Should I stay or should I go? The dilemma of returning to work after a baby

Back when you were pregnant, considerations about returning to work after your baby’s birth might have seemed pretty simple. Now the date draws nearer you might be feeling that the transition isn’t as straightforward as you thought. Here are what you might expect in those weeks after returning to work, and how you can cope with the varied emotions you might experience.

Coming to grips with returning to work

For many, the joys of parenthood are undeniable. So, too, are the possible financial challenges and the varied expectations on when the right time to return to work might be.

A generation ago, most new mothers didn’t have to worry too much about returning to work too soon. Families were more able to get by on a sole income.

However, today’s parents experience a different journey.

The rising cost of living in recent years has many new parents planning or returning to work long before they want to. Even in the best of situations — you are able to take as much time as you want, or you can’t wait to get back to your job — returning to work can be challenging for many parents.

There are new things to get sorted too. Childcare costs, coordinating schedules with your partner, relying on family members, the increasing mental load of running a household, work expectations and a baby who may or may not sleep well. The challenges for today’s parents can be exhausting and the range of feelings you have about these things is normal.

You might also be facing emotions about leaving your baby. It’s normal to feel anxiety, resentment, unhappiness, guilt and every emotion in between. Just remember, millions of women have made the transition and it won’t be long before you get a handle on it too.

Regardless of your situation, striking a balance of needs and wants is paramount. If going back to your full-time, pre-baby schedule doesn’t feel right for you, chatting with your employer before you return can help identify what other options might be available. This could include:

  • switching to more flexible hours
  • working from home part-time
  • job sharing.

Getting into your routine

Babies and toddlers do well when there is some organisation to their day. They like predictability. To help you find your family’s new routine faster, talk with your partner, if you have one, about the roles and responsibilities each person has at home and outside of it. Is there a balance — and we don’t mean a 50-50 split — or is change needed? You might also want to chat with family and friends, carers and educators to get everyone on the same page. Other things that can help you settle into a routine include:

  • getting your bub settled into their child care routine before you return to your paid work
  • arranging to work few days or shorter hours for a period of time after you return to work
  • considering practical ways in which you might need assistance or support.

Knowing how to prioritise can also help new parents return to work more smoothly. If you dreaded to-do lists in the past, they could become your best friend now you’ve returned to work. Being able to easily identify what’s got to be done and what can wait is critical to your success. Consider everything, including time for expressing and even lunch. Don’t forget to make some time for yourself too!

Returning to work doesn’t mean you are less of a parent. You can still enjoy that parent-child connection.

Many working parents say returning to work helped make them better parents. The balance of work and home allows them to be more engaged and attentive, which in turn creates stronger bonds between parent and child despite not being together 24/7.

Releasing yourself from the guilt and judgement and others can restore your sense of family wellbeing that reflects upon your set of circumstances. Remember, families are all different and function in different ways, so be kind to yourself and respect the diversity of others.

Reach out and get support

Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a parent who needs to return to work or a parent that wants to return to work, your decisions are unique to your situation.

Parentline is here to listen to and support you. Phone 1300 301 300, seven days a week to discuss returning to work or any other parenting issue. There is no judgement. The services is confidential. You can also WebChat via the Parentline website.


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