A Mother’s Return to Work

There are many myths of motherhoods, but one that has been perpetuated is the idea that mothers can “do it all”. We can be a full time mom, have a full time career, be a wife, partner, friend, daughter, community volunteer, and more. When you google “working mom”, images of mothers at their laptops bouncing a crying baby fill the screen. The internet tells mothers they should continue mothering, while also doing their job outside the home at the same time. It’s just not possible.

The truth is, we can’t do it all, nor should we be expected to. When we confront the reality that we have real limitations, we can begin to live more fully within those limitations. For many new mothers, this becomes more apparent upon the end of their maternity leave (which is never enough time). For those with the choice of whether to return or not, it can be a confusing time with so many considerations. The decision for new mothers to return to work after having a baby can be complex and challenging for several reasons:

  1. Emotional attachment: Many new mothers develop a strong emotional bond with their newborn and find it difficult to leave their baby and return to work. The attachment and nurturing instincts can make it emotionally challenging to separate from their child.
  2. Childcare concerns: Finding suitable and trustworthy childcare options can be a significant source of stress for new mothers. The well-being and safety of their child are paramount, and ensuring they are in good hands while the mother is at work can be a major consideration.
  3. Guilt and societal expectations: Society often places expectations on mothers to be the primary caregivers for their children. Some new mothers may feel guilty about leaving their child in someone else’s care or fear judgment from others if they choose to return to work. This internal conflict can create emotional turmoil when making the decision.
  4. Financial considerations: Balancing the family’s financial needs is a crucial factor in the decision-making process. Some families may rely on the mother’s income, making it necessary for her to return to work. However, the cost of childcare, potential loss of benefits, or reduced earning potential due to time away from the workforce may impact this decision.
  5. Work-life balance: Many new mothers struggle to find a balance between their professional and personal lives. The demands of a job, combined with the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, can be overwhelming. The fear of being unable to give adequate attention to both areas of life can make the decision more challenging.
  6. Career progression and long-term goals: Taking time away from work to care for a child may have potential implications on a woman’s career trajectory. Some new mothers worry about the impact on their professional advancement and may be hesitant to put their career on hold or face challenges when trying to re-enter the workforce later.
  7. Personal fulfillment and identity: Work can provide a sense of personal fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, and social interaction. For some new mothers, staying at home full-time may lead to a loss of personal identity and a sense of isolation, which makes the decision to return to work more difficult.

It’s important to note that the struggles and decisions surrounding whether to return to work after having a baby are highly individualized, and each mother’s circumstances and priorities will vary. It’s crucial to respect and support the choices that women make, as they navigate the complex factors influencing their decision-making process. For those returning to work outside of their job as “mother”, I offer these words by Kathleen McGinn, Harvard Business School.

“Women are socialized to believe mothers should stay home with their children, so when you separate from your kids every day for work, it can be painful. As we gradually understand that our children aren’t suffering, I hope the guilt will go away.”

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