Combining family and work responsibilities can be a challenge for many families.
When parents have a lot of work-life conflicts there can be spillover from work stresses to family life. This can impact family relationships, both with the baby and partner. Life with a new baby, with sleepless nights and more responsibility at home, can impact the ability to focus at work.
Maintaining a good balance between work and family is important. Parents may need to communicate with each other and be prepared to try different arrangements and make adjustments over time.
Having a baby is a common time for new parents to reflect on their values and priorities. Knowing these priorities can help to guide actions and choices. Strategies that can help focus on what’s important include:
- Learning to say no.
- Changing favourite activities to make it easier with a baby e.g. have a potluck to connect with friends instead of going out for dinner.
- Prioritizing household chores (or hiring someone to do some of the chores).
- Purposefully setting time aside for self-care e.g. a date night, a family get together, or exercise time.
Going Back to Work after Parental Leave
Making the decision to return to work
Each family’s choices for work arrangements will be dependent on a number of factors including the type of work they do, their partner’s work situation, location of work, financial commitments, values, cultural influences, and single parent responsibilities.
The choice to be at home full-time is an option chosen by some families. However, some parents feel this role is undervalued by others. If the choice is based on what is important to their family, they should feel confident in making this choice regardless of the lack of understanding they perceive from others. Families that choose this option also need to think about how they will balance work, family, and personal commitments.
While not always available to all families, the following work options are worth exploring:
- Changing positions or shifts. For some couples, working different shifts allows them to share childcare responsibilities and reduce childcare costs.
- Working from home. Some employers allow employees to work at home all or part of the time or parents run a home-based business (e.g. day-home, sales). This approach can increase flexibility, reduce commuting time, and decrease work-related expenses. Arranging childcare is still important as it can be difficult to provide active supervision to young children when focusing on work issues. Other challenges include time management, isolation, and creating a suitable space for work.
- Job sharing. Two workers share responsibility for one position in a job-sharing option. They may divide up the day or the week. Advantages include working less, sharing ideas and responsibilities, and someone to take over in emergencies. Challenges include finding a compatible partner, developing a good relationship, and ongoing communication needs.
- Compressed work schedule. More hours are worked each day to allow for a day off every week or two. The advantage is a block of time for family and personal commitments. The longer days may be a disadvantage.
- Part-time work. By reducing the number of hours worked each week, time for family responsibilities is freed up, yet the parent still earns some income and stays connected to the workplace. Part-time work may be associated with lower pay, fewer (if any) benefits, and fewer opportunities for advancement.
- Parental leave sharing. Rather then one parent taking the full parental leave, the time is split between both parents. This can allow for greater sharing of parenting responsibility and bonding. Challenges can be decision making around childcare once the parental leave has ended.
For more information on things to consider about work life balance and returning to work following parental leave: Guide to maternity career transitions
Choosing the child care arrangements that are best for you and your baby takes time. You may want to look for child care before your baby is born, especially if you’re planning to return to work. Your public health nurse can give you information about choosing child care.
It is a good idea to start looking for child care early. Ask for and check all references. Make sure your child’s immunizations are all up to date. Children may have more infections during the first year in child care. Talk to the child care provider about their policy for children staying home when ill.
Options for child care include:
- Family or friends
- Nanny (live in/out)
- Day home
- Licensed child care programs
- Private sitter
What to look for:
- Is clean, safe and secure
- Has books, toys and activities for different ages
- Has enough adults to care for the number of children in the centre or home
- Provides a variety of safe play places (indoor, outdoor, quiet and active)
- Follows a flexible, yet predictable routine
- Provides healthy meals and snacks
- Includes and respects different cultures and languages
- Flexibility if you are working part-time or shift work
Transitioning Back to Work
Helping a child with separation is important. Babies become attached to their parents and learning to cope with separation can be a challenging time. Going back to work and leaving their baby for the first time can also cause strong feelings for parents. It can help to anticipate and acknowledge these feelings as everyone makes this transition. You can help ease these feelings by choosing childcare that you are very comfortable with and making some preparations to help make the transition easier for everyone. Some transition ideas:
- Spend time at the daycare centre or home with your child. Allow your child to feel the security of your presence while they explore their new surroundings and begin to build trust with the caregiver.
- Prior to actually starting back to work, have a couple of trial runs by leaving your child for short periods of time at the new childcare facility.
- Before starting back to work, have trial runs of the new routine e.g. get up ,get everyone ready and out of the house at the time of day you will need to, once you return to work. This helps you work out timing challenges in advance to reduce stress.
- If you are breast/chestfeeding, at least a month before returning to work, start preparing by pumping, storing and getting your baby used to drinking from a cup while you are gone. You may need to make arrangements with your employer to have a place to pump and store milk while you are at work.
- Have your child bring something familiar to childcare. Some children bring a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or picture of their family.
- When you leave your child, talk to them about what is going to happen. Don’t leave without telling them as this will hinder the trust that you have worked so hard to build. Tell them that you are leaving to go to work and will come back and pick them up at the end of your day. Be calm, kind and firm as you say good-bye. Let your child know it is okay to feel sad. Don’t discourage them from showing their feelings, but help your child express their sadness. It is normal for your child to feel distress when you leave and important that they feel supported to express how they feel.
- When you pick your child up after work, comment that here you are, back again, just like you said you would be. This will help your child understand that you will always come back to get them and will increase their sense of trust and security in this new routine.
- If you act calmly at drop off time (even if you may not feel it), it will help your child feel secure and assured that they will be okay. Your child will begin to understand that this is a new part of the routine and that they are safe.
- Be prepared to see some changes in your child’s behavior at home initially as they adjust. For example it is common for them to wake at night and need more physical reassurance. Allow for quality time with your child when you return from work and acknowledge their feelings. Keeping regular routines at home can also help them feel more secure.