When Is It The Right Time To Return To Work?: The Working Mum’s Dilemma

10276511_10154214284780206_615580309_n Four years ago all I wanted to do was be a mum. I had it all planned out: give up work, have a baby, make cakes, cook every recipe Annabel Karmel ever wrote, drink coffee with new mum friends, have more babies. I didn’t think this plan through: I don’t like coffee for a start (unless we’re talking Espresso Martinis, natch).

Three years and ten months ago – four weeks after Elfie was born – I realised that being a stay at home mum was Not Me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike the new role I found myself thrown into. But I hadn’t realised how different my life would be, how freaked out I would feel at the expectation from not just myself but people around me to be a completely different person just because a 6lb ball of baby had popped out of me. I also hadn’t realised how much the thing I was looking forward to saying goodbye to forever – my work – contributed to the essence of who I was. Targets, successes, hard clients, presentations, meetings; I missed the stimulation of my job like I’d never expected to. My work friends were pushing on with their careers, moving to New York, becoming pop stars, launching businesses. I felt left behind.

But I felt totally selfish feeling that way. I had everything I ever wanted, there was no financial pressure on me to go back to work, I had plenty of empty days with no pressure to fill them with anything but coffee (yuck) and babies. Meanwhile I saw other mums struggling with work and raising their kids because they had to; I felt totally ungrateful that I missed my career and, it has to be said, like this yearning for something more than motherhood made me less of a mum.

Nevertheless I had to do something about it. When Elfie was six weeks old I started working for myself. Slowly at first, a couple of small clients, working hard on my blog. I accepted a part-time freelance gig project managing a couple of brands three days a week but had to leave when the job went full-time and I couldn’t with a nine month old at home. I pottered around again, consulting on small projects, blogging my little heart out, getting divorced. The need to earn money became more of A Thing as I embarked on my single life, I had to generate an income to sustain a household of three. But I always missed that happiness I found in an office, the camaraderie, the gossip, the adrenaline of pitching to a bunch of people.

You don’t get so much of that when you’re working at home in your PJs with The Real Housewives of Atlanta in the background. If any clients are reading this I’m only joking. I much prefer Millionaire Matchmaker.

As the kids have grown older – Hux is at pre-school two mornings a week since turning two and Elfie is starting school in September – the urge to work harder on my career has grown. I’ve done as much as I can working from home but I always feel like I should be doing more. I should be at networking events – impossible because they’re either over breakfast super early or glasses of wine in the evening. I should be hitting up my old rolodex for new business leads, pitching to prospects, hiring a couple of talented freelancers to take care of my day-to-day so I can look after the bigger picture. Then the guilt returns again… how can I consider doing all that when I have two babies at home who need their mummy to be around? I make enough money to keep us afloat and sustain a Waitrose habit, why am I hungrily wanting more out of our lives? It’s back and forth, back and forth.

Last week I had to make a decision… I was offered a job contract working as Digital Editor for a project I’ve worked on before. An amazing brand, an amazing team, the only kicker being that it was a five day a week London-based position. Uh-ho.

It shouldn’t have been a difficult decision. It’s a freelance job so I wouldn’t be tied to a contract, I’d still have evenings and weekends to work on my blog and other projects plus I’d be in the Big City so could lunch with my old work pals. But again the guilt consumed me. I couldn’t imagine being out of the house and away from the children from 7.30am-7pm, running them around from nursery to pre-school to grannies. Could I? What if they were sad/tired/cold/hungry and needed their mummy for a cuddle?

This has been one time when I have put myself first and said actually, yes I can do this. Our little family of three, WE can do this.

Hux and Elfie are going to watch their Mama work her butt off five days a week and I think it is going to be a positive experience for all of us. I’ve managed to get Hux into a fantastic nursery three mornings, I’d planned to send him there from September anyway, and he’ll spend the additional time with his Grannie. Elfie’s at pre-school four mornings and one full day a week so she’ll barely notice the difference (her Grannie is her favourite person in the whole wide world so any extra time with her is a bonus).

