Baby talk: what to consider when going back to work
5 min | 4 May 2022
Returning to work after having a baby can be emotionally and financially trying for parents — whether it’s their first child or fourth. Experts outline what parents might want to consider to make more confident childcare, career and money decisions.
As flexible and remote working becomes more accepted in the UK it is becoming easier for most parents to earn a living along with having more opportunities to spend time with their children.
But flexibility isn’t the only thing to consider when deciding how to split childcare and work. What else should parents think about before or after their baby arrives?
How to factor in career goals when deciding who stays at home
Choosing who stays home and who goes to work is perhaps less clear cut than before the rise of remote, flexible and freelance working since the pandemic and the Great Resignation. So, today’s parents could have more choice than they realise over whether to continue, pause or even accelerate their career or work lifestyle.
“Don’t just do what everyone else does,” says Jessica Chivers, a coaching psychologist and founder of the Talent Keeper Specialists, an organisation that gets people back to work after becoming parents. “Think about what’s right for you and what each of you gets out of your work life.”
Things to consider when deciding who should stay at home include:
- How much maternity/paternity pay you’ll receive
- The level of both your salaries
- Whether one of you feels more strongly about staying home
- Many UK companies give you the right to request remote and flexible working from day one of their contract. This means parents – whether just one or both get permission – can reap savings like cutting travel costs. Weigh up how best to use this money. You could put it towards savings, childcare or paying off any debt, for example
- How might a break impact your career – have you just been promoted? Does your job require overseas face-to-face client meetings?
- Can you afford your mortgage and other essentials if one of you takes a year off work or goes part-time, even if you make the most of government childcare benefits?
Get the facts about shared parental leave
It’s vital for expectant parents to understand statutory paid (Opens in new window) and unpaid (Opens in new window) parental leave rules as well as their employers’ policies. Many people don’t realise the UK has shared parental leave (Opens in new window) pay for birth, foster and adoptive parents.
Working part-time is another option. But if you take a part-time role to spend more time as a parent, Chivers advises getting your responsibilities and working schedule clear with colleagues and line managers. For example, understanding how your pay package might change, so you don’t end up doing the whole job for half the salary.
Factor in childcare costs
If one or both parents return to work, childcare costs can become a consideration, but other benefits can also kick in, such as salary, paid leave and pension contributions. The social interaction and structured play that your child will get from a childminder or nursery are also thought of as a benefit to your child.
If one or more parents choose not to return to work, they may not really feel the impact until their income actually reduces. "Start trying to live from one income as soon as possible,” says Charlotte Lidstone, a family money coach.
Anything can be written on a budget plan – but it’s only when you try to live on that budget that you see if it works.
How to make the most of “freebies”
That said, the UK government offers up to 30 hours of free childcare (Opens in new window) per week in England for children aged 3 to 4 – so long as the childminder, nanny, playscheme, nursery or club is considered approved childcare.
Make the most of that spare cash by 'working the system' – for example, Chase offers a cashback debit card that rewards your spending. You could also consider setting up a Junior ISA for your child with any extra money.
Parents may also want to take advantage of child benefit payments (Opens in new window). If two families join together, the eldest child in the new family qualifies for the £21.80 rate, and any other eligible children get the £14.45 rate under the UK government’s child benefit programme.
Salaries and tax obligations also come into play. You can get Child Benefit if you (or your partner) earn more than £50,000 individually, but the benefit may be taxed. This is known as the High Income Child Benefit Tax Charge. (Opens in new window)
If your partner’s income is also above £50,000 but yours is higher, you’re responsible for paying the tax. You’ll have to fill in a Self-Assessment tax return each year and pay what you owe.
Discuss openly and think about goals
Making decisions on work when you become a parent is ultimately about your family’s wellbeing and financial future. Charlotte Lidstone advises having open discussions to create short, medium and long-term plans, considering family goals like holidays, a bigger home, getting a pet or having more children.
As Charlotte Lidstone says: “If you don’t think about the money and instead think about what you want to achieve, your financial plan becomes a lot clearer.”
Jessica Chivers (Opens in new window) is a coaching psychologist, author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work and host of the Comeback Coach podcast.
Charlotte Lidstone (Opens in new window) is a family money coach.