If you're coming back to work after a parental leave, balancing your new family needs with your business needs will probably require some careful planning. Whether you're a first-time parent or an experienced one, the following information can help as you establish a new relationship with a childcare provider, put new routines in place, and reconnect with your workplace.
Starting childcare and preparing to return
It's normal to have mixed emotions about returning to work after your leave. You may be eager to return to work but also miss your child and worry about childcare. If you plan ahead, choose carefully from your options, and allow time for your provider and child to get to know each other, your return to work can be less stressful.
Try out your childcare a week or two before you return to work. This will give your child and your caregiver a chance to get to know each other. It can also help you understand what will be needed during the (often hectic) drop-off and pickup times at a childcare centre or family childcare home. If you have a partner or someone to help with drop-off and pick-up, this will give you a chance to fine-tune your plans.
Ask your provider for advice about introducing your child to the new routine. For instance, if your child will be cared for outside your home, you might start by making a visit while you are still on leave and staying for an hour or so. Over the next few days, gradually shorten the time you stay and increase the time you're away. Keep in mind that it's normal for a baby to take up to two or three weeks to settle into a comfortable pattern of eating, sleeping, and feeling comfortable with a new caregiver.
Make arrangements to communicate regularly with your provider about your child. Decide together on the best time to talk and share news. You will want to know how your child's day was: how well she slept, how her feedings went, and what she enjoyed. You may want to:
- call your childcare provider during naptime to see how your child's day is going
- try to build in enough time at drop-off and pick-up to talk with your provider about your child
- exchange notes and email on a regular basis
Be sure to plan back-up care for days when you will not be able to use your regular caregiver. There will be days you can predict, like holidays and vacations, and others that you cannot, like bad-weather days or days when your child or caregiver is sick. If your family or friends can't help when you need back-up care, ask other parents who use the same provider or program what they do. Would they be willing to have your child for any of those days? Can your provider suggest a substitute? Do you have friends, neighbours, or family members who will be able to care for your child if he is too sick to be in care with other children? Some employers allow you to use sick leave when your child is sick, but you will still need back-up care arrangement for special circumstances.
Try to return on a Wednesday or Thursday, rather than Monday. That way your first week will be short and provide an opportunity for you to see what works and what needs fine-tuning.
Consider changing your calendar or planner system, whether electronic or paper. With more commitments and scheduling challenges, it will be helpful to be able to view them clearly in one place.
If you have been breastfeeding your baby, you will want to think about whether and how to continue breastfeeding after you return to work. Will you pump while you're at work? Keep in mind that most experts say that if you're going to use a bottle, it is important to introduce it when your baby is 3 to 6 weeks old.
- If you will continue to breastfeed, will you need to bring a breast pump to work? What other supplies and equipment will you need? Is there a private space at work where you can pump?
- If you plan to stop breastfeeding entirely, allow enough time to taper off and help your child adjust to formula. Be sure to consult your pediatrician.
What to expect at work
Although your first days and weeks back at work may feel somewhat overwhelming, you will probably be surprised at how quickly you develop a comfortable work routine. Again, planning and organization can make all the difference.
Talk with friends and co-workers who have recently returned from a leave. How did they make the transition? How did they manage their time?
As your return date approaches, you may want to re-establish some ties with your workplace. Which co-workers can fill you in on recent news? It can be helpful to talk with anyone who has been handling your job responsibilities to get a better sense of what has happened in your absence. Make sure to check with your manager and leave coordinator or human resources (HR) representative to confirm that this level of early involvement is appropriate.
You may find that your old work clothes do not fit. If you have gone through childbirth, your body may not be the shape it was before you were pregnant. Give yourself time.
Keep in mind the feelings of anyone who helped with your job while you were on leave. It may be difficult for them to hand your work back to you, especially if it means a return to less challenging tasks. Try to communicate often about the work the two of you have shared.
Demonstrate your commitment to your job to managers and co-workers in your group. Some may be wondering about your dedication at this time. Find friends in other departments and outside of work for sharing most parenting issues and questions.
Planning your work will be even more important now that you are a parent. It can underscore your job commitment and protect you from stress overload as well.
- You may no longer be able to take advantage of working late to complete projects or meet deadlines. Set clear expectations with your co-workers about when you will and will not be available.
- If you are returning part-time, you may find that others expect you to perform your full-time work on a part-time schedule. You may even expect this of yourself. Be realistic. Extra projects that were manageable under a full-time schedule may be impossible when working part-time. Try to avoid squeezing in extra tasks at the cost of eating lunch or spending time with your family after work.
- Outline your work responsibilities, and roughly estimate the number of hours per week you need to perform them. You may want to talk with your manager and co-workers about large projects or your job description.
Returning to work after a leave can give you a new perspective on old problems. You may find that situations at work that seemed overwhelming no longer cause you the same level of stress. Your life has a different balance now that there's a child in the picture.
What to expect at home
Joining your child at the end of your workday can be an intensely happy time for both of you. But working and parenting can also be tiring.
Take care of yourself. You are likely to be tired. No matter how well your child is sleeping, the occasional, but inevitable, childhood illness can keep you up all night. If you can, go to sleep for the night when your baby does; on days you aren't working, trade sleeping in a little later for taking naps when your baby does. Try to get some regular exercise. (Taking your child for stroller rides can be a great stress reducer.) And try to eat nutritious meals. Every day should include a treat for yourself, too.
Establish morning and end-of-the day routines at home. Creating a checklist of the things you need to do each day -- particularly in the first few weeks -- can help you and anyone else who shares household responsibilities. Make a dry run before you return to work, and time how long it takes to get out the door. And be sure to build in extra time for the first few days of your new routine. You might also download a good family calendar and list-making app onto your phone. It will help you keep track of your new tasks and schedules. The "Cozi family organizer app," for example, lets you assign a colour to each person's activities, which makes it easy to see who needs to do what.
Plan ahead for the end of your workday. New parents say one of the toughest parts of the day is dinnertime. Your entire family may be worn out, but you may still need to change clothes and hold the baby while you fix a meal. Stop before you rush headlong into a whirlwind of activities at home. Spend a few minutes playing with your child and talking with other family members. Even 15 minutes can make a big difference.
Try to plan and set priorities for yourself at home, just as you do at work. Your time is at a premium right now. You may want to use paper plates for a while or hire someone to help clean. Now may be a good time to review household responsibilities with your partner to make sure your arrangement is fair.
To make sure you have the energy to enjoy your family when you get home, remember to pace yourself, reorganize your household priorities (for the time being anyway), and try to get as much sleep as you can.
© LifeWorks Canada Ltd 2017