We weigh the options of returning to work vs being a stay at home parent.
One of the biggest decisions you and your partner will need to make once your baby is born is whether one of you will give up work and become a stay at home parent. 'Back in the day' there used to be no choice involved, the woman would stay at home with the baby while the breadwinning male went out to work. There are now so many influencing options that for many couples this is no longer a clear cut choice. You and your partner may have already decided on post-birth baby care arrangements however it is important to keep an element of flexibility to your plan as you may feel completely different once your baby arrives. The most important thing is that you decide what's best for you and your family. We weigh your options....
The financial aspect
Firstly you will need to work out whether you can survive on a single income be it your own or your partners. The best way to do this is to calculate all of your necessary outgoings (such as mortgage and loan repayments, other bills and food) and see whether you could still afford to cover them on a reduced income. Some couples simply don't have a choice, unable to make ends meet unless both partners return to work - this is becoming all the more common as the basic cost of living rises. However even if you can cover these basics its likely that you will need to make some sacrifices as you'll simply have less disposable income to play with on one salary. This isn't as difficult as it sounds as your lifestyle and priorities are likely to completely change once your baby arrives; sorting out your finances before b-day will definately help too.
Unfortunately this decision isn't as clear cut as it could be as you will need to factor in the cost of childcare. Whether you choose a childminder or nursery it is likely to take a large chunk out of your salary even with government help (a salary-deductable, national insurance free, childcare voucher scheme is available). For this reason unless your company offers nursery facilities or you have willing grandparents to pitch in and help it will be important to weigh the cost of returning to work and covering childcare with staying at home and loosing an income when deciding which option is financially viable for you.
Legally your employer has to hold your job for you for the full 52 weeks of maternity leave however they have no obligation beyond this so if you want more time at home with your new baby it means taking a career break. While some new Mums (or Dads!) relish this prospect, others find it incredibly difficult to say goodbye to a career and professional reputation they have worked hard to achieve. Again, a difficult decision however its entirely your choice and you shouldn't feel bad whatever you decide.
In terms of career progression a compromise may be possible, you could ask your employer whether you are able to return part or flexi time for a while so that you still keep your finger on the pulse without committing all your time to work. Alternatively, if you choose to give up work you could look at it as an opportunity to reasses your priorities, perhaps looking to re-enter education, work from home or start the business you've always dreamed of.
Time with your baby
While working mums and dads tend to be envious of those who get to spend every waking hour watching their new baby grow, being a stay at home parent is by no means easy. Looking after a young child 24/7 can be incredibly tiring simply because they don't stop and while in emotional terms helping your child to learn about the world is incredibly satisfying, on another level it can be difficult to put in so much effort for so little recognition. It can also be quite lonely if you're used to the adult company of a work environment and while mother and baby meetings and the like can help on this front there is nothing wrong with going back to work because you enjoy it.
On the other hand being a working parent does mean that you miss out on time with your baby, leaving you with the guilt of having someone else look after your child while you're at work and the baby-time to catch up with and housework to do in the evenings when you get home. Finding a really good nursery or childminder you trust will do wanders for giving you peace of mind that your baby is in good hands while you're nose to the grindstone.
Its an incredibly difficult decision to make simply because there are so many options to consider. The most important thing to remember is that having happy, relaxed parents is going to be best for your baby regardless of whether this means that you work or stay at home.
Have you made up your mind yet? Have you experienced any prejudice against your decision? Share your dilemas and advice with other parents to be in our AskBaby Forums.