Work it Out

After baby arrives, many new mums wrestle with themselves over the issue of returning to work. Read on to figure out whether you should stay home or leave the nest – and how to survive, either way.

By Christina Ching
Mother & Baby Singapore

Anne Tan had it all neatly planned. A corporate communicatons manager at age 30, she would go back to work after baby Zhi Xiong was born. With their dual incomes, she and her husband would have enough to buy their dream apartment in two years. But things didn’t turn out that way.
When Anne returned to work after her maternity leave, she was wracked with guilt since she was not with her son. The work that was once so important to her now felt like a chore, since it prevented her from spending time with her baby. The Tans put their housing dreams on hold when Anne quit her job to be a stay-at-home mum to Zhi Xiong.
Accountant Adeline Chua, 34, enjoys the challenges of work, as well as talking shop with her colleagues. But one day, when her mother called her excitedly to tell her that her daughter, Amelia, had said her first “Ma Ma”, she hid in the toilet and cried because she had missed this milestone.

The right choice
Whether or not to return to work is a very personal decision every mother has to make. Whateve your choice, something’s got to give. The goal is to find the balance that works for you – most of the time anyway. But how do you know what’s best for you? Read on to find out if you should put on the power suit or embrace the baby carrier:

MONEY What would the extra income mean to your family if you go back to work? How would it affect your savings and financial goals? If necessary, make a chart of your monthly expenses to see how you spend your money and where you can save. If you don’t go back to work, can you manage financially? Can you and your husband make do with less? Make some changes to your lifestyle now to see if you can live with fewer luxuries. Also, consider this scenario – what would happen if your husband lost his job and you weren’t working? Do you have enough savings to last a year while he looks for a new job?
IDENTITY How would you feel introducing yourself as a stay-at-home mum? Are you excited about spending your days with your baby? Do you need a regular job to feel fulfilled? Will you feel comfortable spending money that only you have earned?
SHARING RESONSIBILITIES If you choose to work outside the home, to what extent will your husband share childcare and household responsibilities? Or will you end up feeling like you are handling two full-time jobs?
CHILDCARE If you plan to return to work, have you checked out various childcare arrangements? More importantly, would you be comfortable leaving your baby in another person’s care – whether it’s Grandma, the maid, a nanny or at a childcare centre?
CAREER FLEXIBILITY Will your employer allow you time off it there is a childcare crisis, or to leave early for a parent –teacher meeting? Are you able to do some of your work from home? What other options can you create? Should you ask your boss for reduced hours? Can you work part-time at another job, or what about temp work? If you stop work for a year, can you re-enter the workforce easily?

Back to work
Whether you choose to work full-time, part-time, or not at all, you’ll need to make peace with your decision. If you return to work, look at options that help you balance work and family responsibilities, such as part-time, flexi-work, and work-from-home arrangements. Of course, it won’t help you to resolve any emotional struggles as you may face when you have to juggle home and the workplace.

Are you suffering from new-mum guilt? Many women end up feeling in adequate by trying to be perfect mothers and model employees. By working, you may think that you’re abandoning your child. Conversely, you don’t feel committed enough to your career.
THE SOLUTION Guilt is a sign that something’s out of balance. Sit down and figure out what needs specific attention, then find a solution that works.
“Deal with the smaller problems, and solve the solvable ones first,” suggest M&B expert Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital. For example, if you feel like your job is going well but you’re not spending enough time with your baby, move her bedtime back a bit. If you feel like you’re neglecting your relationship with your husband, block out some couple time each week. Remind yourself that by working, you can make life better for your family – whether by fulfilling your goals, earning extra money, or by being a role model for your children. Sit down and write out how your work improves your family’s quality of life. When you see it in black and white, you’ll feel better about the decisions you’ve made.
MUMS LIKE YOU You’re probably all too familiar with the term “quality time”, but to make your new life work, you need to take this concept to heart. “Every morning before leaving for the office, and every night before my daughters’ bedtime, we’ll spend an hour cuddling and chatting,”, says Zhuang Wei Ting, 36, journalist and mum to Faith, 2 and Leia, 4. “These precious moments strengthen our bond and help me reconnect with the joys of motherhood.”

