If you are currently on maternity leave and considering going back to work, how are you feeling about it? Certainly I was pretty mixed-up. On one hand, I looked forward to some time on my own and, to an extent, regaining my own identity. But maternal guilt also kicked in and I felt horribly conflicted about leaving my precious six month old.
I've worked both full and part-time since having my daughter and have learned a lot about myself and the work environment along the way. Even if you want to (or have to) go back full-time, becoming a mum is transforming. You ain't gonna be that single career gal again, so what can you expect as a career mum?
Many people choose to go back to work part-time to get a balance between their family commitments and need for additional income and/or the desire to have an independent life outside the home.
I went back part-time, moved to full-time and finally settled back to part-time because we found it worked best for our family. But it did throw up a number of issues that I hadn't expected...
Is part-time work right for you?
The starting point for going back to work is figuring out what you want. Given the new little person in your life, where do you want the pivot between work and family to rest? You may be really clear on that. You might have to go back to work for financial reasons but are happy for your career to take a backseat. You may know that your career is fundamental to your mental well-being. But equally, you might not know.
Identity for career women post-baby can be a real challenge as you get used to your new role as a mum. It was certainly something I struggled with for a while. I'd strongly advise being prepared to change your mind.
What felt like the right choice when you were pregnant may be different when you have a gurgling (or screaming) bundle in your arms.
A baby at 8 weeks is very different to one at 6, 9 or 12 months. Give yourself some time to get to know your baby and yourself as a mum.
Finding a successful part-time arrangement
How well part-time arrangements work depend very much on your company, your manager, your team and your role. It is worth considering your own situation before you decide on your preferred arrangement.
Some companies adjust better than others to having a part-timer in their midst. If a few other people have set a precedent, you will be in for an easier time. If you are able to negotiate a return role that suits a part-time resource, then it is likely your work arrangement will be much more successful.
Your experience will also be very different whether you choose to go back two, three or four days and whether you have a working from home arrangement. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, at four days, you are basically considered full-time and will be treated as such, whereas two days will render you significantly more invisible.
Part-time - the good, the bad and the ugly
Once you have decided on part-time, what can you expect? Well, it's different to full-time, but in what way will depend on all the variables I have talked about. I've found there are two main ways that part-time work can bite you on the bum. Of course you may have the role, company and boss that make the transition a dream, but your new arrangement may provoke a response that you didn't expect...
"What do you mean, you're part-time?"
People who are working three or four days in the office, in their pre-part-time roles and in environments (or for people) that don't support flexible working arrangements.
You work all hours, including evenings and on your days off, to keep up with a workload that hasn't been reduced to fit the time you have available. The benefits of this option are people don't really notice you are part-time and your career chugs along unaffected by your baby. But inevitably this will mean more of a juggle for you and may impact the amount of time you can spend with your child.
Outsourcing as much as you can on the home front will help - a cleaner, internet shopping and/or very motivated partner are highly recommended.
It may also be possible to negotiate some financial compensation for the extra work you do. Getting paid for the couple of hours you spend taking phone calls on your days out of the office can take the sting out of it.
"Who are you?"
People working in the office only one or two days a week.
You just work the hours you are paid to do. You can enjoy some intellectual stimulation, an uninterrupted coffee and a degree of financial independence, as well as spend quality time with your baby. However, despite company claims to the contrary, for many women this approach will mean, if not career death, at least a career coma. Of course this is very dependant on your industry and individual company, but it is wise to expect a degree of invisibility if you are not in the office everyday.
How happy you are with this inevitably depends on how ambitious you are and how important your career is to you. Initially I found it very confronting, but I became more comfortable as I reassessed my values and what I wanted out of life. I hope you are smarter than me and have that more sussed!
What do you think? If you are working part-time already, what has been your experience? I'd love to hear your views…
Laura Bishop is the Director of Little Bird Nanny Share. She spent 15 years in corporate life, and returned to work when her daughter was six months old. She has worked both full and part-time since then. The significant challenges for women returning to work after having children prompted Laura to set up Little Bird Nanny Share to reduce stress for working parents. Little Bird provides handpicked nannies and personally matches like-minded families to share their cost.
Follow Laura’s blog at www.little-bird.com.au/blog