Returning to work

How soon should you return to work after giving birth? Babies need their mother, but there will come a time when they need them even more



I was reading an article in the Sunday papers recently about a movement to encourage women back to work. It talked about an organisation called "She's Back" which helps women who've had children back into work. I'm all for that and I applaud any attempts to help working mums find jobs.

When is the best time to return to work?

But I think they've got it slightly wrong in one fundamental respect.

The organisation is trying to encourage mums to return to work after a long career break. It focuses on women who decided not to go back to work after maternity leave. The organisation gives those women help to get back to work when they have got to the point where their children were starting school, in the belief that this was the best time for these women to return to their careers.

This is where I think the model is flawed.

I bang on about this to anyone who cares to listen (which isn't many people, but it doesn't stop me). My view, and it is a controversial one, is that the best time to return to work is when your children are babies. You will not have more time on your hands when they go to school. If anything, and take it from someone who is experiencing this right now, you will have much less time, and it only gets worse the older they get.

Babies are easy, it's their elder selves that are hard work

I do have a theory on this, so bear with me.

Babies are fundamentally happy as long as someone is there to cuddle them, feed them, change them and water them. It could be their mum, but they would be just as happy if that person was their grandmother, a childminder, a nursery nurse or even the postman. Well, perhaps that last one is a bit extreme, although I personally think my postman Darrell would be excellent at it. He's had 4 children of his own so he should be.

What separation anxiety?

I know I'm flying in the face of all those theories out there that say babies separated from their mums grow up to be monsters. My eldest was 6 months old when I went back to work and he went to a nursery. He's now nearly 13 and to be honest he doesn't look damaged to me. If anything he has an independent streak that probably stems back to his early nursery days and we are proud of that adventurous side of him. He is going away this summer to Sweden for a week to play football. Parents normally go along too but he has categorically said he doesn't want us there. A psychologist would say that he is displaying "abandonment issues." I just call it "ballsy" (or perhaps he does genuinely hate us).

Work now play later

Getting back to work after a relatively short spell of maternity leave, whether that's 3 months, 6 months or a year, is the best way to get back into a career you love. Or to keep you on that path to promotion. Or give you some sanity after all of the nappies, pureed food, baby signing and Peppa Pig. Personally that was my motivator.

If you leave it until your children are older, then you have to overcome a number of much harder hurdles:

  1. Your CV and experience will be out of date. You will be competing with younger, unburdened millennials who don't have children and know what Google Drive is.
  2. Most women who take time out say they have lost their self-confidence.
  3. You will have to juggle drop off, pick up, sickness, school holidays, INSET days (if you don't know what that is you soon will). You will have to work out who's overseeing homework, who's taking X to ballet and Y to swimming; who's going to the nativity/school play/concert. And so on and so on.

But most importantly of all, when your kids are old enough to go to school, they are old enough to notice when you are not there. It's these crucial times that they need you the most. And it's also the best time to hang out with them. They turn into interesting, funny human beings and you don't want to miss out on that if you can help it.

Amanda Coxen, Working Mum and Tinies Director

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