Any working mama has been there: you are on maternity leave and you are dreading the thought of going back to work.
Or, after a particularly tough day with your newborn, you can’t wait to get back to the office. You go from seriously debating turning in your resignation to texting a co-worker to catch up on the latest gossip within the span of a morning.
In the middle of the blur that is pregnancy and postpartum, it’s totally fair (and really smart) to examine if you should head back to work or stay at home after your baby arrives.
And the question boils down to this: Which option will help me be the best mama I can be for my baby?
Every mama is different and what works for one may not work for the other. I do know how intense and emotional this decision—you might be giving up a career you are really proud of or scared of what your friends and family will think if you head back to work.
How can you find the right option for you and your family?
Do a Dress Rehearsal
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to big-life decisions is to have a dress rehearsal— in your mind, in your routine, and with your resources.
The catch is to put away the pro/con list and completely ignore one option while you rehearse the other.
Jump into one reality—preferably for at least a few days, if you have the time.
This will allow you to find out what you will really enjoy and what will annoy you to no end.
There are so many logistics to working motherhood:
Do I need my job so we can pay the bills? Do I enjoy my job? Can we figure out the logistics of transportation, meals, day care, doctors appointments, vacations, time off, sick time? Does my employer “get” how unpredictable life can be with a baby?
When it’s time to do test-run, practice getting yourself and your baby ready by the time you’ll need to leave for the day. Get in the car and drive to the daycare or get the house ready for the nanny to come over. If you can, hire a sitter for a half day and get out of the house to experience your emotions of being away from your baby for a prolonged amount of time. Figure out what time you’ll get home in the evening and how you’ll feel when you tuck your baby into bed when you just got home 45 minutes ago.
On the flip side, there are so, so many things to consider about staying at home:
Can we afford to live off of one income? What would we need to adjust about our lifestyle if we only had one paycheck? How would mama get some much-needed adult time?
To rehearse staying at home, cut down your budget as if you are living off of just your spouse’s paycheck. Turn off your work email. Figure out what your routine would be and how you would find other kids/moms to hang out with. Figure out how you and hubby will tackle the night routine, considering you both will be tired from a full day’s work – but will both be craving different things.
Be Honest with Your Boss
The bigger question you are looking to answer is your company’s culture and treatment when it comes to working parents.
If your employer isn’t accommodating or understanding, you may find that it’s not a good fit. That’s a huge bummer—but at least you know.
Or you may fortunate enough to work somewhere that understands that, should you need to leave suddenly at 3pm because the baby got sick, you will hop back online once your little one is asleep to wrap up the day.
But it all starts with honesty around what you need.
In the days leading up to my return to work, I was trying to figure out how tell my boss that I would need to step away for a total of 90 minutes per day to pump (3 times throughout the workday). But I didn’t want my boss to think that I was trying to slack off, take advantage of her, or that I was a needy wreck of a human being.
And—hi, what isn’t more weird than essentially talking about your boobs to someone at work?
As we started to communicate more frequently towards my return, this tension sounded something like this: “So, um, I am breastfeeding and, uh, plan to keep it up as long as I can. But pumping takes like, 20 minutes, and I need to do it every 2-3 hours otherwise it starts to hurt. So I need to step away but I promise I will bring my laptop to keep working and will still be able to keep up with what’s expected of me…”
Nothing says cool, confident, working mom than filler words and run-on sentences. I’m annoyed with myself just writing that out.
I was blessed enough to have an employer who stepped into my ramblings and eased my fears.
She gave me some advice that I’ll share here: Communicate. Over communicate. Be honest with what your needs are as a new mom and don’t apologize for them.
What you are asking for will probably enable you to be a better employee and mama—make sure you share how your request will do accomplish both. Your employer may not always be able to say yes each time, but they might be able to provide an alternative solution.
But you won’t discover any of this if you only say what you think is expected of you.
Give Yourself a Deadline
I remember feeling the clock ticking as my maternity leave was winding down.
3 weeks left.
I spent one of my last weeks in tears over the idea that I was going back to work.
My husband patiently listened and endured all of my emotions – even when they didn’t make sense. Because sometimes I would call at lunch and exclaim, “ I can’t wait to get back to work, I need out of the house!” and then be a hot mess of tears about leaving my baby by the time he got home.
I felt a little crazy and he was a champ.
So we set a deadline. I would go back to work in December and work until April before we allowed ourselves to start talking about staying at-home full time. That didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to have tough days—it just meant that we were investing time into allowing my true desire to come to the surface. Setting a deadline gave me a full 5 months to ride any and all emotions about going back to work, find a rhythm and evaluate if me working full time benefitted our family. It would also give my anxious, new-mama mind some peace that this doesn’t have to be forever. If we find that it’s best for me to stay home, it can be possible.
For me, April came and went before I realized I missed our deadline.
I love my baby and I love what I do.
There are hard days—days when I wear waterproof mascara because I know I’ll tear up a bit as I kiss my baby goodbye for the day. But there are so many sweet moments too: like the quality time I get with my daughter before and after work. It’s purposefully and sincere —because I know it’s limited.
Maybe you’ll find the same thing as I did. Or maybe you’ll end up staying at home. You won’t find a perfect option (pro tip – it doesn’t exist!), but you will find the one that makes the most sense for you and your baby.
And that’s all that matters.