It’s going to be a BUSY couple of months for us all but I’ve made a mental promise to take my two away for a little holiday once the madness is over. I’m going to be a commuter, in an office, with work colleagues, heels, lunches out and meetings. I’m SO excited.

I’m still feeling the guilt of  not being there for them 24/7 like I have for the last four years; I’m going to miss their delicious little faces like nothing I’ve ever known before but that’s going to make the time we spend together all the sweeter. And I guess all this guilt and worry I’ve been feeling about being away from my children means that actually, I might be a pretty good mum after all.

If you’re having similar returning to work dilemmas have a read of Alison’s piece: ‘I Work Full Time And I Love It‘. We are not alone :) 

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  1. Stella wrote:

    Congratulations! You must feel so proud :) it really is a huge dilemma isn’t it? We mums can be so hard on ourselves & often are our worst critics. I’m a teacher and still currently on maternity leave with my second. Working out how to juggle two, now that ones at school and the other will go to nursery a few days a wk, sends me into a meltdown. I worry about how it will work, but I know that it just will. So just go for it and your children will grow up with a super strong role model to look up to! X

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  2. Steph (@imcountingufoz) wrote:

    Oh this is brilliant! I am so pleased for you, how jolly exciting! :D

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thanks babes :D x

      Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  3. Linda Woodcraft wrote:

    Great post Alice and congrats on the new job! I love Alison’s piece – rings very true for me. I also work 5 days a week and have felt everything she refers to. I did go back 4 days at first but actually found it harder to manage my workload and time – for less money and benefits of course. I feel very lucky that Abigail adores nursery but I don’t feel any guilt at not being the ‘stay at home’ mother some people love to be. I very much admire those who do and respect their choice. I am lucky to get a lot of satisfaction from my job and hope I can be a positive role model for my girls as they grow up.

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  4. I found myself in exactly the same situation. Everyone is difference. There is this huge pressure from society to stay at home, that you instantly feel guilty about it. But havign written a similar post it has connected me to other like minded people who ‘get it’. I initially worked from home during nap times and gradually put Munch to nursery 1 day a week, then 2, 3, 4 and finally last year 5 days. I love the balance and tbh so does she.

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  5. Oh wow this is awesome news Alice! Huge congratulations :-)

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  6. katie wrote:

    Congrats on the job, sounds great and welcome back to Shoreditch!

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  7. Ahhh congratulations Alice! What a fabulous opportunity and well done for grabbing it with both hands. It will be knackering but hopefully you’ll enjoy it – and you will love love love the evenings and weekends with your little ones. Xx

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  8. abigail wrote:

    Amazing news well done! I’ve loved going back to work, being out of the house and talking to actual people is pretty satisfying, and I’m sure that you will all adapt really well, good luck!

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  9. Ah congrats Alice, thoroughly well deserved and can’t wait to see how you get on in your new role. You will love it I am sure, and it is something that will hopefully be a positive step for your little family. I am totally not jealous that you will be rocking heels and heading in to the city every day. Not at all. ;)

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  10. Molly wrote:

    So exciting! Alison is right – it will be knackering but, if it’s the right time for you, then it will be worth it. I think it’s absolutely key that you have the support of your mum – you are so lucky with that! For me, the key to making working work is having lots of great support so I never feel like I’m in it on my own. This time last year, when I did the 18 months of working crazy hours, I lived 5 hours from my mum and dad and that was HARD. When F was ill there was no one to help, when our childcare fell through we were up the proverbial without a paddle etc. Those times are tough. But I knew it wasn’t forever (my sanity, health and relationship – with my daughter and husband couldn’t have survived 80 hour weeks for more than 18 months) and that really helped. I think it’s great that this is a short contract as it’ll be like dipping your toe back into the water and will help you decide if it’s something you want (and can do) permanently. Congratulations! x

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  11. Step wrote:

