What to expect when you return to paid work
Returning to paid work after taking time off to care for a new baby gives you the chance to reconnect with your job and colleagues, ease financial pressure and add variety to your daily routine.
You’ll probably find that rejoining the workforce after becoming a parent raises practical issues like:
- getting used to new family routines
- finding a child care option you’re comfortable with and managing costs
- managing any stress that comes with balancing parenting and paid work.
Doing things you enjoy, like paid work, and thinking positively about your life are good for your emotional wellbeing. And when you feel good in yourself, you have more energy and warmth to put into your relationship with your child. So your return to paid work can be good for you, and good for your relationship with your child too.
New family routines when you return to work
To find a new routine for your family, it’s good to start by talking with your partner, if you have one, about your roles and responsibilities both inside and outside the home. You might also look at ways of balancing these with looking after yourselves and doing things you enjoy, like playing sport or seeing friends.
Here are some other ideas to help you reorganise your family routine:
- Make changes before you return to paid work. For example, you could start your new child care routine a week or so before you start back. This can help ease the transition.
- Talk with family, friends, other carers and educators about your plans. Other people might have ideas for saving time or might be able to help you spot potential problems before they arise.
- Ask your work colleagues how they made the transition back to work.
- Organise to work fewer days or shorter hours for 1-2 weeks after going back to work, if that’s possible.
- Think about who might be able to help you in practical ways. For example, family or friends might agree to register their details with your child care service so they can pick up your child if you’re held back at work.
If you’re a breastfeeding mum returning to paid work, your right to breastfeed in your workplace without discrimination is protected under the Sex Discrimination Act. If you need to, you can discuss where and when you can breastfeed or express breastmilk with your workplace’s equal employment opportunity officer or human resources department.
Child care and the return to work
When you return to paid work, your child still needs to:
- feel safe and secure in their daily routine
- play and learn in a stimulating environment
- have warm and caring interactions with the main people in their life.
If you can work out ways to fulfil your child’s needs when you’re not around, it’ll be easier for your child to get used to your return to work.
Here are some other things that can make this transition easier for you and your child:
- Organise your child care as early as possible, perhaps even just before or after your baby is born. Most centres and services have waiting lists, especially for children under 2 years. Other people who care for your child might also need time to organise their other commitments.
- Have a back-up carer for your child in case their regular carer gets sick or is unavailable. This will reduce pressure and worry for you. Somebody who can help out at short notice and who you trust is the key. Some options are friends, parents from playgroup, grandparents, other relatives and partners.
- Have a back-up plan for when your child gets sick. For example, if you have a partner, can one of you change your hours or work from home for a day or so to care for your child? Or you might need to find somebody else who can help out with emergencies.
- Tackle any questions or worries about your child’s care quickly. If you’re worrying about your child, it can be hard to concentrate at work. And talking to your child’s carer regularly – not just when you have concerns – is another way to build a relationship with your child’s early childhood carers and educators and make it easier to tackle any worries that do come up.
If you’re spending a lot of your family budget on child care at the moment, it’s worth remembering that returning to work and staying in the workforce often means improved career prospects, better lifetime earnings and a better retirement income in the long term.
Feeling stressed when you return to work
When you return to paid work you take on extra responsibilities. Naturally, this might cause you some stress.
Some stress can be helpful, giving you motivation and focus to face challenges and get things done. But too much stress can be overwhelming, making it hard to cope with everyday tasks and enjoy family life and relationships.
Here are some tips on reducing stress in your family life when you’re a working parent:
- Stick to a routine if you can. This helps children know what to expect and helps them behave better too. Routines can also help you keep family life organised and feel in control of things.
- Plan some food and cooking shortcuts. You could try cooking more than you need and freezing leftovers for future meals. Or keep a few things in the pantry or freezer for quick meals when you don’t have time to shop.
- Do what you can the night before. Things like laying out clothes or making lunches the night before all make the morning less of a rush.
- Ask for help when you need it – for example, from family, neighbours or parents you know from child care or school. Child care educators, GPs and child and family health nurses can also tell you about other support available in your community.
If you’re finding the return to work really hard and you feel it isn’t working out, it’s worth talking about this as a family. There might be another way to manage your time and money so that you have a better balance.
A big break from work?
If you’re thinking of delaying your return to paid work, keeping up to date will make it much easier to get back into the workforce when you’re ready.
Here are some tips:
- Keep in touch with old work friends – go out for a coffee and a catch-up now and again.
- Keep your online employment profile up to date.
- Browse job ads to see what work is available and what employers are looking for.
- Keep your skills and knowledge up to date by taking a course or reading articles by leaders in your industry.
- Do some short-term, freelance or casual work to maintain your skills and networks.
Once you’re ready to return to work, sit down and think about the new skills you’ve gained raising a child. For example, you’ve probably learned a lot about negotiation, responsibility, budgeting and time management. When you’re writing an application, be sure to emphasise these, as well as anything you’ve done to keep in touch with your industry.
When you return to work after a baby, you might choose a work option that suits your family well now. You can always make changes as your family’s needs change.