To go back to work, or not to go back to work – that is the question.
It’s funny how life springs these huge, mind-boggling, life-changing decisions upon us throughout our time here on Planet Earth. Do I go to Uni or do I start working once I’ve left school? Should I rent first or stay at home and save for a deposit? A lot of the time people (myself included) factor elements into their decision making process that should never have been factored in. This is usually to do with how you will be perceived for not going to Uni or not buying your own home before you’re 25 but honestly and truly as we get older I think everyone realises – who really cares?!
Circa 2002, I did care if I had the best 3310 phone case in the class but that was part and parcel of being a 14 year old in Kent. As an almost 30 year old, deciding whether or not to be a working Mum or a stay at home Mum should be a decision that’s made with only my family in mind. And whilst it was, there’s always going to be that devil on your shoulder telling you that the opposite is what ‘society expects of you’ however hard you try to ignore him.
So that brings me to today. I did decide to go back to work. I went back when Ollie was ten months old. I work four days a week and one from home. I decided to take Wednesday’s off to break the working week up and so that I didn’t have to go long periods without spending the day just me and him. I should also mention that I’m well aware how fortunate I am to work for an organisation that recognises the need for flexible working. My boss couldn’t have been more accommodating if she’d tried with meeting my needs coming back. I have a few friends that have decided not to go back to work purely because of the offer their employer gave them. No flexibility on hours, no working from home etc. so had I been faced with the same antiquated attitude from my employer, my decision could have been very different.
I’m really happy with our arrangement as it’s, to us, a perfect mixture of everything and everyone. It goes a lot like this…
- On a Monday Ollie is with his Nan (my MIL). They have a very excitable 2 year old Black Labrador Puppy who Ollie absolutely adores and they live deep in the countryside in this beautiful detached beamed cottage. He spends his Monday’s going on long walks in the woods with Nanny and Harvey and from the pictures and videos I receive on a weekly basis – you can see he’s living his best life on a Monday. I’m in the office.
- Tuesday he goes to Nursery. Tuesday is the only day he’s there for what I deem a long time. On a Tuesday, neither Michael or I have quiet days at work so he’s usually dropped at 7:30 and not picked up until 5:30ish. FYI – he’s still never been the first child dropped off and never been the last child picked up, which was my biggest heartache, strangely.
- Wednesday’s are the best days. We go to the park, we have picnics, we go to soft play, we meet all his little friends, we lunch in the sun (let see how long that lasts!!) and when he naps I get a few bits done around the house.
- Thursday Ollie goes to nursery and I work from home. This day is a nice serene change from the chaos of the first three days of the week. Ollie is at nursery, it’s just me, the radio, my coffee and my laptop. The occasional conference call (still absolutely winning at a no make-up day!) and as a rule I drop him a little later and collect him a little earlier, because I can.
- Friday I go into work and Ollie is at Nursery but guys… IT’S FRIDAY!!! No one is sad on a FRIDAY!! I have a glass of wine with lunch, which inevitably overruns, it’s a dress down day, people bring in doughnuts and if the nursery are going to do a feature day, i.e. Royal Wedding day or making Easter bonnets – they do it on a Friday. As a rule also, Michael, my partner, works from home on a Friday so he also drops Ollie a little later and collects him a little earlier. There have been occasions where they’ve had a lads Friday night in watching Toy Story and eating crisps when Mummy appears stumbling out of an Uber around midnight carrying her heels, but the less said about that, the better.
This routine is some families worst sodding nightmare. But for us, it just works. Everyone is getting their time as a family and time outside of the family and it’s what we all need.
This leads me on to the actual point of this post. A few weeks back a group of us Blogging Mum’s, got together to discuss our own personal decisions in whether or not to go back to work and if we had or hadn’t the reasons behind our decisions. We came up with a list of Q&A’s for each of us to answer as honestly as possible. My answers can be seen below. Right at the bottom of the post I’ve linked to the other Mum’s blogs so you can see what each of us has decided and the contrast in each of our answers. Whatever the answers though, I think we can all agree to say that we did so with our little ones best interests at heart.
1. How soon after having your baby (or finding out you were pregnant) did you decide you would continue to work after maternity leave?