    How bloody exciting!! Such a fantastic opportunity and such a tiny little sliver of time in the big scheme of things. The time you spend with the kids will become even more precious.
    Huge congrats xx

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  12. Anna Morrsion wrote:

    Congratulations Alice what a great opportunity. I have just started back to work, in London (commute from herts) 5 days a week and like you have two children of similar ages. I did the whole freelance from home thing for ages but felt ready to get back to the world! It’s tiring but I do love it and it makes the time I do have with my children extra special. Good luck xx

    Posted 5.28.14 Reply
  13. Tanya wrote:

    Great news Alice, enjoy it! A happy mama makes for happy kids. I have also converted from largely home working to being back on London so I really understand where you are coming from and personally have not looked back.

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  14. Karen wrote:

    I am currently pregnant and looking to go on maternity leave in September. I am already trying to plan my return to work after having 9 months off. I hope to return 4 days per week so it was really interesting to read your post. I too love work and love my job and get huge satisfaction from it. My mum stayed at home when she had me and my sisters and whilst we had a great childhood, i feel she could have returned to work when we started school. She didnt and has since become pretty much a recluse and slightly agrophobic. I dont want this to happen to me obviously and i also want to set a good example to my son. A great read as always.

    Good luck in your new position, it sounds very exciting xxx

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  15. My partner is contemplating the same dilemma at the moment. 7 months into maternity leave, it’s difficult for us both to come to a decision about ‘what happens next’… whether she goes back full or part time – either way, she’ll have my total support and I think that’s the important thing. Whatever you choose to do, as long as you’ve got the love and support of those around you, everything will work out fine :) Good luck on your return to work!

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  16. How exciting. Congratulations. I hope it all works out brilliantly for you. I’m sure it will xxx

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  17. Honest Mum wrote:

    Huge congrats darling, you will make this work, go you x

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  18. Congratulations! I’m jealous. I’m at home full-time, and am planning on staying that way till my two are a bit older, but like you I really crave the kicks you get from a job, which looking after children 24/7 just can’t replace….

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  19. fay wrote:

    i stayed at home. i regret not being more selfish…not the standard motherly regret.
    Kids benefit from seeing you, but not from seeing you when you are feeling like you could be somewhere else.
    This is how I felt. It was only when I started thinking about myself that my relationship with my kids got better. They treated me better – my level of self respect had gone up a lot and it had a positive effect on our relationship.
    And they like me more since i got divorced too. Probs because i am less of a cow, ha!

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  20. I’m American, so after only 6 weeks maternity leave (ick!), she returned to work full time. I think it’s great you’re following your passions and setting an example for your kids about finding a job they love and how that can be balanced with parenting!

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  21. Jem wrote:

    Brief comment because I’m on my phone but I wanted to say a) congratulations and b) returning to full time work was a great decision for me. Love my job and have no regrets!

    YYou’ll rock it, I’m sure!

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  22. This post has come at a great time for me, so thank you. I am feeling a little nervous at the thought of not working when my baby arrives, but I’m hoping I can have the best of both worlds being self employed, still keeping a hand in my blog and working with clients. My best friend works 5 days a week with her two young girls and she is an inspiration, I definitely think that as long as it makes you happy, you are setting a great example for your kids. Good luck with your new gig!

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  23. Erica wrote:

    Congratulations on your new job Alice! Loved this post x

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  24. I worked full time with my girl and now part time now I have two. And I will be honest the days I am in work are amazing. I feel stimulated and also like an actual human being. I will eventually return full time. Congrats and good luck! All that time you do spend with your children will be concentrated love times. It will be ace xxx

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  25. Congratulations Alice, it sounds like an amazing opportunity for you.
    I have had, and still have the same dilemma a lot of the time. It’s almost impossible for me to get part time work and so far i’ve been too afraid to go full time. Seeing others bite the bullet makes me think about it a bit more though…

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  26. Congratulations! Great post. We really are never happy and/or guilt free are we. Too much work, not enough work etc etc :) You can only ever do what is right for you and your family at that particular time and this sounds right. Good luck! Lx

    Posted 5.29.14 Reply
  27. Congratulation on your new job! I feel so torn all the time between work and being at home and what to do for the best *sigh* Once my youngest is in pre-school in the new year, then I think i’m going to get back out there- if anyone will have me that is!

