Maternity leave can fly by so quickly, leaving moms feeling like they've only just started getting into a groove when they have to stop -- and start a whole new routine as a working parent. Not to mention the exhaustion, and the thought of detaching from something that feels like part of you. But if you're fortunate to have the choice whether you or your partner can stay home, it can be a very emotional decision.
Here are the top five factors to consider when deciding whether or not to stay in the workplace after starting your family. But remember, there is no wrong answer.
Factor #1: Finances
Can you afford it? Start by comparing two budgets: Stay at Home and Back to Work, to gauge what's feasible.
"The key budget items after a baby are child care, retirement savings, three to six months of emergency savings, college savings, and savings for non-emergencies, such as vacations, birthday parties and new furniture," advises money expert Galia Gichon, founder of Down-to-Earth Finance.
But staying home isn't cheap. Be sure to consider the at-home expenses such as Mommy and Me classes, outings with other moms, babysitters to provide an occasional break and higher household utility charges. Gichon advises parents who think they might stay home to start saving pre-pregnancy and to review their budgets every three months due to constant (and often unexpected) changes.
Gichon's budget formula regardless of both parents working or not, is the following:
- Take your income after taxes
- Subtract your fixed expenses
- Subtract your savings (pay yourself)
- Then take what is left over, "divide by four and give yourself a weekly cash budget to live on for food, clothing, entertainment, and more."
Occasional babysitter support can go in fixed expenses. "This lets stay-at-home moms put child care into their budget," says Gichon.
Factor #2: Quality Child Care
The reality is you need quality child care to work effectively. Determine if you can depend on family (and if you want to!) or if you need outside support. If you're working with family, set up time perimeters and a salary just as you would with a nanny. If you need other help, you'll want to decide between a nanny, au pair, or daycare center based on your budget and schedule, their wait lists and the baby's social interaction needs (Get help making the child care decision).
Some new moms worry about leaving their baby for a whole day. "Shadow your nanny [or day care center] for a time before going back to work and see if your child feels happy," says Care.com parenting expert Dr. Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. "Realize that moms are not the only kinds of people who can make their children feel good. A healthy aspect for your child is to learn how to interact with other personalities. It can be a wonderful gift."
Factor #3: Your Personality and Emotional Well-being
What does your heart say? Are you feeling pressure from your spouse, partner, boss or friends to lean a certain way? Talk to friends about why they chose what they did, but always remember, this is a personal choice.
"Many times, what you think you want while you are pregnant is different from when you have the baby," says Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, the author of "The Working Woman's Pregnancy Book" and an obstetrician-gynecologist in Cleveland, Ohio. "It's really hard to be home with a baby -- harder than going to work. Some women miss their job and their adult lives and want to go back to work."
It's important to review your hopes and realities with your partner. "Weigh your values -- one parent home with the children versus career success and extra savings -- and make the decision together," Greenfield advises.
Factor #4: Your Career and Professional Goals
Career is another key factor to consider. Do you still have professional goals to achieve? Is now a good time to switch things up? Can you jump back into the workforce after a three-to-12-year break?
In a tough economy, taking time off to be with your baby is risky, but not impossible. Take a step back and look at the big picture of how staying home could impact your career. Are you in a field that is constantly changing - that might be hard to keep up with? Would you be able to stay in touch with the contacts you have throughout your time at home?
Look at the company you're at (or might pursue). "See if there's a positive work/life balance already in place," says Kathy Downs, an Orlando, Fla.-based career coach at Robert Half International recruitment firm. "Find out if you can work remotely, if needed, or if there are parents who leave work, if their kids are ill. Consider the demands within a publicly traded company versus a private company or those with absolute deadlines."
Bear in mind your boss, as well. "If I had to return to a highly structured job with a demanding, horrible boss, I would have taken time off," says Ludwig, who returned to her part-time private practice three weeks after giving birth.
If you do take time off, "stay connected via LinkedIn and your social network, maintain your office friendships and don't alienate yourself from working moms," advises Emery. "This way, if you want rejoin the work force, you have your connections still intact."
Factor #5: Balance and Positive Attitude
Having a baby instantly changes your life. "It's not a perfect science and you have to balance out what you need for yourself and what the family needs," reminds Ludwig. "Your decision doesn't have to be a permanent choice and if what you try doesn't work, revisit the decision and adjust as needed down road."
Learn not to be so hard on yourself either. There are days you will show up at work with baby vomit on your sweater and running late for daycare pickup, or have rainy cabin-fever days home with your baby wondering if you made the right decision. Whatever you choose, give it six months before making another change.
And if you're at home feeling antsy about losing work skills, consider freelance projects, consulting or volunteer work in your field. Or, nurture a creative outlet that could turn into a lucrative new career. "There are a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities for women right now," says Ludwig. "You can start an online store or write a novel and self publish it. The 'Fifty Shades of Grey' success is a great example." (Get tips for working from home)