In order to feel like you’re a full-time parent and a career woman, you may need to take on a less stressful job or stop working overtime, so that you can spend more time with your family. Consider switching to a job with fewer hours, which may come with fewer perks or benefits. Of course, if you’ve always been a high achiever, this can make you feel like you’ve been demoted.
THE SOLUTION Shrug off these feelings by taking stock of what it means to be a top performer in your field. You may be competing with people who are willing to work 24/7, but this isn’t exactly family-friendly!
“The game has changed, so don’t beat yourself up,” Dr Wang advises. Instead, he suggests that you work smart, prioritise your tasks, and think of ways to contribute at work without needling to sacrifice time with you mini-me. And don’t underestimate your (multitasking) mettle – the pull of a baby waiting for you at home can make you twice as productive!
MUMS LIKE YOU “Pre-baby, I used to take an afternoon break with my colleagues to unwind. But when you’re eager to get home before your children go to bed, gossiping around the water cooler now seems like a waste of time! These days, I even work through my lunch hour, so I can go home on time,” says Carol Low, 38, civil servant and mum to Jonas, 1 and Joel, 6.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to ensure that your work schedule, household tasks and family responsibilities run like clockwork. In the beginning, you may feel like nothing and nobody is getting the proper amount of attention. And just when you think you have it all together, our baby changes his sleep pattern or your babysitter falls sick!
THE SOLUTION “Cut yourself some slack,” advises Dr Wang. “Put things in perspective and prioritise – some things are not that important, so don’t overburden yourself.”
Bear in mind that being a working mother is a new job in itself, so it takes time to work out the kinks. Smooth the transition by getting your husband to help and preparing your boss for the fact that you’ll have the occasional childcare crisis.
Most importantly, compartmentalise, Dr Wang suggests. When you’re at work, get your mind off your kids; at home, unplug from work. This way, you’ll not shortchange work or family.
MUMS LIKE YOU “Sometimes, when I’m playing with Alicia, my thoughts drift to work and I’ll stop myself and say, ‘I need to focus on playing, not the e-mail I just sent,” says finance manager Tricia Ng, 33, mum to Alicia, 3 months.

Staying at home
The switch to full-time motherhood can be just as tricky, and unlike a regular job, no one will show you the ropes. And though you may be delighted that you’re caring for your baby 24/7, being a full-time mum – the bonus being a gummy grin rather than a princely pay cheque – is a far cry from being in the office.

Frustrated. Baby and family duties and establishing some semblance of order in your household is a completely different way of life from the corporate cut and thrust. At some point, you may decide that staring at your computer all day is preferable to folding laundry and watching Hi-5 on DVD for the nth time!
THE SOLUTION If you’re going to make in Mummyvile, you’ll need to find ways to feel stimulated mentally. This may mean getting a babysitter, so that you can take a muay thai or a Malay class. Or why not try volunteer work, putting the skills you’ve learnt in your previous jobs to good use, Dr Wang suggests.
“Remember, you’re not a maid! If you feel like what you’re doing is very mundane, talk to your husband about getting part-time help to do the chores,” he adds. “And learn to live with some mess, like Lego bricks on the floor!”
If you miss the structure of a work schedule and the camaraderie of colleagues – not to mention the easy access to adult conversation – create your own system to meet these needs. Why not reconnect with women you met in prenatal class or chat with other stay-at-home mums at the playground? Schedule regular activities that anchor your day – such as exercising, reading the newspaper, or going to the supermarket. In no time, being a stay-at-home mum will start feeling like a full-time job!
MUMS LIKE YOU “One day, when I’ve had enough of talking to no one but a tiny being who only says, ‘Goo’, I signed us up for a baby yoga class. Now I have weekly lunches with the other mums whom I met at the class. It’s saved my sanity – having grown-ups to talk to about babies, movies and food!” says Hew Yee May, 32, mum to Hui-en, 1.

Find yourself yearning for some juicy water cooler gossip? You don’t have to suffer in silence.
THE SOLUTION Stay in touch with your colleagues. If you let a year go by without a call, you’ll fall out of the loop. Send out a casual e-mail or pick up the phone every few months to let your colleagues know what you’re up to. Why not make a lunch date, or even better, drop by your former workplace with the baby? It’s also smart to keep up with all the changes taking place in your profession, so that when it’s time to resume work, you won’t feel so lost.
MUMS LIKE YOU “I meet up for monthly drinking sessions with a bunch of lawyer friends to catch up on gossip and developments in the profession. Though I’m not practising at the moment, hopefully I won’t feel so out of touch if I go back to work later,” says May Lee, 33, mum to Marie, 6 months and Michael, 3.

You used to get recognition for our achievements at work. As a homemaker, with no one observing your day-to-day achievements and praising your efforts, it’s hard getting a real measure of your success.
THE SOLUTION To feel better about yourself, experts recommend putting things in perspective. Write a list of the things that made work important to you, then write down all the things that make parenting meaningful. How do they compare? You may be surprised to find that they’re similar.
Also, look for role models who are in the same position as you are – think about what they do that earns your respect. If you’re doing the same kinds of things, aren’t you equally worthy of admiration?
Dr Wang agress, “The formative years – from your child’s birth to his teens – are when values, morals and character are shaped. As a stay-at-home mum, you play a critical role in helping your child grow up to be a good person – since you’re his mentor and role model.”
MUMS LIKE YOU “Whenever I feel unappreciated, I think about how my fondest childhood memories are of the simplest things my mum did for me – like tying my hair in plaits, standing outside my school with an umbrella on rainy days, and making my favourite half-boiled egg, toast and Milo breakfast!” says Lindsey Tay, 29, mum to Kayla, 8 months.

Making it work
Having a child changes who you are, so be prepared to uncover new attitudes, goals and dreams for yourself and your family. And remember that no two mothers are the same. One mum may love being with her baby 24/7, while for another, going to work helps her to become a better parent.
It may well happen that what seems like the “right” decision initially may feel wrong afterwards. Remember: Whatever your decision, you can always change your mind – so, as you go through this exciting and challenging stage of life, continue to have conversations about your career choices with your husband.

”For more advice on how to cope with career and children, check out Make It Work in every issue of Mother & Baby Singapore, out now!”

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