If you decide to return to work, you have more options to help you balance work and family responsibilities -- such as flextime and job sharing -- than you would have had just 10 years ago. Unfortunately, these innovations won't resolve the emotional issues that may come up as you juggle home and the workplace.
Work Issue: You Feel Very Guilty You don't need us to tell you that new-mother guilt is pervasive in our culture. American women have a clash of social ideals between the perfect worker who puts in 40-plus hours a week and the perfect mom who stays home with her kids, notes Joan Williams, PhD, author of Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It (Oxford University Press). Trying to fit themselves into both molds leaves many moms feeling inadequate. Your parents, spouse, or friends may fuel this guilt by making you feel as if you're abandoning your kids by working -- or that you're not committed enough to your career.
The Solution: Guilt is a sign that something's out of balance, says Robert Schwartz, a therapist and life coach in New York. To help assuage guilt, you need to sit down and figure out what specifically needs attention. Once you have the details, you can negotiate a situation that feels better. For example, if you feel like your job is going well but you're not spending enough time with your child, you can move her bedtime back a bit. If you feel like you're neglecting your relationship with your partner, block out time each week for the two of you. An important thing to remind yourself is that by working, you can make life better for your family, whether by fulfilling your goals, earning extra income, or being a role model for your children. Sit down and write out how your work improves your family's quality of life. When you see it in black and white, it may make you feel better about the choices you've made.