    Posted 5.30.14 Reply
  28. Gemma wrote:

    Luckily for me, I’m in the maternity leave stage awaiting my new bundle of joy. Which means I’m very much in the “being a stay at home mum will be so totally awesome!!! We can do educational things together and make stuff and cook stuff and be totally homely!” stage. I’m not even thinking ahead to returning back to work. After all, I can have more babies right? Right?!

    Well done on getting back out there :)

    Posted 5.30.14 Reply
  29. Lauren wrote:

    Firstly congratulations on the new position! I’m sure once you’ve got over the weirdness of a new routine you’ll bloody love it! IMy daughter is turning one next week, and I spent the first 9 months wishing that I never had to go back to work ever, and it consumed my thoughts at almost all times. Then one day I thought, hold on a minute, she loves other kids, I love to be on my own for a little bit… it won’t be so bad! So I am going back, only 3 days and to a position with less responsibility but hey, I can build back up to where I was (actually I want another baby first!) I wrote a post this week about why I actually AM looking forward to going back, linked in the website field :)

    Posted 5.31.14 Reply
  30. Congratulations!! I do a combination of working from home and in the office and as much fun as it is working in pjs I love the interaction that an office brings. You sound like you have excellent support so I’m sure a new normal will fall into place really quickly. I remember after going back from Mat leave I would be in tears by Friday from being tired but it eventually got ok and as much as I moan about my work sometimes I think I enjoy it x

    Posted 5.31.14 Reply
  31. Jenny wrote:

    Congrats hunny on the job!!! And good for you. I was nodding along while reading this and thinking this is sooo me. I had just graduated university with my bachelor’s degree and offered a job in NYC!! I know crazy things were happening and I went on a week trip to celebrate with my bff and met Mr P and well the rest is history, turned down job, moved across the world and got prego, twice!! I am struggling now that Missy Moo is 1 and Buba is 3 almost that I haven’t even begun my career and I am 30. How do I start from the bottom of nowhere because I choose to create a family first and not jump right in like I had planned and wanted so badly. Career and success is what I always wanted. I love my family but I dream about getting back to striving to do and be something great in my own right not just someones wife and housekeeper and mother. I love those but I want something from and for just me. You have motivated me even further that it can happen although you have experience to lead you into great things, I guess I just need to start clawing my way higher and higher from the bottom and see where it takes me. Hopefully somewhere!!! So scared of failure, but can’t fail if I dont try anything can I? Love this post.

    Posted 6.1.14 Reply
  32. Lauranne wrote:

    Congrats on landing the new job. I am sure it’ll be hard but you’ll love every minute of it!

    Posted 6.2.14 Reply
  33. Becca wrote:

    Congrats on the new job and all the best, you can join the rest of us on the work vs parenthood roller coaster – we will no doubt run past each other unknowingly in the city some time soon. Dashing from one meeting to the next mind absorbed with thoughts of laundry and dinner ingredients! Enjoy

    Posted 6.7.14 Reply
  34. Cydney (@CydneyHelsdown) wrote:

    congratulations alice! i completely agree with you about not being able to be the full-time mummy type, i went back to work (part-time) when mine was 7 months old and it’s the best thing i could do. that time away gives you the time to be a bit more yourself well less of your mummy self and makes you appreciate them so much more. i often think about if i could work full time, the position might come up soon and just like you i feel guilt and worry about how i’ll juggle it all. so this has make me think of it a whole different way, so thanks for sharing this! also, good luck with your new job, i’m sure i’ll be reading all about it soon :)
    Cydney x

    Posted 6.10.14 Reply