Returning to work
Coming to the end of your time at home with your baby can be fraught with anxiety. From childcare to managing your time, there’s a lot to consider.
How are you feeling about returning to work after your baby is born? Whether you are still pregnant and planning your maternity leave; you have a baby and are thinking about how and when you will go back; or you have been a stay-at-home-parent for a while and you are considering returning to the world of work; this can be a massive step and have profound implications for both your career and your family.
Covid has served to heighten anxiety about working and childcare across the board. Under the current lockdown regulations, nurseries and childminders are still operating but it may be difficult for you to access taster days or tours and that can really limit your ability to make informed decisions about where to send your child. You can form childcare bubbles, but only with one other household and only, obviously, if you have someone close by to bubble with. It’s a minefield in an area that was already fraught before covid was a thing.
Regardless of what form your childcare arrangements take, you may be concerned about delegating the day to day care of your baby to someone else. It’s worth thinking about how to keep the communication channels open and how to build strong relationships of trust between your child’s caregivers. What are the arrangements at drop-off and pick-up? Can you go in and have a chat at these points? Do you need to find extra time before or after work to make sure these transitions aren’t too rushed for your child? What does your child need from you and from the childcare setting to make the handover as smooth as possible? Are you able to phone in and check on your child if you need to? Will the setting be able to contact you if there is a problem?
Ultimately, good childcare will enable you to turn your full attention and energy to your work in the full assurance that your child is busy, safe and happy in a setting that you trust and with people you genuinely like. This may take time to achieve so be kind to yourself while everyone settles into the new arrangements.
How are you feeling about your job? Some parents can feel that having had a child, their priorities and perspectives have shifted to such an extent that what seemed fascinating, vital, and an integral part of their identity before, now feels stale, boring and no more than a means to an end. Others find that they are excited to get back to an environment and a lifestyle that fulfils and stimulates them.
It can feel like the organisation you work for or maybe your field of expertise has left you behind while you’ve been away and that your colleagues and the company have moved on without you. It may take time for you to feel like you are fully back in the loop, professionally, personally or both. This is where “keep in touch” days can be useful through your leave, but there is a danger there that you feel obligated to stay involved when actually this time with your baby is so precious and so brief. Balance is, as always, key.
Your life, your priorities and your responsibilities will have changed dramatically while you were away, but you may find that your colleagues treat you exactly the same, and have the same expectations of you. You may welcome this and appreciate the normality and the confidence this gives you, but many parents suffer under the mental load of having to manage their childcare arrangements as well as parenting preoccupations on top of their work life, often in a state of sleep deprivation. It’s also worth giving some thought to your new identity as a working parent. Do you want or need to share your parenting struggles and triumphs with your colleagues? Are they interested and supportive? Becoming a parent has tangible physical and emotional effects and these may need to be managed within the context of your working life.
Many parents struggle with feelings of guilt about returning to work. This is a very normal feeling and totally understandable. Your time and energy are finite and there is only so much you can give. It might help to remind yourself of why you have returned to work. What are the benefits for your family in terms of income, opportunity, role modelling? What does working do for you personally, and your ability to parent your child well? If you are struggling for positive answers to these questions remember that nothing lasts forever, everything is a phase, and you can continue to make changes to your work/life balance as your child gets older and their needs shift.
Returning to work in Covid can present added complications. You may be getting used to working from home and having to make the adaptations and compromises that your colleagues went through months ago and now take for granted. This can make you feel even more on the back foot. You may struggle to delineate work from home even more keenly when work is at home. It will be even more important to set and stick to boundaries around work and childcare if your baby is at home with you while you are at work. There are lovely silver linings though. No commute means more time with your child at the beginning and end of your working day and makes seeing your family in your breaks so much easier.
If you decide not to go back to working outside the home, or you decide to postpone your return, you may face different challenges. The relentlessness of child care can seem overwhelming at times and, without a daily or weekly pattern of activities and tasks you can feel lost. Making a flexible plan to give your time an outline can help prevent the days running together and give you concrete milestones through the week. Self-care and time off away from your child are essential, whether that’s for an occasional whole day away from your family or just 10 minutes alone behind a closed bathroom door when your partner gets home each day.
Make sure you talk to other grownups about things not related to babies and children occasionally. This will help you keep a sense of perspective and help you retain your own interests and identity.
As with working parents, regularly reminding yourself of the reasons for your decision and the benefits it brings to you and your family is an important habit. You will be able to revisit and review that decision at key points and it may be that a new career opportunity or idea will make itself available at a moment in the future when you feel a return to work is the right choice for you.
Whatever choices you make for your family, know that your children will thrive and grow in whatever setting and under whatever conditions they find themselves, as long as they are loved, respected and supported in their development. Your family dynamics will shift over time and your babies will need you differently as time passes. Remember your needs for fulfilment and personal development are important, and that balance will look different in every different family. If your choices provoke criticism or judgement in others, make sure you have a safe, nonjudgemental space to explore how you feel with people who will support you wholeheartedly. In lockdown, such spaces are harder to find, but you are welcome to come and chat at our NCT Friday afternoon virtual drop-in (message me for the Zoom link) or join my Facebook group here.