Making the decision to go back to work as a mum is never an easy one. It is complex, and the choice can be brought on by many factors. Financial stability is common cause for mums to head back into the workforce, but in my experience, I know many mums who opt to go back for their own sanity.
For me, it was a bit of both. Financially, the extra money would come in handy so we could keep on saving, as my maternity pay was ending. Going back to work though was also something I was whole heartedly excited for. Before Henry and during my pregnancy, I was a primary school teacher. To this day I still work at the same school I began my career and wouldn’t look elsewhere unless they threw me out – I adore my job and workplace. I have been at my school since 2016, working a mix of casual, part time RFF teaching, and full-time teaching. My amazing principal gave me a year and a term off when I gave birth. I had Henry in the October school holidays of 2018 and wasn’t penned to go back until January 2020. I hit the jackpot, and I am so grateful for the time I had off with my husband and Henry, but I made the choice to return to the workforce early, in July 2019.
I didn’t return to my school though. I instead started a brand-new part-time job at my old university. My friend is the lecturer in charge for a primary education unit, and he wanted someone who was more up to date with current teaching pedagogies and philosophies to join his team. I took on just one day a week, teaching 3 tutorials. My job as a sessional tutor gave us income for an entire semester, including marking pay which was a good boost for us. I found the day a week was great, as I got out of mum brain for a day and turned on my professional and academic brain which was refreshing for me.
Once semester ended, I was enjoying working a lot and my school had an upcoming maternity block on offer. My colleague and friend was due to have a baby in November, and my principal needed her Year 5 class covered for 5 weeks. It was a higher stakes decision than my university job, as it was full-time. My mum guilt started to seep in, and I questioned whether I was putting my career ahead of my baby boy who had just turned one. My amazing husband supported my decision to accept the teaching block, as I knew we had so many family members around to help and my heart knew it would be the right thing to do for our family.
The teaching block was a bag of mixed emotions. I was so happy to be spending time with some of my favourite people again, and I felt so empowered to be back in the classroom teaching and doing what I am passionate about. It was also at times upsetting. When the class was being difficult, I resented them and wished I was at home with Henry, seeing him grow and giggle. It was also tiring – Henry has never been a unicorn sleeper, but he happened to get four molars during the block. Sleepless nights and full teaching days were tough, but I knew both things were temporary. It was a big tension but an experience I will never regret, as it taught me if you have the right support, you can really make both worlds work.
As I write this in 2020 I am back at school, working two days a week, which for me, is a much more sustainable option while we are raising our very busy 18-month old. I am glad, personally, I didn’t accept full time work this year. I have energy for parenting but also get to do what I love, which for me is all I can ask for right now. Its been balanced. Its been calm. Its been smooth (ish). Its been tiring, but good tiring. Its consisted of lots of balanced learning and growth in my career but also as a wife and mother.
If you’re a mum who is considering jumping back into the workforce, know that it is natural to have guilt, but that doesn’t mean you are guilty. It is natural to feel like you are in tension, but that doesn’t mean that one or the other will suffer. My tips would be surround yourself with the right support and communicate your wants and desires to your partner, so you are both on the same page. Also try to be realistic with your limits but rest assured cutting back or adding days is normal too. You will know in your heart the type of workload you can take on so make sure you trust and listen to your heart and gut. Lastly, there is no right and wrong. In amongst my circles of mum friends, our experiences of re-entering the work force is diverse, dynamic, and extremely varied. Just because one mum doesn’t go back at all and chooses the stay-at-home-mum path, doesn’t mean you are a terrible mum because you went back when your baby was 4 months old. Do what makes you feel most comfortable, financially, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, and know that you can choose to change up your situations as seasons change.