Returning To Work: Is It Right For You And Your Family?

By Katie Adams AAA

Moving from full-time parenting back into the workplace is a major change. If you are considering, or are in the process of, transitioning back into the workforce, consider the following tips to more easily (and successfully!) make the transition.

Making the Decision
The impact of this decision will affect the entire family. Talk openly and at length with your spouse or partner about the pros and cons of going back to work. Together, brainstorm ideas for employment that would interest you, create significant income for your family and mesh well with your priorities. (Focusing solely on pay might be a mistake, learn more about getting the right job in Job Hunting: Higher Pay Vs. Better Benefits.)

Before applying for or accepting a job, make sure you're aware of an employer's policies and benefits related to work/family balance. For example, does the company:

  • provide telecommuting opportunities?
  • offer flex-time arrangements?
  • have job sharing opportunities?
  • offer compressed work weeks?
  • provide onsite and/or emergency daycare?
  • provide childcare referrals and/or financial assistance?

Finding an employer with family-friendly policies and options can help make the transition easier into the workplace much easier.

In addition, evaluate a potential employers' benefits, like health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, retirement planning vehicles and other financial tools that can help you provide for your family now and save for your family's future needs.

Getting Support
Talk with friends, extended family members and neighbors who can come alongside your family as a support network. Explain how going back to work full time might affect your family and the help you may need to make the transition. For example, could a neighbor help get the kids off the school bus and keep them until the baby sitter arrives? Or could a family member help with grocery shopping while you're getting into a routine? Having a circle of people that you can count on will make the transition easier.

Balancing Family Life and Work
Once you make the decision to go back into the workforce, the real balancing act begins. One four-letter word can help you balance your family and work lives: PLAN. Planning ahead and creating routines is going to help you balance your work life and home work so that you feel good about both. Talk with your spouse or partner and members of your support network to figure out:

  • What errands need to be routinely run (dropping off dry cleaning, picking up groceries), and whose responsibilities are these tasks?
  • How will you plan meals in advance, and who will take care of preparing meals?
  • How often does the house need to be cleaned, and who will take the lead on that?
  • Can you afford to get some outside help to get things done, like hiring a housecleaning service or seasonal yard help?

Managing two jobs and a house leaves less time for outside activities. Pare down your family's schedule to ensure that you get quality time together. While you're cutting back on family activities to relieve stress, think likewise at work. Choose short- and medium-term career goals that work for your family, and won't compete with your priorities at home. For example, take a position that doesn't require frequent or extensive travel. Opt for a job that has predictable hours. Make career decisions that are consistent with your agreed-upon family priorities.

Get Back Up to Speed
Before you start sending out resumes, make sure you have everything in place on your end. That means making sure your license or certification is current, taking continuing education classes, expanding your skills, and reading current news and trends about your industry and profession. (To learn more read, Keeping Up With Your Continuing Education.)

Be an asset to your employer from day one, to help ensure your job security; take the time to get back up to speed professionally before you begin work.

Crunching the Numbers
Going back to work will require reworking your budget. While you will have new income to add you'll also have new expenses to account for, like childcare, transportation and clothing. (For more on budgeting, see The Beauty of Budgeting, and Top 5 Budgeting Questions Answered.)

Your most costly new budget item will be childcare. The most common options for childcare are daycare facilities, in-home care, and family and friends.

The cost of childcare varies greatly, depending on your location, the age of your child(ren) and the amount of services needed. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) reports that the annual average cost for baby and toddler care is $8,150, or just under $680 per month. Childcare for preschool children averages $6,423 annually (approximately $535 per month), since less hands-on direct care is required.

According to the International Nanny Association (INA), professional in-home care means hiring a full-time (40-60 hours per week) babysitter or au pair, and the cost can range anywhere between $350 - $1,000 weekly, depending on where you live. Overtime, weekends and services beyond childcare (meal preparation, cleaning) will cost you more. As an employer, you will be responsible for paying the required Social Security and federal income tax on your nanny's salary.

If your employer offers dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSA), you may be able to use the account to pay for your childcare expenses with pre-tax income. If you need to pay for childcare in order to be able to work, you may be able to deduct your childcare-related expenses on your federal income tax return. (For more on this see, Healthcare FSAs Increase Your Personal Savings.)

Weighing the Costs
After you've updated your budget, take a hard look at your bottom line and honestly ask yourself if it's financially feasible to even go back to work. Will the move bring in enough income to offset the expenses and to make the change worth it for your family? Is this the right time, financially, for you to return to work, or would you be in a better position if you delayed the decision? Consider all the ways you could earn an income while minimizing expenses to make returning to work a financially-sound decision for your family.

Conclusion
If going back into the workforce full-time is in your future, take the time to evaluate your options, rework your budget, and plan, plan, plan to make the transition as seamless and successful as possible.

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