Go back to work or stay home?

It’s a question that a lot of us mums are asking ourselves as our mat-leaves come to an end.

Is it worth going back to work?

I write this, sitting at my computer at home, with my 9-month-old son playing with some toys beside me in his high-chair.

He’s so damn cute. (yes, I realize I’m bias). Even when he’s driving me crazy, I absolutely love spending time with him. It’s hard to believe I ever had a life that didn’t include my son. I mean, seriously…what did I do with all that time?

I worked…

I worked A LOT.  I’ve spent countless hours in an office over the past 15 years of my working life and I’ve genuinely enjoyed most of it.

Now though, the thought of driving 1.5 hours each way to an office in the centre of London seems completely alien; unfamiliar.

I’ve been a fortunate woman. I’ve found a career as a ghost writer that will allow me to work from home for the foreseeable future.

But not everyone falls into an opportunity like mine.

A recent study in Britain found that only 1 in 10 women classify themselves as full-time stay-at-home mothers. The media have plastered this across all the papers, spinning it as an achievement in gender equality. Woman are now choosing to go back to work. We have moved past the 1950s and into the new age when women don’t have to give up their identities just because they had children.

I found myself scratching my head at this angle of coverage. To me, only 1 in 10 mothers staying at home (at least in the pre-school years) says one thing:

No one can afford to raise their kids anymore.

Now please understand that I would be the first woman to champion going back to work. As I’ve said before, I was all about career and earning money before my son came along. In fact I was still answering work emails while I was in labour (thank god the birthing room didn’t have WiFi).

I don’t disagree with us women heading back to the office AT ALL. I disagree that it’s our choice to go back. As if us mum’s are simply sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, wondering when this whole “vacation” called maternity leave will finally be over so we can get back to the 9-5 grind. (However if, by chance this is you…disregard this article and get back to work).

I think that although many of us are happy to get back into the world of adult conversations and decisions more important than apple or pear puree for lunch; I think that many of us have to go back. It’s not really a choice…it comes down to economics.

We now live (now versus our parent’s generation for example) in a world where dual income is usually a necessity to stay afloat or get ahead.

And what is worse, it’s actually getting to a point where the cost of full time child care is so huge, many of us are literally working to pay someone else to raise our kids.

So I am asking the question…if we’re not raising our own kids, then what’s the point in having them?

Now you can point out many examples of successful kids who were barely raised by their parents and turned out to be great contributors to society.

Queen Victoria for example. She had nine kids and barely raised any of them. In fact, she didn’t want to see them until they could speak to her properly. She thought babies were weird looking things with frog legs. And although many of her kids were troubled (seriously, google Queen Victoria and read about her family – I thought mine had issues); they all accomplished some wonderful things and for better or worse, pretty much shaped the Europe we know today.

There is also the argument that we ladies need to keep our resume or CV up to date and staying at home with our kids can put a horrendous looking gap on our working history. So even if we aren’t contributing much in terms of take-home pay, we can at least rest assured that we won’t look like we only spent the first 5-7 years of our kids’ lives watching day-time television in our yoga pants.

I’ve also read some very sad stories of women who dutifully stayed at home and felt privileged to be able to raise their children, only for their partners to turn around after many years and ask for a divorce; leaving the mum alone, broke and suddenly looking for a job in a market she hadn’t worked in for over a decade.

I have a good friend who has recently had to return to her high-paying job in London. She hands her son over to a nanny and works five days a week. She hates it. She hates that another woman is spending 50 hours a week with her baby but she continues to do it because they have bills to pay and they can’t afford to take the financial hit. The choice she had to make was money.

Another good friend decided with her husband that the cost of child care and commuting made her continuing to work a moot point. They have had some scary times financially and have had to sacrifice a lot to live predominantly on a single income. However the kids and the mum are all happy and she doesn’t regret the time she has spent seeing them grow up. She has however had a difficult time figuring out her next step now that the kids are getting older. Starting a career in your 30s is never an easy thing.

So what is best? Go back to work or not?

I’m putting this question out there to all the mums who are facing or have faced this decision. What did you do? How did you balance it?

Personally I wanted to do some sort of work. Something that was just me. If I hadn’t been able to swing it as a fulltime freelance writer, I probably would have gotten a job 3-days a week. It would mean my husband and I would need to tighten up the monthly budget but I have always enjoyed work. I consider myself lucky that way. We need the income though and deep down I think I need it to strike a balance. I couldn’t do a 5-day a week job though. I know that. Some women can and I salute them, but I will make the financial sacrifice – I’m lucky enough to be able to sacrifice that and still have a roof over my head.

I’m trying to juggle and get the best of both worlds.

One thing I do know is that it’s a very hard decision for us mums and again it’s a testament to our abilities to balance it all.

So while you think about how you’re managing to balance everything, give yourself a pat on the back. Well done ladies, well done.

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