Going Back to Work vs. Staying Home

You get pregnant.  You incubate baby.  You birth baby.  You feed, shelter, love, bathe, and swaddle baby.  How does work and a career fit into all this?  A good friend and I were just talking about the debate on whether or not to go back to work after having a child.  For some, it’s an easy decision.  Maybe you have to work because you can’t afford not to.  Maybe you know that you’d be miserable at home.  Maybe you hate your job and want to quit anyway.  This was not the case for me.  I debated it for a long long time.  My husband wanted me to stay home.  He was all for that.  But I wasn’t so sure.  I had a great (stressful) job that was challenging and rewarding and an incredible step in my career.  I loved my boss and the company that I worked for and I was proud of myself.  To complicate things, my husband was out of work when our baby was born but we had been saving aggressively and had put away some acorns for a rainy day.  I was feeling burned out, I was tired of the drama that comes with managing difficult employees, and above all, I wanted to give my baby my best, which I thought I’d be able to best do if I stayed home.  So I was overwhelmed and confused about what to do.  There were so many factors to consider.  So I started jotting down my thoughts and while talking to a friend, I realized that, like any issue, a little structure helps make the decision a little less overwhelming.

Here’s the result.  For me, there are really three F’s to consider when deciding whether or not to go back to work: Finances, Family, and Fit.  Here are the questions I asked myself.  Maybe they’ll be helpful to you too.

Finances

If we cut my income out of the picture,

  • Could we afford it?  Don’t forget that it’s not just take-home pay.  It’s also retirement money (if you are investing in a 401k or IRA) and possibly changes to healthcare insurance expenses if you will need to switch that.
  • Could we still live comfortably?  Will we be stressed for money?
  • Could we do more than pay bills and the mortgage?
  • Will we still be able to meet our savings goals?
  • What will we forgo in order to live on one income?  Are we ok with that?
  • If we need to pay for childcare, is my net pay after paying for it still worth it?
  • Do we need the medical/financial benefits that come with my job?
  • Are there other expenses that we’d be saving if I were to stay home (fuel, transportation, dry cleaning, eating out, clothes, etc?)

Family

  • If I do stay home, what benefit will my baby have?
  • If I were to go return to work, what benefit would my baby have?
  • What implications does this decision have for my and my husband’s roles at home?  Does it mean that since I’m home, I am responsible for everything baby related?  If I go back to work, does that mean it’s 50/50?
  • If I go back to work, how much waking time will I get with my child?  Is that enough?
  • Who will care for the baby while I’m at work?  Am I ok with that?
  • What does my spouse want for my family?

Fit

  • What do I want out of my career?  If it’s just a job/paycheck socialization, then maybe it’s ok to slow my career down by either taking a less intense/career boosting job or by staying home.
  • If I do want to continue to climb the corporate ladder and ultimately rule the world, then what will I need to do with my family to make that happen?
  • If I stay home, what’s the downside?  Will this come at the expense of my mental/emotional well being?  Will I be able to handle baby 24/7?
  • If I go to work, what is the downside?  Will I be miserable?
  • What level of stress is ok for me to juggle while taking care of my little one?  Does my current job allow for that?
  • 20 years from now, what will I be more comfortable regretting – being away from my baby during this time or losing out on my career?
  • If I don’t go back to work right away, when would I want to go back?  How difficult will it be for me to rejoin the workplace?
  • In an ideal world, what would I want to do?

I was lucky.  My husband found a job that looked like it was going to be a great fit and I was feeling like I needed a break from work.  Financially, we could do it.  I wanted to try being a stay at home mom, so I did it.  While I still have my moments where I want to pull my hair out, I think this is right for us right now.  I often wonder if maybe I’m not cut out for this stay at home stuff.  I miss work.  I do.  I miss knowing that I’m bringing home money, I miss that there are finite projects with beginnings and ends at work, I miss socializing and talking about things other than babies.  I am proud of what I accomplished at work.  But I find myself just as proud of myself when I know that I took care of my family at the end of the day…that I fed them good food and that I gave them my all.  I know that in my last job, I could not have done that often enough.  Perhaps if I found another job that I was able to balance better, I might have been ok but I can tell you that I feel I made the right decision for me and my family.  Good luck to you in making yours!

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