After you have a child, there are so many questions that you find yourself facing. ‘Will I ever get a good night’s sleep again?’ was the one that I asked myself most frequently in the early days (thankfully for those of you currently facing this, I can report it does get better!).
But as the months of maternity or paternity pass, one of the inevitable dilemmas some parents will find themselves facing is how to balance parenthood with work. There are lots of reasons why mums and dads choose to return to work after having a baby – the need for an income, the desire to continue with their career, or perhaps for self-esteem.
For me, it was a balance between needing the money (mortgage, car loan, shopping bill – it all adds up!) and wanting to continue on my career path. I’ve worked in PR and communications for 14 years, and as much as I adore my daughter, I didn’t feel ready to give it up.
This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Having spent every day with my little one (and many long sleepless nights!) it was a very odd feeling to hand her over to other people so that I could go and sit in an office for 8 hours. My husband and I decided that we wanted her to go to nursery, so we booked a place and as my return to work approached, we attended our settling sessions. Even though I stayed with her on the first session I barely made it through without bursting into tears at the thought of leaving my little bundle, regardless of how lovely the nursery practitioners seemed.
At the second session I was advised to leave Phoebe with them so that she could get used to me not being there. I agree this was good advice, but when she was brought out to me after 20 minutes in floods of tears, the knot of guilt wrapped around me tightened into a vice.
My husband and I discussed changing our plans but ultimately we wanted to persevere, as we both wanted (and needed!) to work, and we felt nursery would become a positive influence for our daughter. For various reasons Phoebe will be an only child, so it was important for us that she socialised with other children on a regular basis.
So putting the guilt aside, we continued with the settling sessions and even booked a few extra hours to help Phoebe, and also for our own piece of mind. When the time came for her first day, I admit I had reservations and a little sob on my commute, but I put those aside to focus on the positives.
Yes, the early days of nursery were hard, but Phoebe really has flourished since going. Her walking and talking have developed, as well as her sense of humour and playful side, and her eating (including using cutlery). She also naps at nursery which she still refuses to do at home unless in the car or the pushchair, so this is also a hugely positive development. I’m hoping that she will eventually start to nap at home too, but perhaps that’s too much to wish for!
Nursery may not be right for every child, but for those parents who are worried about putting their child in childcare, I’m sure more often than not it will work out. Phoebe settled very quickly and seems to really enjoy the routine and the activities (some of which I would just never be able to do at home). And most nurseries are fine about parents getting in contact to find out how the day is going. Ours, and I’m sure lots of others, put updates and photos on a website which I can check throughout the day, and I find it really reassuring.
I still have days where I feel guilty, especially when people throw in ‘helpful’ comments about working mums, and ask if I wish I could stay at home with Phoebe every day, but overall I’m happy with the way things are. And as long as our family is, that’s really all that matters.
So I think the most important message is that however you choose to balance childcare with work, or whether you choose to be at home with your children every day, you are doing the best for your family. It is not for other people who don’t know your circumstances to judge. Be proud of your choices, and after all if you are happy, then this can only stand to have a positive effect on your children.
Sarah has been blogging for five years, focusing on food, drink and travel. She loves creating new recipes, but doesn’t like spending hours in the kitchen, so she’s always looking for quick, easy and healthy meals. She is a mum to a 16-month old daughter, and works in PR and communications. When she does get some free time she enjoys watching Netflix, drinking wine and eating cheese. Read more from her here or follow her on Twitter.