Are you about to become a working mum for the first time? Then you might be wondering how you’ll manage to juggle family life and a successful career. Don’t despair, as we’ve come up with a toolbox of tips that will smooth your return to employment and help your family to flourish.
Tip 1 – Request flexible work
The realities of parenthood can come as a shock, so if you want to return to your old job but you wish the hours were a little more family friendly, why not talk to your boss about working flexibly?
Flexible working opportunities include:
If flexible working sounds like the ideal solution for your family, check that you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks before approaching them. You’re entitled to put in a statutory request once a year and although the process can take up to fourteen weeks, your boss has to consider your request. They can’t refuse without a good reason but if they do, you can appeal.
If you haven’t reached the 26-week point, you can still make a non-statutory request in writing. You could also check whether your employer runs their own flexible working scheme, as this may be open to all employees.
Tip 2 – Make the most of childcare options
Whether they work flexitime or full time, most working mothers need help with childcare at some point. Unless you’re lucky enough to have support from your wider family, this will mean paying for a nursery, childminder or after school club.
There’s no need to feel guilty about using childcare services, as research shows that kids who receive high-quality childcare have better social, emotional and cognitive development than their peers. However, you do need to organise a place well ahead, as some nurseries and play schemes have long waiting lists.
Regulated by Ofsted, day nurseries provide full- time or part- time care for babies and young children. Open between 7am and 7pm, they usually offer a settling in period and subsidised fees for children over three.
Once your child is three they’re eligible to join a nursery class at one of your local primary schools. They’ll normally be offered a morning or afternoon session, although some nurseries do offer full- time places. While school-based nurseries are free to attend most only provide care during school hours, so if you have a full-time job you may need a childminder to cover the after-school period.
Regulated by Ofsted, childminders offer safe, affordable childcare in their own home. Most are extremely flexible, dropping off and picking up children from particular schools, as well as cooking their tea and taking them on outings. Interested? Contact your local children’s information service for a list of local childminders.
If you like the idea of your child being cared for in their own home you could employ a nanny. While they don’t have to be Ofsted registered, nannies do need a childcare qualification and many choose to register with Ofsted voluntarily. Costs vary depending on whether your nanny lives in or not, but as an employer, you’ll need to contribute towards national insurance, as well as providing holiday and sick pay.
After School Clubs
If your child is at primary school you might need to use them before or after school club. Most clubs provide breakfast or light tea and some also organise play schemes during the school holidays. If your school doesn’t do this, there are plenty of private holiday play schemes to choose from.
In the term after your child turns three, they become eligible for a subsidy which entitles them to a free school nursery place or 570 hours of childcare with an approved provider. This is usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks, but you can take fewer hours over more weeks if you prefer. If you and your partner work for at least sixteen hours a week, you may even be eligible for thirty hours of free weekly childcare.
And there’s more! Tax credits are also available for working parents whose earnings fall below a particular threshold. To see whether you’re eligible, simply check out government’s tax credits calculator.
Child Tax Credit
Limited to your first two children, this is worth up to £2,780 per child depending on your income, the number of children living with you and whether you use childcare. There’s an additional premium for disabled children.
Working Tax Credit
This tops up your earnings if you’re employed or self-employed but on a low income. To receive the basic payment of £1960 you’ll need to be working a minimum number of hours depending on your age. You’ll then be awarded extra elements depending on your income, the hours you work, whether you have children and whether you pay for childcare.
It’s also worth checking whether your employer runs a childcare voucher scheme. For a slight reduction in salary, you could avoid paying tax or NI on a large chunk of your weekly childcare costs.
Tip 3- Consider self-employment
If you find that going out to work has lost its appeal now that you’re a parent, why not consider becoming your own boss? According to Sara Guiel, director of The Mumpreneurs Networking Club, improvements in technology have “revolutionised what can be achieved from a laptop and a kitchen table.”
Part-time self-employed women in the UK
Full-time self-employed women in the UK
We’re not saying that homeworking is an easy option, as the school holidays can be particularly challenging for self-employed mums. You’ll need to become an expert at multitasking, but the flexibility you’ll enjoy will enable you to attend every school assembly and nativity play.
Business opportunities for stay-at-home mums:
After you’ve started working for yourself you have three months to register with HMRC, who will ask you to submit an annual tax return.
Tip 4 – Keep track of family life
Whether you opt for employment or self-employment, the key to a harmonious home is organisation. Here are five simple suggestions that will help you to keep track of your family’s commitments.
Once you’ve recorded everything, you’ll know exactly when you’re available for other appointments and social events. Don’t feel that you have to fill every slot with activities though, as everyone needs a little spontaneity in their life!
Tip 5 – Keep track of family life
Returning to work can be tiring but planning ahead will help, particularly when it comes to cooking healthy meals. To save time during the week why not batch cook a few sauces and soups to keep in the freezer? You could even get to grips with a slow cooker and arrive home to a heavenly aroma.
If food is available at work you could save time and energy by eating your main meal there. Private nurseries and childminders will feed your little one, and there’s always the option of paying for school dinners once they’re older.
Finding time to buy groceries can also be tricky when you’re working, so how about trying online shopping? To save money, you can either choose late night slots or buy a pass that entitles you to free delivery all week. Once you’ve registered you can speed up the process by creating a list of your favourite products.
However organised you are, don’t try to run the household by yourself. Get your child involved by doing simple tasks like emptying the dishwasher and tidying their room. If they’re at school, invest in five easy iron school shirts and several pairs of trousers, then encourage them to lay out their uniform the night before, along with their pre-packed school bag.
You may need an extra dose of support when life becomes unpredictable. For example, if your child succumbs to chickenpox, they could be at home for up to two weeks. While family members might be able to help, it’s also important to know that you can take a reasonable amount of time off work for any emergency involving a child.
Tip 6 – Care for yourself
The transition from full- time parent to employee can be tricky, so give yourself time to adjust. Treat yourself to some new work clothes, eat well and try to make time to exercise, even if you only manage a brisk walk with the dog. Getting a good night’s sleep will also boost your mood, so avoid staring at a screen just before bedtime.
Finally, try to keep work in perspective and never feel guilty for leaving the office at five to spend time with your family. Whenever you have a few days off, avoid checking your emails, turn off your phone and enjoy making new memories.
We hope our survival suggestions ease your return to work, and if you do experience guilt on the days when you can’t meet your little one at the school gate, just remember that you’re providing them with a secure home and a great start in life.