In an ideal world, most new mothers would elect to stay at home with their babies for a period of time that they choose, secure in the knowledge that they had the financial support to do so.
Unfortunately for many, this is not a reality, and while our maternity leave policy is better than some countries, it is of course still worse than others. Most new mothers will return to the world of paid work at some time or another. Some straight after maternity leave, others after a career break or time spent at home.
This decision to re-enter the paid workforce is a difficult and complex one.
After any period out of work, returning can be daunting. Especially when you consider the expense of childcare and the see-saw of trying to find a balance between having a career and still being around for your new responsibilities as a parent.
Some companies are really flexible and willing to consider part-time, term-time work or new start and end times to facilitate childcare drop offs and pickups. Other companies are not.
I have seen countless friends over the years change careers at this stage or set up business on their own as they seek to find a balance between staying with their children and a career that offers the flexibility they now need as a parent.
Some manage this transition back to paid employment like an expert. Others less so, plagued by feelings of doubt in their decisions and abilities after a period out of the workforce. Deciding to leave your child with another person is a big decision. How do you know they will look after your child well? How do you know that they will bring them up like you would do?
The bitter truth is you don’t. Not really, but you have to trust your gut. Sometimes a person can have all the FETAC qualifications in the world but they might not be the right minder for you or your child.
Some parents feel more at ease in a structured setting and go down the formal crèche route. This can be expensive but it offers security knowing that the crèche will always be open to mind your child even if their primary care giver is sick.
Having this cover means that you have stability, but you also have the crèche structure and other children there so attention is divided between your child and others in the room. Some kids thrive in this busy environment, others can rebel against the structure when they are young.
Some parents prefer a home setting to meet their childcare needs. Perhaps an au-pair or a childminder.
Again, this can have advantages and disadvantages. Over the years I have seen many au pairs of friends come and go, some at short notice. I have also seen some become integrated into the family so much that they end up becoming like an extended aunt and even holiday with the family out of term time.
Childminders can be a good option, but don’t overlook minders that come recommended just because they are not registered. Listen to your child and to your intuition.
Try if possible to get a recommendation or at least find some common ground with your minder. Do you move in the same circles or know the same people? Do you live close by? Sometimes, the woman you meet at the school gates might be just the right person to help mind your child.
As can the person who works part-time but may do opposite hours to you. Perhaps you could offer to mind her children 2.5 days a week and she does the same for you? Maybe you could share drop offs or pick-ups to help lighten the load?
For some, family support can seem like the ideal option. If you have the help and support of siblings, your own parents or in-laws this is great, but please do not consider this as a long term option.
Often family are happy to help out initially, but the reality of childcare day in day out, even for those we love, can be exhausting. If you are considering this as an option, maybe look into local playgroups as well or structured play sessions. This can give a welcome reprieve to the minder or a few hours to themselves in what can sometimes seem a very long day.
No one will replace you, but find a good child minder you can rely and trust and they will become a valued source of solace during the rocky child rearing years. A solid reliable childcare arrangement allows you to focus on being a good parent and being able to work, without the constant worry of the care of your child.
Choose the childcare arrangement that works for your family. Not what other people tell you to do.
Only you know what works best for you, no matter how unconventional that may be to others.