Returning to work part time after maternity leave – the pros and cons

It can’t be denied that there are some serious benefits of working three days a week. But it’s also a little strange and does have its drawbacks.

Before I had LP, I was busy climbing the career ladder and enjoying hectic agency life. Yes, sometimes I felt like my life was passing by in a blur of meetings, PowerPoint decks, team drinks and never quite feeling that I had enough time to do everything in my schedule. When I found out I was pregnant, it was quite a shock, because I’d always planned to work part time once I had children, and I thought I couldn’t continue to climb the ladder and do the job I was doing unless it was full time.

My husband and I had been saying we’d have children “in a couple of years” for more than a couple of years. Having LP was an interruption when I didn’t even realise I really needed one.

Ironically I was promoted whilst I was still on maternity leave (well, they changed my job title to “Senior”) and happily I was included in the annual payrises. So in terms of progression, I still seem to be doing pretty well on part time! I’d be the first to admit that I work at a great company who are committed to investing in people. I also know that I’m lucky to have been “allowed” to come back part time in the first place – employers have to consider it but there’s no legal obligation in the UK for them to agree to revised hours. I’m sure other companies are very different. But I’m glad I did receive those recognitions, because as a working mum, I feel like I’m working harder than ever!

Are you trying to decide what to do? Hesitating over that request to your line manager for part time hours? Here’s my list of pros and cons, if it helps:

Pros of working part time after maternity leave

  • The main, fabulous and not to be underestimated pro: that you get to spend more time with your tiny human being, continuing to be the main person raising them, continuing to mother close to the same way you were on maternity leave
  • Having four successive days off means that, even if work has been stressful in the week, there’s enough time to truly unwind before going back
  • The sense of perspective helps with attitude to work. Just having a little bit more time to think about how to solve problems has helped both my stress levels and creativity
  • Feeling more productive. Nowadays I’m at my desk at 8.30am, a full half hour earlier than I would have been pre-baby! That enables me to get a jump-start on the day. Plus I feel less distracted and tempted by social media since my time there is limited
  • Being able to enjoy being back at work. I’m used to being busy and packing tasks into my working day. Maternity leave was a grinding gear change that I never quite got used to – I was so busy but my days felt like they were in structural freefall compared to work. I like being around my team and I like getting things done for clients
  • A feeling of vindication when you see how much people struggled with the amount of work you were doing before leaving for baby – and a sense of relief that you aren’t doing as much now! Is that schadenfreude?
  • The money. Obvs.

Cons of working part time after having a baby

    • The 6.30am starts.   I used to roll out of bed at 7.45am some days, to get into work for 9am. Early starts will never come easily to me, but if I didn’t make the effort there would be a lot more stress and running around in the mornings, which I do not want
    • Feeling a little bit excluded from the full time team comaradarie. Small but crucial pieces of information missed because a meeting was held on a day I wasn’t there. Missing out on late evening chats, when people let their guard down a bit more, because I need to rush off to childcare
    • The need to check emails more out-of-hours, because everyone is in when you are not and if you don’t, valuable time will be lost playing catch-up the next day
    • A slight feeling of lowered confidence because I used to be in the heart of all the work and the go-to person. I still am the go-to person for people who are glad to have me back, but I’m forced to pass them on to my full time team members because my part time schedule means I can’t always help
    • The 8pm email checks where you find out something hasn’t gone according to plan. The sense of dread at not knowing whether others handled it and it was okay, or you are in for a shit storm in the morning. Granted, there has only been one instance like this, but I have a tendency to sometimes read the negative into emails
    • The extra life admin and prep, prep, prep. Making sure the baby’s bag is packed for childcare, planning your outfits, washing bottles, getting up early, getting baby fed and clothed, taking them to childcare, paying for the childcare. This is on top of the additional work you get once you have a child – cooking, cleaning, laundry, feeding, bathing, changing.  It does make one pine for the days when the only job you had to do once you got home was open a much-needed bottle of wine. That last one still happens, but much later in the evening, once baby is in bed. That’s just life with a baby though. That’s the joy of parenthood.

It seems that for every pro there is a con, but the pros of returning to work part time after maternity leave outweigh the cons in terms of worthiness for me. For me, at the end of the day, work will always be there, but my child will only be this small once. I want to be there to help him achieve his firsts, teach him, feed him and help him grow.

I am planning on increasing my work hours to four days a week though. Call me a glutton for punishment if you like. Every parent around the world has to balance work and family life and it’s not until you have a child that you realise how demanding it is in real terms.

Please don’t think I’m insensitive to the plight of people who have no choice but to work full time, or those for whom returning to work would be the ideal but the cost of childcare means it doesn’t make financial sense. I know I was lucky in being able to choose and I wish everyone the best luck if their situations are different.

All kinds of arrangements work really well.

But for the others out there, trying to decide what the best thing is to do or how hard they should push for their request for part time hours to be approved, I hope this is useful.

Knowing me, once I’m at four days a week, I’ll be pining for three again.

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