Returning to work after children

Parents, and in particular mothers, returning to work undergo a difficult transition. Having just adjusted (or in the process of still adjusting) to having an addition to the family, social and personal influences often generate pressure for parents to return to work quickly. This may include financial need, anxiety about faltering in one’s career ‘ladder’, or escape from parenting expectations. This drive to return to work may be met with barriers or tensions such as abandonment guilt, expectation for mothers to parent, anxiety about being unable to meet family/work commitments, lost confidence, and skill decay or obsolescence (Noble, 1993).

Beutell and Wittig-Berman (2008) found in their study of 7056 men and women that conflict between work & family is a strong predictor of mental health issues and the desire for synergy between the two roles is perceived as an important factor for parents returning to work. Ayree & Luk (1996) identified that ‘work-family balance’ is achieved when an individual is able to satisfactorily manage the time commitments and tasks of raising children whilst maintaining and developing a career.

These concepts portray an ideal or goal for parent’s returning to work, however, for many parents finding this ‘work-family balance’ is not a smooth process. For some, expectations (from self or employer) may be that the individual should return to full-time employment and available career options may not possess the flexibility to ‘balance’ work and family roles. This may necessitate a career change with a shift in occupation to another that may be unrelated to their previous occupation. Often solutions arise from compromise of either work or family, and may mean the use of child-care, care from extended family, part-time work, voluntary work, or long-term unemployment (Ayree & Luk, 1996)

Aryee, S. & Luk, V. (1996). Balancing two major parts of adult life experience: Work and family identity among dual-earner couples. Human Relations, 49, 465-487

Beutell, N.J. & Wittig-Berman, U. (2008). Work-family conflict and work-family synergy for generation X, baby boomers, and matures. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23 (5), 507-523.

Noble, B. (1993). At work; infant bonding and guilty mothers. New York Times, pp. A.25-A.25.

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