I think I’ve known for a good few years that I’d go back to work after having children, long before they were ever on our agenda. I was obviously always open to the idea of the fact that I could feel totally different once they arrived and I’d had my year off but I think deep down I always knew. I’m a busy person. I’m fortunate enough in that I love my job. I don’t go to work just to pay bills and if that were the case I’m sure that my decision would have been a different one. Some people hate the idea of a commute into London every day and that’s fine but I love working in the City. I’ve been doing so for 12 years and I’ve never once even glanced a job ad nearer home. I love the hustle and bustle lifestyle with summer lunches in the park and the Christmas lights on every building (even if they do start to go up now straight after Halloween!) To me, my job isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that my partner, my son, my parents nor my friends from home have any involvement in and I quite like that. As well as being a job that I love it’s an escape for me of the everyday tasks that being a fiancé and a Mum bring. Don’t get me wrong, when I was on maternity leave on a cold December morning and I saw everyone in my street scrapping their windscreens whilst Ollie and I settled down for a breakfast date with Holly and Phil I was totally living my best life right there! But I needed something to make me feel like me again and going back to work has totally done that.
2. Who else had an influence over our decision? (Partner, parent, employer?)
I would say no one. Obviously it was discussed at length with Michael of what our plans would be once I’d gone back but that was more to do with the financials of childcare and the logistics of it all. The decision was solely mine and like I said above, I’d pretty much made my mind up years ago. Michael knew this too so he kinda left me to it.
3. To what extent did finance have an impact on your choice? Living costs, childcare costs.
A HUGE impact. Whilst I was on maternity leave I had an interview for a promotion that had become available whilst I was off. As I managed to secure this I knew I was coming back to a pay rise which was lovely but as I was planning on coming back only four days a week it took my pay back to almost what I was on in my old role on five days. So in theory I didn’t take a pay cut by dropping a day which was perfect! However, I had no idea how expensive childcare was!! I knew it was pricey but I didn’t realise it would rival our mortgage for highest direct debit! Once we’d viewed Ollie’s nursery, been given the fees info and done some maths we knew we had to sit down and work out how we were going to pay for everything. We basically made a spreadsheet of income and outgoings with me going back to work and the same with me staying at home. Bearing in mind it’s not just the nursery fees if I go back. It was also my monthly train fare/petrol for my commute and eating in Canary Wharf of a lunchtime is not the cheapest! After an evening of spreadsheets and Malbec it became apparent that we would be a lot better off me going back to work. Which for reasons displayed in answer one pleased me no end. Obviously if it wasn’t going to be worth me going back I’d have to have seriously considered not but as it turns out it made our decision easier. Furthermore, I’ve always had at the back of my mind that childcare costs are a short term problem, two years maximum as we would qualify for 30 hours of free childcare a week once Ollie is three. He’d actually need less than 30 hours as he’s only at nursery three days and my mother-in-law has him the other day. Therefore if I’d quit to save money for the first two years and gone back to work once he was at nursery at the age of three, there’s no way I’d have gone back on the same salary and would almost have had to start climbing the ladder a few rungs down so we’d actually have been worse off in the long run.
4. Do logistics/travel play a part in your decision (location of workplace, whether you drive).
A little. Purely because I didn’t want Ollie to be the first one dropped to nursery in the morning and the last one to be picked up. I wanted a work/life balance (which is why I decided to take Wednesdays off to break the week up a bit) and why I work from home on a Thursday so he can go in a little later and come home a little earlier. Where both myself and Michael don’t work 5 minutes from home we knew we’d have to be dropping him at nursery by 7:30-7:45. This hasn’t been an issue so far and there’s usually 5 or 6 kids already there when Michael drops him. I go into work early so I can leave at 4pm and be back to collect him just after 5pm and he’s usually one of the first to be collected. We were really conscious of hardly seeing him on those three days so we decided on the system where I would leave in the morning before either of them were awake and get to work for 8am. Michael would spend an hour or so with him in the morning before nursery and I would pick him up and have an hour or so with him before Michael arrived home. So far it’s worked perfectly. We have a good hour playing together all three of us downstairs then we go up for his bath around 7-7:30 and we’re all playing and splashing until he’s exhausted and ready for bed. Those days are great as we’re both so excited to get home and see him and there’s no ‘I’ve had him all day, you can do bath time/bedtime’ and we’re pretty much both fighting over who spends more time with him rather than who’s had the tougher day. So yes, I would say that did play a part in the decision but so far, everything logistical has worked out well.
