Two of my close friends recently had their second babies and are asking the question of whether they should return to work or stay home with their families. No one can make that decision for someone else - it has to be what works for you and for your family - but here are three questions I have asked myself when I wasn't sure which path I should choose?
Who will care for the baby?
Most working moms will need to place their babies in full-time daycare if they return to work. We didn't have retired grandparents around or the luxury of hiring an in-house nanny but I felt fortunate that my employer was affiliated with a university daycare program that was less than ten minutes from my office. I could even visit him during the day and nurse him on my lunch breaks. I was happy to have this option available but after baby number 2 arrived, the costs were a bit overwhelming.
How will your family life be affected?
When I worked full-time and had my two older sons in daycare, we would leave home at 7:30am and return in the evening at 6:30pm. Our evenings were very rushed because we needed to get dinner, bath, and bedtime stories done within a 90-minute window and I sometimes felt robbed that I didn't have enough awake time with my children. Our weekends, however, were cherished time together. We focused on our time with each other and I could treasure early Saturday wake-ups because I knew we weren't rushing off to get to daycare so I could sit in a meeting at 8:30am. I didn't pump as much on the weekends because we could relax in the nursery rocking chair and cuddle during feedings.
While on maternity leave, I felt I had very little alone time and I was frustrated that I couldn't accomplish as many things I had planned because I was taking care of the two little ones. A trip to the grocery store took almost two hours, and I started to give up on keeping the kitchen clean or the toys together. I would see well-dressed moms at the bank or the store and I would assume they were on their lunch break from work and I felt a twinge of jealousy that they would have time to eat a meal without someone asking for more juice, another piece of food, or asking for another song to be sung. I pictured the moms having uninterrupted phone conversations with their girlfriends or sisters - and I thought, "that must be so nice."
Can you make it work? I returned to work full-time after an extended maternity leave with my second son and my husband and I considered it to be a trial run. We didn't know how our family would do financially with two babies in daycare full-time but we felt it was worth trying. We felt lucky that our favorite room at daycare had two spots open when I was ready to go back, and my supervisors at work were very supportive of my needs to pump and be flexible in case someone was sick or couldn't go to daycare. I cried just as hard with my second son's first day of daycare as I did with my older son's first day years earlier. I sat in my quiet office with my hot coffee and uninterrupted lunch - and missed being with them. I would call my girlfriends and my sister - and tell them how much I didn't like being a working mom. It just didn't feel right anymore.
I tried it both ways and there were positives and negatives to both worlds. My final decision was made when two things happened in one day - and I felt heartbroken. I had a conference call with my global team, and my supervisor announced they were planning my three-week tour of Asia for later that fall, when my younger son's first birthday was. I pictured myself being away from my family on such an important day and I felt my heart sink. My employer had been very accommodating and even pushed back the tour until I had returned from maternity leave - but I just couldn't make it happen. The second heartbreaker was when I picked up the boys from daycare and found out my favorite teachers had accidentally given my baby 8-oz of whole cow's milk instead of 8-oz of dairy protein-free breastmilk I had exclusively pumped for him. The mistake was avoidable but understandable - the bottles were next to each other in the fridge and they looked very similar. I took it as a sign that my babies needed me more than my job did. I felt that my employer would be OK without me, but my babies needed me to focus on them and to spend that special time with them when they're little.
A few weeks later I left my management job with a multi-national company and I spent several months as a stay-at-home mom. I was later approached to return to work part-time as a consultant for the same company and I then asked myself the same set of questions outlined above. When the time came to start my own company, I again re-visited the same questions and I found the answers I needed.
These questions and decisions have worked for my family. I know my path may not work for everyone, but following my heart and knowing what my family needs really helps me to re-align my priorities. When the priorities are well-established, many decisions became easier to make. I wish the same for all our moms who are asking the same questions - trust yourself and know that you will find the best situation for your family.