New Mothers Face Tough Choices About Returning to Work and When
From Boardroom to Baby and Back
New Mothers Face Tough Choices About Returning to Work and When
Some media would have us think the transition to motherhood is seamless. But what happens after mom and baby come home?
The early postpartum period consists of days filled with adjustments, learning curves and lots of diapers. Then, the decision whether to return to work – out of necessity or desire – is one that many mothers wrestle with. For some, the pull to stay home with their new babies is overwhelming; for others, economic reality or personal career advancement wins out.
Whatever the choice, the transition to motherhood comes with challenges, especially when a woman goes from wearing heels in the workplace to burp cloths at home.
Experts suggest new moms stay home as long as six months, if possible. (photo: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)
Leaving for the hospital pregnant and returning home with a baby can be a surreal experience. The first few weeks after coming home are ones of adjustment while hormones level out and mom and baby begin to bond.
But while most maternity leaves – often unpaid – average around six weeks, they may not feel like enough. The ideal minimum would be more like six months, said Ann B. Chanler, a clinical psychologist. It can take three to four months for the bond between mother and baby to truly form and for the joy of mothering to take hold, she said.
The new feelings associated with motherhood leave women with joys and challenges, whether or not they decide to return to work.
To Work or Not to Work: Why Not Both?
More women are attempting to perfect the work-life balance by working in a flexible workplace, part time or from home. After staying home full time for her daughter's first year, attorney Polina Bodner Shapiro decided to open her own law firm, Bodner Shapiro Law Group. She works just as hard as she did before, but she is able to be her own boss and has more control over her hours.
Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, says that the old 9-to-5 mentality is outdated and doesn't accommodate most of today's families. A Mom Corps study conducted in July 2011 found that 85 percent of women and 81 percent of men believe that flexible work options would allow them to be better parents.
O’Kelly’s company seeks to connect employers with educated, experienced professionals looking for more flexible work options. "Flexible careers are more accessible than ever as companies realize that in order to attract and retain top talent, they need to offer workday options," she said.
Staying at Home
Staying at home, for some new moms, is the preferred option. (photo: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)
The decision to stay home to raise a child is complex. Gone are the days when it was assumed mothers would remain home. The lifting of this assumption introduced questions -- there is no one-size-fits-all reason why some women stay at home, and no one experience.
For some women, such as Andrea Alexander, a military wife and stay-at-home mother of twins, remaining home with her children was a lifelong dream. Having worked as a teacher for several years, she was ready for different challenges and knew her limits in creating her personal work-life balance.
“I was running low on patience by the end of each school day,” she said. “There is no way I personally could have parented alone in the event of a deployment and worked.”
That's not to say staying at home does not present certain challenges. Many mothers miss the adult social interaction and mental stimulation the workplace allows.
"Talking to children all day and reading 'Is Your Mama a Llama?' 50 times can make you feel out of touch with the world,” said Monica Whitney, a mother of three. But Whitney doesn't feel pressure to return to work. She knows that children grow up, however, and says she likely will return to work when the time is right for her family.
"I want to stay at home with my kids because I know that I will never get this time back," Whitney said.
For some mothers, the choice to stay at home is made for them. They might have lost their jobs, or they might find the cost of child care too overwhelming to make returning to work financially feasible.
Allison O'Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, has seen a small but increasing trend of mothers choosing to stay home with young children. O'Kelly, whose staffing firm connects employers with experienced workers looking for flexible employment, attributed this to several factors, including the poor job outlook, but noted there seems to be a larger attitudinal shift.
The stigma associated with being a stay-at-home mom seems to have lessened, she said. "As women, perhaps we feel we have less to prove to our male counterparts."
Returning to Work
Working moms face challenges in juggling both roles. It can be tough readjusting to the professional role. (photo: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
For other women, returning to work after having a baby was always in the cards, out of necessity or job enjoyment. Some take a few weeks of maternity leave; others, if finances and job allow, take more.
The longer a woman waits to return to the workplace, however, the more difficult returning can become. The new "mom identity” some women form can eclipse the professional identity they had before becoming mothers. This can make re-entering the workforce tougher, psychologically and practically, Chanler said. "The longer she waits, the greater the likelihood she will need to switch careers or lose pace with the career she had prior to becoming a mother."
How content a woman feels about returning to work depends heavily on whether the decision is personal or dictated by necessity. Generally, if the choice is voluntary, regret is minimal, Chanler said. Although the first few weeks back on the job after having a baby can be tough, feelings of guilt and frustration are normal and usually fade. If they don't, it is often the result of the new mom being forced back to work.
It isn't uncommon for women to stay at home for a little while, then return to the workplace. Chanler said that most women are able to tell within a year if they are cut out for stay-at-home mothering.
"I always planned on returning to work after staying at home for a year,” said Polina Bodner Shapiro, an attorney and mother of one. “I missed working. I really like what I do, and being a stay-at-home mom is just not for me."
Whether conscious or subconscious, a woman's childhood and the people around her play a large part in shaping what she feels is the "right" way to parent, including the question of returning to work. "Both my husband and I grew up with stay-at-home moms, and we wanted to offer that to our kids," Alexander said.
Although Shapiro decided ultimately to return to work, she remembers hearing from those around her that a child’s first year is important in developing a bond. "I really wanted to take my time to enjoy motherhood and learn about everything associated with it," she said.
Some mothers battle the financial reality of needing to work. Other mothers feel a different pressure if their peers view staying at home as important for the family.
"Much of the angst that goes into the decision to stay at home or go back to work is not wanting to miss out on the exciting childhood moments, school plays, soccer games, etc.,” O'Kelly said. “It isn’t that [mothers] don’t want to work, quite the opposite, which adds to the stress of the decision."
Whether a woman stays home or returns to work in some capacity, O'Kelly recommended that women make an informed decision and commit to it. That doesn’t mean the decision has to be forever, but it will help set up a secure dynamic for a mother and her family.
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