By Meri Levy, MFT
Regardless of what you decided about working after the birth of your baby, facing the reality of going back to work or staying at home once the baby is born can be a very stressful time. Many moms, even those who were certain that they wanted to return to work after their maternity leave, have very conflicting feelings about the reality of returning to work. And some moms who always planned on staying home after having children face unexpected emotional challenges in facing the reality of looking toward a future at home full-time with their child.
What is hard to anticipate when considering the decision to work or stay at home before the baby is born is how big a loss either decision represents. For moms returning to work, it is common to feel:
- An enormous sense of loss associated with leaving your baby in another’s care
- A concern that her child will be irreparably harmed by the separation from you
- Anxiety about being away from your baby and having your baby’s care outside of your control
- An unexpectedly strong desire to quit your job and stay home with your baby
- Guilt associated with having a desire to return to work or resentment at having to go back to work
- A feeling that you must rush through your workday to return to your baby as quickly as possible, for fear your baby will forget you, or you will miss important moments.
For moms choosing to stay at home, it is common to feel:
- An unexpected sense of loss associated with no longer receiving the validation of purpose that is so often gained by outside work and receiving a paycheck
- A sense of vulnerability associated with being dependent upon their partner’s income
- Guilt associated with conflicting feelings about leaving the work world
- Boredom with the tasks of mothering and loneliness, especially in the early months before the baby becomes more interactive and you find activities you enjoy with your baby
- Loneliness and isolation associated with being at home with a small baby, especially before you connect with other new mothers at home with their babies.
These feelings can be very confusing, and new moms often struggle with the decision regardless of what their prior plans were. As a new mom, your entire world has changed, your priorities have shifted, and your now occupies a huge place in your heart. It can be a struggle to align the new role of motherhood with the values you previously held. Many moms change course and decide to stay home despite having planned to return to work, or choose to go back to work full or part-time despite planning to remain at home. Financial considerations play a big role in this decision, as does the developing relationship with your baby, your own clarification of your needs and wants, and your relationship with your partner.
Many mothers seek therapy during this time. Getting help to clarify your feelings about returning to work, exploring alternative work arrangements or more flexible careers, and getting validation for your choices can make this difficult time of transition go smoother. Whether you ultimately decide to stay at home for now or return to work, making decisions from a place of self-compassion, and understanding that there is no one “right” answer can allow you the freedom to honor who you are and who you are becoming.