You’ve supported your wife or partner through childbirth, you’ve gotten over the initial adjustment to having a new baby in the house and experienced all the joy, sleepless nights and dirty nappies of your new life as a dad.
Then, suddenly, you may well have to head back to work after as little as two weeks at home with your baby. This can be a jarring, difficult period; the feeling that you are missing out on special bonding time and not witnessing your baby’s development, is only natural.
And let’s not forget that it’s not just dads who might struggle to make the transition back to work—mums face the same challenge when they eventually return to the workplace.
This advice can help both dads and mums make as smooth a transition back to work as possible—emotionally, mentally and practically.
Stick to business hours
Whether you are a dad or a mum going back to work, the immediate aftermath of your return is probably not the time to casually put in an extra hour or two at the office each evening.
Leaving work on time becomes more of a priority when there is a new baby at home. Besides the fact this will help to maximise the time spent with your baby, keeping reasonable hours is good for your general wellbeing. Research has found that employees should not be working more than 39 hours per week. Any more has the potential to put your health at risk, and possibly impair your capacity to care for and bond with your child.
Negotiate work conditions
Your work conditions may allow you the autonomy to set hours around spending time with your baby (for example, starting early and leaving early). If not, consider discussing with your supervisor the possibility of leaving work early for a certain period of time.
Another option could be to look into working from home, allowing you to be immediately nearby for child-rearing duties. However, this can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, resuming your career without leaving home can be the height of convenience, providing an extra pair of hands to help out with baby chores as well as important moral and emotional support for your partner, if they are also at home.
However, working from home demands that you make a firm distinction between work time and parenting time. Again, make sure you are done with work at a reasonable hour, and if possible, use a separate room or study for work.
Allowing the stresses and demands of work to affect domestic life as you work from home defeats the point of doing so, so consider this decision carefully.
Make the most of your time at home
When time spent with your family is limited to evenings, weekends and holidays after returning to work, it is vital that this time is not wasted.
While finding time for your own relaxation and exercise is important, perhaps a few things—the Friday night footy game, the night at the pub, or a round of golf—can be put off in the odd week (at least) in order to bond with the new arrival.
And when you are around, bonding with both baby and partner can continue by fully participating in caring duties: changing nappies, bathing, feeding time and comforting. Creating good memories with your child during the time you have with them can make the return to work less of a wrench.
Communication with partner
While your partner is at home with the baby, it is likely that you will want to be kept in the loop about how they are faring, and it’s also likely they will be keen to tell you.
So this important communication can take place, it is sensible to settle on some kind of routine for contact (whether it be via phone, text or email)—during lunch breaks or coffee breaks perhaps, or with hourly or two-hourly check-ins.
So long as a balance can be maintained regarding timekeeping, communication and family life, heading back to work following paternity or maternity leave doesn’t need to be a painful change.
The MyBaby support program is available for Defence Health members, structured on expert advice with tailored content and resources. It provides extra care for new dads and mums.