When you return to work after having a baby, you might feel a mix of emotions. There’s the excitement of working and spending time with adults again. But there can also be anxiety about your child’s care, and other feelings like guilt. Even if the adjustment takes time, things usually settle down.
The return to work is usually motivated by needing the money, enjoying the work or the interaction with other adults, or a combination of these factors.
Whatever your reasons, you’ll probably find that rejoining the workforce now that you’re a parent raises practical issues like tackling child care costs and availability, getting used to new family routines, and handling the extra workload of parenting plus a job.
It can take a while to adjust. Mothers who return to work sometimes feel they suddenly have two jobs. Research says this is partly because domestic duties aren’t always well distributed, although more women are entering the workforce. Men aren’t always taking on more housework, even when their partner returns to work.
Women might feel more stressed as a result of the extra work. Research has shown that more than half of working mothers feel they take out their stress on their families.
You might have income difficulties when trying to balance the cost of child care with money earned.
There might be difficulties organising care if your child falls ill. Research says that mothers often take on the responsibility of a sick child, whether they’re working or not. This might be because dad’s earning a higher wage and is seen to have more work responsibilities.
There’s also the traditional view of mum as the primary carer. Some people think it’s more acceptable for women to stay at home.
Child care is probably the biggest concern for working parents today. For some, the cost of child care has increased so much that going to work just isn’t worthwhile financially.
When your wages are just paying for child care, you might wonder why you work at all. Although enjoying a career is important to parents, the child care issue influences many people’s decision to stay at home.
Separation from your child can also affect your decision on child care. Research says that about 1 in 10 working mothers feel guilty about having their child in care.
Getting the work-family balance right can take a little while, and when you return to work you take on extra responsibilities. Naturally, this might cause you some stress.
Stress can be triggered by events or it can slowly build if conditions at work or at home are difficult.
Here are some tips on reducing stress as a working parent:
- Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- If work is making you feel stressed, talk about your concerns with your manager or human resources manager.
- Are there things you could change at work to reduce your stress levels? If so, try to make these changes yourself or with the help of others. Perhaps you need to reduce your workload or hours?
- Life as a working parent will be easier if you can share your child care workload with other carers, family or a partner.
- Having a plan for unexpected events such as sick children can take some pressure off.
- Are you getting some regular time to yourself? This is a great way to relax and put things into perspective.
- Try to stay organised at work, listing your tasks and managing your time so things don’t get on top of you.
- Try not to take out stress on your family. If you find you’re snapping at your partner or children (or being very quiet), make the effort to talk about work problems.
- If the stress continues to be a problem, you might need to consider another job or else a career change. Seek advice from others or talk with a career counsellor.
If you’re planning to have a few years off work, there are some extra things you might want to consider. The main one is not to forget about work altogether – as tempting as this might be. Keeping up to date will make it much easier to get back into your career when you’re ready to work again.
Here are some other tips:
- Keep in touch with old work friends – go out for a coffee and a catch-up now and again.
- Try to keep up to date with your industry – read journal articles or items in the paper, browse job ads every few weeks to see what employers are looking for, or perhaps take a course to keep your skills fresh.
- Do some short-term, freelance or casual work to keep your hand in.
Once you’re ready to go back to work, sit down and think about the new skills you’ve gained raising a child. Some of these will look pretty good on a resume – you’ve probably learned a lot about negotiation, responsibility and balancing multiple tasks, for starters. When you’re writing an application, be sure to emphasise these, as well as anything you’ve done to keep in touch with your industry.