Deciding when and whether or not to return to work after having a child can be a very difficult decision for new and experienced moms.
Some mothers desire to return to work because they have spent years building a career that gives them great satisfaction. Other mothers need to return to work to help contribute to the family income. Sometimes, a mother will need to return to work soon after giving birth because she will lose out on career opportunities or suffer job consequences if she takes any time off. Whichever the reason, it can be a tough decision.
In the 1970s, only a third of mothers worked. Today, more than half of mothers with young children work. As the number of mothers working continues to increase, it becomes more important than ever to support working moms with acceptance, flexible schedules, and the availability of quality childcare.
Returning to Work
Every mother’s situation is different. If you are returning to work, try to take into consideration your own needs as well as your family’s needs. If at all possible, try to stay home with your infant for the first 12 weeks after your child is born before returning to work. This will give you and your child a chance to bond without the distractions and pressures of work.
Try and give you and your family time to prepare and adjust to your return to work. Minimizing the stress of the transition will help the whole family. One way to minimize stress is to avoid returning to work around other major family changes such as illness or death in the family and moving or changing schools. Also, research child care options as far in advance as possible.
It Takes a Village
The saying “it takes a village” to raise a child has always been true, but is especially true for working mothers. It is very common for children to be cared for by adults other than their parents. This is ok! Care may come from child care centers, a nanny, or even trusted relatives.
Most 3 to 5-year-olds are in preschool programs whether or not their mothers work outside the home. Preschool can help provide the best possible start in school. There is often extended care hours associated with most preschool programs.
Finding Quality Child Care
Since finding high quality child care can be difficult, it is best to give yourself plenty of time to research your options. Standards for child care will vary depending on the center, so visit the program regularly and speak with the caregivers. Taking an active role in observing the center and developing positive relationships with their caregivers will help ensure your child’s well-being, while providing you reassurance.
Unfortunately, quality child care can be very expensive and the waiting lists can be long. Many parents spend a large percent of their paycheck on child care but are still less than thrilled with the care their child receives.
Becoming actively involved can help ease your worry of wondering what kind of care your child is receiving. You can also become involved by volunteering your time to help improve the program, donating supplies or fundraising for the program. On the weekends, continuing to maintain your child’s weekday schedule will help give your child a sense of order and consistency.
Paying close attention when you are with your children will also cue you into what they are being taught in their child care center. The more active and involved you can be with your child, the more effective you will be as a parent and the safer your child will feel.
How Working Can Affect Your Child
Though some people still think mothers need to stay home with their children, there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is best, for children or their mothers. Instead, a child’s well being is affected more by the overall emotional health of the family, which can include the quality of child care and how the family feels about the mother’s working. Regardless of whether the mother works outside the home, if a child is well loved and well cared for, they can thrive.
While there may be challenges to mothers working outside the home, there are also benefits. A mother who balances both parenthood and an outside job can be a role model for her child to do the same. Families with working mothers often encourage each person to play a more active role in the household. The mother’s partner is likely to help more with child rearing and household chores. The children may learn independence and help look after one another. These benefits are most obvious in families that support and value a mother working outside the home.
A common issue for dual-career households is that both parents may feel divided between career and family, and have little time left over for their marriage or a social life. It is important in dual-career households for both parents to share the childcare responsibilities and household duties so that they do not all fall on the shoulders of one parent. This is when resentment and negative feelings can build.
Also, parents on average lose about ten work days a year to care for their child when: child care arrangements have fallen through, their child has an appointment, or their child is sick. It helps to be aware that this will happen and to share these days when they arise.
Problems can also occur if a mother does not want to work or her partner doesn’t want her to work. Sometimes a mother has a job she doesn’t care for, or she works because the family relies on her income, but she would prefer to be home with her children. While these situations are difficult, it’s best to try and avoid negative feelings spilling over into home life. Otherwise, children can form negative associations about work.
Other possible conflicts come from both parents wanting to work but only one has a job. Competition and resentment can also arise if one parent earns more money than the other. These conflicts can strain a marriage and make children feel insecure and threatened. When both parents work, there is great need to manage expectations and to openly support each other and communicate.
Coping with Missing your Child
It is common for working parents to worry about missing out on precious time with their child, particularly if their child is very young. You may feel jealous of the time your caregiver spends with your child. You may feel that you miss important milestones, such as first words or steps. There is nothing wrong with these feelings as they are completely normal.
It is healthy to be aware of these feelings, but it is more important to separate missing your child from concerns about your child’s well being. While missing your child is very natural, it may help to remember that child care can provide important benefits to young children. It can offer stimulation, socialization and a nurturing environment that prepares children for school.
While the first few years are very significant in the development of a child, a mother does not have to be the only one directly contributing to this development. Being a working mom definitely has its challenges, but building a quality care team can help contribute to positive child growth while a mother is able to return to work and pursue her career aspirations. Whichever the scenario, there will be obstacles; however, moms still deserve the opportunity for personal career growth and should never feel guilty for being both a mom and career oriented individual. It’s ok to be great at both!