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To Work or Not to Work: What Will You Do After Baby Comes?

Parenthood brings endless choices. How to navigate your career may be one of toughest.

The New-Mom Dilemma continued...

She says the decision about going back to work after having a baby depends on several factors, including the availability and quality of external support, financial constraints, and emotional readiness to either stay at home or work outside the house.

"It doesn't do children much good if you stay home and are angry and feel guiltily," she says. "It also doesn't do much good if you go to work thinking you are supposed to be home full time."

It's OK to stay at home, Stuart says, even if it is at odds with your professional training. It's also OK even though you feel an obligation to the women of your generation and the next. And, "If you go to work and are unhappy there," she says, "that's not great for kids either."

Maternal Conflict

"Women focus on 'Should I work or shouldn't I work,'" Stuart says. "At the same time, they are less aware of their own anxieties about becoming mothers in first the place." She says the conflict over going to work has a lot to do with a fundamental anxiety: "Will I be a good mother?"

A lot of this anxiety may stem from a new mom's relationship with her own mother. "If your relationship with your own mother is troubled," Stuart says, "you will feel quite anxious as a mother. And you will focus that anxiety on the question of working or staying at home."

Mommy Wars

Another issue facing both moms who go back to work and moms who choose to stay at home is how other moms perceive them.

"It's important to keep in mind that the people making judgments are conflicted," Stuart says. "This is such a polarizing issue because everybody feels conflicted." For example, she says, "If you decide to stay home full time and not work, you take great pains to defend that position. One way to do this is to demonize someone who has made another decision. Women who do work and pass judgment on women who don't are trying as best they can to manage their own guilt and anxiety about what they are giving up."

Above all, try not to take it personally.

Some women may not have a choice about going back to work after having a baby, Atlanta psychotherapist Joyce Morley-Ball says.

"You have to determine if it is more cost-effective for mom to stay home or go back to work," Morley-Ball says. "A family in a higher socioeconomic class can choose. Those with a lower socioeconomic status may not have a choice."

Another issue is the quality of child care that is available. Morley-Ball says it's important for the mom to consider whether she can accept the type of care that's there. Breastfeeding can also be an issue for a mom who goes back to work.

There is no right or wrong answer, she says. "It depends on the needs of the family."

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