by Sarah Haselwood
This is a question many of us didn’t even have to consider before we became parents. We just did it, we worked. Yet, once children enter the picture careers can be hugely affected and with half of the workforce in the UK now comprised of women, the proportion of full-time stay at home mums has decreased. So how do we all manage?
We have individual circumstances
Perhaps the decision regarding whether to return to work after having a baby depends on the job each parent does or whether the dynamic is a single parent family. Often the cost of childcare versus salary will be a key factor in whether a parent returns to work, not to mention the stress-inducing logistics of dropping the children at school/ nursery/childminders and commuting.
Bunch of part-timers
Before I had children, I worked in London for thirteen years in corporate HR roles. I thrived on pressure, and I remember the competitive days of my twenties (oh who am I kidding, my early thirties too) when I was fiercely ambitious, always searching for the next promotion and the next gold star. I used to have a lot of meetings with women who were going on maternity leave or who were coming back, some of whom requested flexible working. If I’m truly honest, I failed to understand why they needed or wanted, to change their hours to fit around their children. Now I understand it. It’s hard to juggle both a family and a job when, as much as home working is becoming more acceptable, visibility in the workplace is still often deemed to demonstrate commitment.
Legal changes and Government initiatives
The introduction of Shared Parental Leave permits increased flexibility as it allows parents to share the paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child. The legal parameters around flexible working in the UK also provide more options for parents, not just mothers, to apply to work flexibly. Also, the government’s introduction of free nursery and weekly pre-school hours for four-year-olds has allowed discounted childcare for parents. In September 2017 this was increased to thirty hours per week from three years of age in what I see as a firm nod to try and help parents who work.
In my experience
I’ve been both a commuting, working mum and a full-time mum and I didn’t find either easy. When I worked my children were both under three, and I was a consultant for a company I had never worked at before. Although I worked part-time, the stress of drop off, driving to work (my first job out of London) and praying that the traffic would be kind to me, used to give me heart palpitations. Then there was the overcompensation to my colleagues about leaving DEAD on time to make pick up before the nursery dished out late fines.
My current role
After my last contract finished, I took the plunge to be a full-time mum and writer/blogger. I love the flexibility it gives me, the smiles the boys give me (generally) when I pick them up and that I’m doing something I truly love. It’s hard work as I spend most evenings writing articles for my blog and other peoples’ blogs and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the company of colleagues, the travel, the spontaneity and the lack of whining (usually about 6.30pm while I’m running the bath).
For all the legal changes and the shifting treatment of working parents, the choice of whether to return to work and whether to do it flexibly remains a personal decision for parents. Whatever the decision, I think it’s important, yet often incredibly difficult, to stand by that decision if it is right for your family. One thing I would put money on, whether you go out to work every day or look after your children full-time, both will have their challenges. And, undoubtedly, rewards.