That time is looming again.. my maternity leave is drawing to an end and I’m returning to work in less than a month. It doesn’t feel any easier the second time around and I’m starting to feel a little guilty about the prospect of leaving my 6 month old in day care when I return to work. I must admit though, part of me is looking forward to going back to work. Financially, like many people my wage is needed in the household and longterm I don’t want to miss out on years of superannuation payments and be out of the workforce for so long that I miss out on career opportunities. Plus I enjoy working and using my brain in a different way. As an expat living in Australia I don’t have any family close by and so everything is managed between my husband and I. I do however have a strategy for how to make it easier on myself and my baby though and I wanted to share some practical tips for other Mums on what’s worked for me in the past and what I’m planning to do this time around…
1. Open communication with partner
Have a frank discussion with your partner about the day to day practicalities. Make sure you’re on the same page with you returning to work. Your partner may not have had to think much about the running of the household for a while if you’ve been looking after chores such as cleaning and shopping, but these tasks need to be re-evaluated once you return to work, plus there will be new responsibilities like child care pick ups and drop offs and organising day care bags. It helps to draw up a list of all household responsibilities and new routine to decide who is responsible for what. This can help to reduce some mental load if you know there are certain things that your partner will take care of.
2. Get your boss onside
Lay out expectations on both sides with your boss. Having a good relationship with your boss and peers will help you out in the long run when you need to leave early, take time off when you’re little ones are sick or need to decline work commitments. This means being flexible in return and may mean showing willingness to working extra/ at home when required. A positive attitude will go a long way. Of course it helps if you can work remotely or flexibly but this isn’t always possible.
3. Choose childcare that you’re happy with
Do your research, ask for recommendations but most of all go with your gut feeling. Whether its family who can step in, family day care or a childcare centre make sure you’re happy that they will care for your little one like you expect so that when you are at work you are able to focus on work. Other things you’ll need to consider are hours of care required, whether food/ formula/ nappies are included, location and how you’ll get there (especially if you use public transport to get to work).
4. Get organised
Plan schedules in advance, write everything on a family planner or share calendar invites when you need to work late/ travel. Organise the evening before- pack bags, prepare clothes and lunches so you have more time to engage with the kids in the morning and get out of the house on time. If you’re still breastfeeding you will need to think ahead about what you’ll do when your baby starts child care, whether will you express or plan to wean prior to their start date. You could reduce breast feeds to morning, evening and overnight and have formula through the day. Weigh up your options but think about this in advance.
5. Make sure your finances stack up.
Childcare doesn’t come cheap, especially in capital cities, but there are subsidies available for some people from Centrelink. Look into this in advance to workout how much you’ll be out of pocket and what your best options are financially. Here is a link to a handy calculator you can use to work out the out of pocket expenses based on your circumstances https://www.childcaresubsidycalculator.com.au
6. Have a back up plan
I know what it’s like to not have family close by so try where possible to have someone else such as a friend or a paid nanny/ au pair/ neighbour to help out for day care pick ups if you both get caught in traffic/ held up and you can’t get there on time. There will also be days when your baby may get sick and not be able to attend childcare. It helps to be prepared for this and have a plan for who will take time off work to care for them or if anyone else can step in and help. My hubby and I try to make sure we don’t schedule any super important work commitments on the same day so one of us can take time off to look after the kids if needed (although this isn’t always possible!!)
7. How do you work best?
Work life integration or seperate the two completely? Some people are able to focus on work while the kids are playing beside them, others need a dedicated workspace free of distractions. Understand what works for you and make plans accordingly.
8. Consider getting in help
Do what you can to make life easier. This may mean getting someone in to clean the house on a regular basis or doing your grocery shopping online and having it delivered. Look at what can be outsourced to free up more quality time to spend with the kids or have that much needed ‘me time’. For meals, you could meal prep on a weekend for the week and make sure you have everything required for cooking. Consider having some ready meals when you’re short on time or order meals with ingredients and instructions provided.
9. Accept imperfection
If you’re a perfectionist then this may be a time when you need to loosen up a little and accept that you cannot be superwoman. You only have so many hours in the day and the reality is that juggling motherhood and work life can be challenging. It’s okay to leave the cleaning or dishes if you need a rest or allow the kids to watch TV when you need some peace and quiet and sometimes your work commitments may need to flex sometimes too. You’re only human and remember you can do anything but you can’t do everything.
10. Cut yourself some slack
Mum guilt is inevitable for most, especially at first. You may be leaving your baby in childcare and your priorities are now split. But if you’ve made the decision to go back to work, stick with it and try to let go of the guilt by reminding yourself why you made the decision to go back to work (even if it’s because you need to put a roof over your family’s heads, not because you actually want to!). You have left your little one with someone that you trust and you need to let them do their job. You are setting an example to your little one that women work too and have valuable financial contribution to the household.
Trust me, it does get easier once you and your little one settle in and you find your new groove. Being a working Mum can be hugely rewarding, so give yourself a pat on the back, you are doing an awesome job!!