Debate: The best time to return to work?
Returning to work after having a baby is such a huge debate and everyone has a strong opinion! It’s also something that we have both debated between ourselves – Kate returned after a year and Em after four months. The bottom line: it’s a personal decision, what is ‘best’ depends on you, your baby and your family.
Em: The argument for taking a shorter maternity leave
Going back to work after four months has had so many benefits for me, for The Boy, and for our family as a whole.
Financially, returning to work was a no brainer. Whilst I was lucky to have reasonable maternity pay, being off work was definitely a financial hit.
Returning to work after a shorter period also made more sense career-wise. Returning after four months was like coming back after an extended holiday. Nothing had really changed and I hadn’t lost any confidence in my skills and abilities as I was still up to date on all my projects and tasks. Going back was really easy – in fact one colleague based in a different office hadn’t noticed I’d left and had a baby!
Taking longer would have had more of an impact on my career progression especially as we are planning on having a second child relatively close in age. I take my career seriously and I felt like taking two years out with a relatively short time working in between would definitely affect future opportunities (whether that is right or wrong – that’s how I felt).
All of the above reasons are about “me”, but there have been huge benefits for The Boy as well.
Developmentally the transition into childcare was so much easier for him compared to our friends starting childcare later. This is because by four months The Boy hadn’t yet developed separation anxiety – he was quite happy being left with someone else. At the same time, four months was enough for us to have built a good bond and now, at 10 months, he is used to being left and in a good routine.
We also get more quality time together; our time together is so much more intentional. I have less competing priorities for my time when I am with him as I get life admin done while commuting or on my lunch break. I’m also not exhausted by the realities of looking after a baby day in day out so I feel that when we do spend time together I am a better mother to him. I have more energy and I have more patience.
Honestly, the main disadvantage to having gone back to work early for me has been the judgement of other people. When people find out that I went back to work after just over four months the overwhelming response is “Wow that is so sad”.
That response is not cool and it’s totally unnecessary. Maternity leave is a personal choice and there is definitely a “best” time to go back to work – you need to work out what is best for you and your child.
For The Boy and me, I have no regrets.
Kate: The argument for taking a longer maternity leave
Before I started maternity leave, my work colleagues all asked me “How long are you going to take off?” Without thinking, I said one year. There were a few weeks where for appearance sake I said between nine months and a year, but very quickly after The Girl was born I knew I wanted to take the whole year off – my husband was super supportive and agreed with me.
I’m originally from the US which, as I’m sure you know, has appalling maternity leave (If you want to read more about why, click here). The idea that one can take a year off with a bit of pay and return to the same job absolutely blows my mind. There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to take advantage of this brilliant benefit.
I definetely think taking a year off is the best thing for mum and baby — at least it was for us. Why?
For The Girl, benefits abound. She’s had consistent, 1-to-1 attention for the last 365 days and she’s flourished. Studies have shown that if mum is home during the first 40 weeks, there are measurable health, development and behavioural benefits. I’ve also been able to breastfeed exclusively for 10+ months — WHO recommends babies to be breastfed for the first 6 months. Also, because I’ve been in a good headspace and so excited to take a year off, I feel I’ve been able to be a constant support to The Girl — I’m acutely aware that if I hadn’t been in a good headspace, it wouldn’t have been the best thing for The Girl me to take a year off. I’ve also had the time to travel with The Girl, visiting family in the US and across the UK.
For me, when would I ever get this time back? The Girl will never be a baby again, if I had gone back to work early I wouldn’t have been able to spend priceless time with her in the early days, seeing her milestones etc. I also got the time to recover completely after birth and go through the exercise cycle of wanting to get back into shape, and then realising that’s just a bit bollocks (can anyone relate?!). I also have been able to take time out to think about me, my career and my long term dreams. It’s very rare to have the opportunity to do this whilst getting paid. Finally, my husband and I aren’t sure if we will have a second child — there is no way I would want to miss out on the baby months, especially if I’ll never live through them again.
There have been disadvantages to taking a year off. To address Em’s points…Financially, it has been a big hit, my company only pays the statutory minimum of maternity pay. But my husband and I knew that the hit was coming and planned accordingly — we adjusted our living expenses to be able to sustain ourselves on one income. Because I am the main caregiver it means I’ve spent one day out of 365 away from her. That’s an amazing thing, but it’s also incredibly intense and a big responsibility. I feel the weight of that — I’m friggin’ tired. Developmentally, I am nervous to see how our relationship develops once she is at nursery — I hope the time I’ve invested with her sustains our close bond we have now. Obviously I know it will change, but I hope it doesn’t too much. Career-wise, my role as a management consultant has always been flexible, so although I will have missed out on one year of career progression, I don’t think it will impact me too adversely.
Em and I are aware we could have also decided to not to go back to work, and many mum’s don’t. We’d LOVE to hear from you about when you decided to go back to work, or not, and why.
Photo credit: Sarah Yost Design.