One thing everyone with a baby knows for sure is that even best laid plans are completely subject to change once kids enter the picture. And if you don’t have a baby yet, let me let you in on a secret: That first sentence is the truest thing you’ll read all day.
So when it comes to deciding whether or not to return to work after having a baby, know it’s possible to feel one way pre-baby and an entirely different way after. The challenge of making the decision about returning to work is that it is not strictly a financial one; it’s highly personal and emotional, too.
All that said, there are some practical things to consider while you are weighing the options about returning to work or staying at home as your child’s primary caregiver.
Your Salary vs. Child Care Costs
If you’re feeling like you want to stay at home but can’t afford it, take a careful look at exactly how much child care is going to cost. If you’re looking for full-time, in-home help, such as a nanny, calculate the hourly or salaried rate of that person, as well as a number of additional costs that might not immediately come to mind, like whether that person will require transportation reimbursement, health insurance, sick days and paid time off. If you are considering a day care option, be careful to explore in detail whether the facility’s vacation schedule matches your company’s, or whether it will be necessary to factor in out-of-pocket expenses for backup care. Babies can get sick easily and day cares have strict rules along those lines — if your baby can’t attend for a stretch of time due to illness, does your job allow you to work from home with your baby, or will you possibly have to take unpaid leave?
In some cases, the costs of child care can nearly amount to the net portion of your salary. You will be walking away, possibly, from corporate health and disability insurance, as well as 401(k) and other perks, but if you have additional financial support in the house, it might make financial sense to stay home and care for the baby, instead of devoting your whole salary to his or her care.
Your Personal Identity
Let’s say the lion’s share of your salary will be devoted to child care, but you’ve worked hard to get where you are in your career and it’s become part of your identity. This is a perfectly good reason to return to work. A happy parent is a good parent; if working is what helps make you happy, then it’s important to factor that in, guilt-free.
Maybe It’s Not All-or-Nothing
Employers are going out of their way now more than ever to entice employees with non-traditional workplace options, like unlimited paid time off, catered meals and beyond. The bigger takeaway is that some employers are beginning to think differently about the employee-employer relationship; your return from maternity leave is another opportunity to do the same. Is there a flexible schedule, or a work-from-home option that might make your transition easier? Might it be possible to keep your job, but only part time?
It’s a good conversation to have if you’re just not 100% sure about your next steps, but it also offers protection for when you’re ready to re-enter the workforce full time. If you’re in a field that moves quite fast — like the tech industry — extended time away could make it tough to land the job you want, when you want, down the road.
More than anything, understand that having a baby can turn every decision into a surprisingly emotional one. Take your time making the choice.