5. What kind of judgement from others have you feared or experienced?
Fortunately, none. I say none, one of our elderly neighbours did say ‘Oh you’ve gone back to work already, that’s quick!’ even though he was 10 months old! But you know what, things were different back then (she’s 76) it’s more normal for women to have children and go back to work now so I really didn’t take offence to that particular comment. Everyone else has been nothing but supportive. All my close friends and family knew my thoughts from the start and also knew I was the sort of person that needed to go back to work. I would also say I’m the sort of person that isn’t too bothered what people’s opinions are of me and it would be such a shame if a more sensitive person would factor in to their decision what other people’s perception of them was. Who cares?! It’s your life, do what works for you and your family.
6. How has your sense of identity/independence/confidence been affected?
I remember when Ollie was about 4 months old, Michael and I went to a concert in Hyde Park (it was the first time we’d left him overnight) and Ollie was with my in-laws. I remember after a few ciders saying to Michael ‘I actually feel like me again for the first time in months’. I wasn’t covered in sick, I didn’t need to carry a mammoth bag of bottles and nappies around, it was just me, my tiny bag filled with my purse, phone and lip gloss and we danced and sang along to Greenday without a care in the world. It was that day that made me realise I’d lost my way in the world a little. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, I was a Mum now and as epic as that was I was still a girlfriend/fiancé to Michael, I was still a daughter to my parents, I was still as sister to my brother and I was still a friend to everyone else. That would only change if I let it and I didn’t want it to. It took a little while to work out how to be ‘Steph the Mum that is still the girl she always was but with fewer hangovers and always carries wet wipes’ but once I’d worked her out, I’m really pleased I chose to be her.
7. Did you have any career goals prior to becoming pregnant? How do you feel about them now?
I wouldn’t say I’m hugely career minded in that I’m constantly chasing a promotion but I do like to do well. I was lucky enough to be able to secure my promotion whilst on maternity leave which made a huge difference in my pay coming back which in turn I guess made it an easier decision to make. Would I say I’m desperate to get promoted again within the next two years? Probably not as much as I would have been had I not had Ollie. It just takes a lot of time and effort to get noticed that you’re going the extra mile and at it this moment in time I’m comfortable where I am and with what I’m doing. I don’t spend my weekends stressing about Monday morning or sending emails after Ollie’s gone to bed and I think a role like that with a one year old would send me over the edge. That’s not to say that in a few years when he’s a little more independent and at school I wouldn’t consider it if the opportunity arose but for now I’m happy where I am.
8. In what form does ‘Mum guilt’ take on?
I don’t think you can call yourself a Mum if you don’t have Mum guilt! It’s everywhere and with everything, not just going back to work. Has he had enough fruit today? Did we spend enough time in the garden today? Has the tele been on too long? The same goes when going (or not going) back to work. I leave in the mornings, grab a costa, flick through insta on the tube and then BAM, my Mother-in-Law sends me a video of him laughing at their dog and I’m almost in tears thinking ‘why am I doing this, look at his little face!’ Having said that I’m sure there’s people out there who have chosen not to go back to work and are thinking ‘I wonder if nursery would be good for his social and mental development, am I depriving him/her of that for my own needs?’ You’re never going to get it right 100% of the time. We just do our best to make life easier and generally a happier place to be for our families.
9. Name your biggest doubt/insecurity over your situation?
At the time of deciding I would say my biggest doubt/worry would be what if he hated nursery and I hated leaving him every day? I’m not going to lie the first week was hard. I called the nursery constantly and every time I was told the same thing ‘he’s playing in the sandpit, he hasn’t stopped smiling, everything is fine’. As the weeks have passed dropping him there and heading off to work doesn’t even feel strange anymore, it’s just a new chapter in our lives. So the doubts were there, obviously, but they’ve slowly gone away over time. I’m not going to lie, it helped massively when one of the nursery staff came up to me one day when collecting him and whispered in my ear ‘we’re not allowed to say this, but he’s everyone’s favourite’. Oh, you guys – stop! 🙂 🙂 🙂
10. I am happy with my decision because…
… it was the right one for our family. I will never love or be obsessed about anything or anyone as much as I am my little boy. But what I now know, that I maybe didn’t before, is it’s ok to adore him and still go to work and be Steph. I love being Steph the employee, I love being Steph the friend, girlfriend, daughter and sister but my favourite job is Steph the Mum and I don’t even get paid for that one!
See all other answers to #MummaMakesItWork below: