Talk To Me: I'd love to stay at home and take care of my baby but can't afford to  

Psychologist Caroline Martin is here to answer your questions on whatever issues you are dealing with in life, from work pressure and stress to loneliness and grief
Talk To Me: I'd love to stay at home and take care of my baby but can't afford to  

Pic: iStock

My baby is eight months old and I’m due to return to work soon. I used to love my job and went over and beyond to keep my bosses happy but my priorities have changed and I’ll no longer be in a position to work long hours. The truth is I’d love to stay at home and rear my child, just like my mother did, but it’s not financially viable. My partner says this is a temporary phase and my baby and I will adjust.

Congratulations on your new baby. The first few months can feel like a whirlwind and you are now finding your groove and settling into a routine. 

It may feel cruel to uproot you and your baby. With this relatively sudden shift in priorities, it is normal to have conflicting emotions.

It can be difficult to wrap your head around this big change and ensuing ripple effects, never mind trying to articulate thoughts, feelings and sensations coherently to someone who may also be grappling with their new role. 

Take time to chat with friends and family. When our role changes it can be disorienting and it can help to connect with others in the same position. This explains why ‘mammy and me’ groups are so popular.

I suggest you link with a group in your area. They are usually open to newcomers and many of us find new friendships there that last a lifetime. 

Within this context, you are likely to discover you are not alone, that it is normal to feel the way you do. You can learn from others in the group about how they plan to juggle the new demands of motherhood and work. 

Some will likely have adopted the ‘it takes a village’ mantra, enlisting the support of extended family and friends along with formal childcare arrangements.

Others will have identified a plethora of financial sacrifices to accommodate a part-time job rather than a full-time one.

Take the opportunity to listen to the experiences of the other mothers actively. Try to remain curious rather than looking for confirmation of your preferred plan. 

Use this space to talk about your situation and allow your thoughts to evolve over time. We can learn a surprising amount about ourselves when we spend time listening and being with others. 

Other parents can offer advice and emotional support when you return to work, sharing their wisdom from experience.

Caroline Martin, psychologist. Photograph Moya Nolan
Caroline Martin, psychologist. Photograph Moya Nolan

Communicate openly with your husband. He too is adjusting to this new reality and the idea that you might be proposing an alternative course to the one the two of you agreed before the baby arrived might be causing him alarm. 

When a major change occurs, we tend to reach for whatever feels certain to reassure ourselves that we will be okay. Your husband may have assumed that your returning to work full-time was a certainty.

Having an open and honest conversation about your desire to stay at home and the financial realities that make that challenging is crucial. Take time to explore potential compromises that address both needs.

Contact your workplace and investigate if there are flexible work options. Companies are increasingly aware of the need to accommodate parents rather than losing them to absenteeism or presenteeism. 

A conversation with your HR department might reveal options for hybrid or remote working or flexible work hours. You may advocate for onsite childcare facilities if they don’t already exist.

Eliminating commute time could greatly help you to manage work and parenting demands. Be clear in your communications with your line manager. 

You may not be able to work long hours as before, but it doesn’t mean you can’t excel in your job. Set realistic goals that accommodate your new responsibilities and be open about your needs and limitations.

You may discover that your partner’s workplace has more benefits for working parents. Would you consider your partner taking the lead caregiver role while you transition back to work?

As you return to work in whatever guise, prioritise quality bonding time with your baby when you are not at the office. Fully experience the joy of motherhood. 

I encourage you to write a journal during this period, even brief entries noting a meaningful moment will boost your resilience. This may mean laundry and household chores don’t get done or at least don’t get done to the standard you might have before. That’s OK.

It is critical you keep space for self-care in this transition. Do not prioritise a clean house over your physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. 

Find time to do the things that make your heart sing. Remember, your wellbeing greatly enhances your ability to be an effective parent and employee.

Whatever decision you and your partner make, build in a review period to reassess how the arrangement is working for you and your baby. Scheduling this review at the outset will give you added security and signals to your husband that this arrangement is not a certainty. 

Keeping an open mind allows you both to make adjustments if needed.

By making choices that are aligned with your shared values your relationship will be strengthened, setting the context for your child to thrive.

Take care. 

  • If you have a question for psychologist Caroline Martin, please send it to feelgood@examiner.ie 

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