I originally wrote about this on my old blog when my baby was close to six months old. Even though I had mostly planned to take a year off from work and financially we were still on track for that, it was the six month mark that was really triggering that question – the “when do I go back to work” question. Now that my son is two I still find myself constantly wondering if our situation is right. I went back after he turned one and once he turned two an opportunity had come my way and I increased my hours. Still part time but it still felt like a huge jump. Therefore I thought I’d revisit the question and rewrite my experience for you here.
This is what my personal situation was at the time. I was on maternity leave from my role as a Childcare Educator at an OSHC (Out of School Hours Care) where I had been working three afternoons a week and full-time during the school holidays. I had a great staff team, great connections with the kids and had originally wondered how I would just stop work after doing it for so long – even though my baby had been VERY MUCH planned for and wanted. Therefore I had requested 12 months off with the possibility of returning earlier. I also had a casual job elsewhere, that was weekend work and they were willing to have me back. So when that question kept popping up in my head I also had a lot of these logistics running around in my mind – short shifts and family members wanting to care for my boy. I had really been struggling with it because I thought that these short shifts meant that it should be easier to return. That I should start contributing financially again – even though I had spent the two years before my baby was born SAVING MONEY so that I could stay home for a year. Plus I was seeing other Mums return and was wondering why am I finding this so hard? Added to that was my further anxiety of wanting to make the “right” decision.
“I had a baby and quite frankly I now don’t know how I am meant to go back to work.”
The other thing that I was struggling with was how to actually be away from my son. The longest stretch of time I’d had away from him was two hours. My first trip to the supermarket alone I had cried. It was a huge deal for me. After constantly having him always near me, I felt like part of me was missing when he wasn’t, almost like I wasn’t my whole self. Parts of my identity were still the same but a whole other part was different. How could I possibly work? Concentrate on something other than him? Not be able to be right there incase something happened? When I didn’t actually HAVE to be away? I want to stress that it was a real choice for me – it wasn’t coming down to needing money, or needing to have that for my mental health or having it forced upon me. I know so many who didn’t really feel like they had the choice and I want to acknowledge that.
I think my heart always knew I would end up staying home until he was one. What I can now see more clearly since the time has passed is that I was really struggling with the feeling of “my obligation” to return to work. Like society now expects it so we aren’t labeled as “freeloading off the Government” or “lazy” or whatever. Even though I knew other stay at home Mums I still felt a pressure – that was probably somewhat fictional as well. I realized that although I might occasionally feel guilty about not working now, I would feel more guilt for leaving my son under our circumstances (and I now know that no matter how long you stay home, there will always be an element of Mum guilt).
One of the other things I realized upon my return is that sometimes we still have an expectation of what returning to work will look like. Often thinking things should still be running the same and having the opportunity to reconnect with your co-workers. For me, when I finally returned, that didn’t quite happen as a lot of staff changes happened while I was gone. So if you are having “return to work fantasies” keep it in mind that your work has probably changed a bit and that you have (to some degree) changed as a person as well, before making your final decision. Of course there are many other external factors that may make your decision too, such as childcare availability (that was a stress I experienced much later) but I’ve just briefly covered my original experience here.
I am so thankful that I decided to stick to my original plan and stay at home until he had turned one. It can be really hard to tune out those “expectations” that you seem to put on yourself based on what you see others doing. I still find it hard, some days more than others. It truly is a personal choice for each Mother and her family. Well done to all you Mums who have made your own choices for the best outcomes based on your own personal situations.
I’m truly curious to know how you made your choice and when did you go back…..three months, aged one, kindy, school age? Did you have a choice or did your circumstances send you back earlier? Did you return and then later change your mind and leave? Please let me know in the comments…….
*Please remember that everyone is different and have their own situations and reasons for their decisions. Some find this hard, some don’t. No judgment on anyone, just support. This is my personal reflection only. While I would love to hear what others have experienced, please keep this in mind when commenting. Thank you.