work: it is a lot of work. There is no other way to say this. But with good organisational skills and outsourcing low value work then there are ways to prioritise. Many couples now use workplace practises in their homes.
- Cost of childcare: there is a real need to be strategic and think long-term. Childcare costs are indeed high and women should campaign for tax breaks to defray expenses. If governments are serious about encouraging women to return to the workplace, they will make sure that happens and also cap childcare costs. But the short-term burden of childcare expenses should be benchmarked against the longer term impact of lost salary, career gaps and reduced future pensionable earnings caused by opting to work at a lower level or part-time to accommodate childcare responsibilities.
- Lack of support network: women express concern about managing the responsibilities of career and family. The workload does increase exponentially with children. But very often the toughest negotiations are needed within the woman’s own home and relationships. In most developed economies where women make up 50% of the work force and are the most qualified, they are still carrying out 80% of household chores. There is something wrong with that picture.
- The partner will have an affair with the nanny: Any number of high-profile husband’s have had dalliances with their nannies: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Tiger Woods to name but three. But if the thought of finding the father of your baby in flagrante in the playroom is a real deterrent to returning to work, then that might suggest serious reflection is required. Although it’s normal for any new Mum to feel a little insecure after giving birth, there are lots of hormones whizzing round. Retaining your professional self and financial independence is even more important long-term with divorce rate impacting as many as 50% of marriages.
- Paternity leave: there is a growing movement to encourage men to take parenting leave to share the load. In Sweden studies by the Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation suggests that higher levels of involvement by both men and women in childcare result in stronger earnings potential for women and a reduced divorce rate. What we are seeing is the pendulum swing and the emergence of the ” daddy factor” where men are acknowledged for soft skills related to parenting. Women of course are not generally afforded the same recognition.
- Exploring new options: for many women, motherhood is a catalyst for other career transitions to find that elusive work life balance with as many as 33% leaving the corporate workforce never to return.
But after all the soul-searching, the only people who can make those choices are the individual parents. For those that stay together they must also deal with the future consequences of those decisions. For those that don’t, it is quite often the single mother who faces those challenges alone.