Mums, Are You Sure You Can’t Afford to Return to Work?

Disclaimer: This post is not an attempt to persuade mothers that they should be in paid work, or a suggestion that this is in any way better than staying at home. For what it’s worth, I have been a stay-at-home mum for most of my parenting ‘career’. This is aimed at stay-at-home parents who are considering the alternatives but have barriers in their way.

Earlier this week, I read an article which inspired me to expand on the subject some more. It is pretty pertinent to me right now, as I have just accepted a job where – in the short term – the majority of my salary* will go straight back out on childcare expenses for my four children. Though it may sound like madness to some (and perhaps even bad mothering to others), there are a number of reasons why this was the best decision for us at this time.

Here are some points to consider when weighing up the true cost of going back to work:

Who is really paying?

First and possibly the most important point, which the other article also touches on, is that the notion that “childcare comes out of my wages” (as a mum) is symptomatic of the gender-unequal society in which we live. *I am guilty of this myself, as you can see in my introductory paragraph. I still use the words “my salary is going back out on…” when in reality it is our combined salary that pays for the childcare. This assumes that the reason a woman might want to work is for monetary gain only; thus, if it cannot be shown to add net financial gain, it is worthless. It ignores the many other reasons a human might want or need to work.

What else do you stand to gain?

For many, the benefits of working stretch far beyond the bank balance. If this is the case for you, make sure to take this into account when doing your cost-benefit analysis.

I know it is intangible and difficult to put a price tag on some of these things, but one thing I would urge you is not to let the guilt over what you think you should be doing stand in your way. There is a school of thought that says mums should stay at home with their children if they possibly can, like they did in the ‘old days’, but research shows that parents spend a great deal more time with their children in 2017 than they did 50 years ago. The pressures of modern motherhood are very different to the times when the village raised the kids and children were safe to play out alone all day.

It’s okay to value your independence. It’s okay to want to spend time apart from your kids. It’s okay to feel like this makes you a better parent. It’s okay to not want to spend all day dealing with tantrums, shitty nappies and housework. It’s okay to want to engage in continuing professional development and not let your career slide down the pan. It’s okay to want something new. It’s okay to want to be called something other than Mum (or Dad!) for part of the day.

None of those things mean you are putting your kids second, or that your priorities are wrong. It’s about finding balance, and that looks different for everyone.

Consider the long term, not just the now

When thinking about your earnings, try to step out of the hour-to-hour picture, and think to the future. When your kids are in school, or receive preschool funding (in some countries), then your childcare costs will drop. Consider whether staying in the picture in the short term will improve your long term financial prospects. From experience, I found the longer I spent out of the workplace, the harder it was to get back in. This would be especially true for careers requiring an upkeep of CPD.

If, like me, you are a younger parent who did not have the benefit of a decade or so of career-building before you started your family, the missing work experience can make things even tougher. If you want to work but find it doesn’t balance well in the short term after childcare is factored in, you could view the earlier period as an internship, just as a student might embark on after leaving uni, to accumulate valuable experience for the future.

If the only reason you want to work is because you need the money…

…and if otherwise you would happily stay at home, then – if the cost of childcare virtually negates your salary – perhaps in the short term it does not make financial sense. That’s okay, too.

Before ruling it out all together, however, look into whether you are eligible for any kind of government financial assistance for childcare, or consider using your time at home to upskill with training courses or even a degree, which may lead to higher earning potential in the long term. Alternatively, you could also become your own boss and work from home, which can be an awesome option for people with young children. There are countless opportunities for parents to make money outside of regular employment.

*****

I strongly believe all parents – male or female, young or old – should have the opportunity to work if it is important for their personal identity. Where do you stand? Have you faced any barriers that aren’t covered here? Post in the comments and we’ll see if we can help.

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