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PLN Parenting 101: Transitioning Back to Work

Written by Lindsey Irwin
transitioning back to work

Sure, it’s awesome to be Canadian and have the maternity/paternity leave benefits that we do. But once you’ve been home for this extended amount of time, it can be difficult to transition back to the office, or the shop, or wherever your proverbial 9-to-5 takes you. Some people can’t wait to get back; others can’t imagine how they’re going to do it. And some people never do “go back,” but manage to work an outside-the-home job from inside the home. Whatever your situation, we’ve got some tips to help you prepare — mentally, emotionally, and financially — for returning to work.

The Transition

Being home fully focused on our kids is unquestionably an important time. Bonding with your new baby and feeling centered in your new role as a parent is a full-time activity; when you start working again, you’ll probably feel like you’re doing two full-time jobs. It’s hard. We won’t lie. But people do it all the time, and you can too, if you’re kind to yourself and set up the proper supports.  Childcare is generally the prime concern. Ideally, you should establish a back-up childcare arrangement just in case your daycare arrangements fall through on short notice. It’s also a good idea to start your child in daycare a little before you actually return to work, if possible — that way, when you actually go back, you can be confident that your child is already familiar with the routine. Of course, starting daycare is an adjustment all its own (be prepared for some tears — from your little one and you!), but children are remarkably resilient … and no, they won’t forget you!

Ideally, you should establish a back-up childcare arrangement just in case your daycare arrangements fall through on short notice.

Going Back to Work

Leaving your home base after a year in your jammies (or yoga pants) takes a little psyching up. No one just wakes up the day after their mat leave ends and zips back to the office. Here are a few tips for your transition back to the workplace:

Planning to continue breastfeeding after going back to work? Check out these 6 tips, and get pumping! You’ll need to get used to the pump to make sure you’re able to leave milk at home or with the daycare and you’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with where and when you can comfortably pump when you’re back at work. Get some extra nursing pads to stash in your desk or purse… just in case that meeting runs late or you get stuck in traffic.

Have you been in touch with your employer to make sure it’s a smooth return? Asked about any changes at the office and determined what your immediate priorities will be when you get back? Try to arrange to return mid-week to shorten the time away from your little one this first week, or start with a half-day schedule, if you can. Your boss may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask and besides, they may also say yes. Do anything you can do to help ease the transition to this new routine for you and your baby.

Practice your back-to-work schedule to start introducing the new routine. Need to be at the office for 8:00 am? Start setting your alarms and practice getting ready for the day (with your baby in tow) and all the other things going on in your house at that hour. Do this a few weeks in advance to work out any kinks before the pressure’s on.

Working from Home

To some, working from home is the dream. But it’s not for everyone. Bringing work into the home environment complicates things, and requires some compromises on everybody’s part. If it’s an option for you and your employer, it’s worth considering the logistics. Maybe you’re considering leaving your old job behind, and starting a new business from home. The convenience of working from home is exciting, but consider the practicality, too: are you someone who can divide your attention without getting stressed out? How does your environment affect your productivity? Do you need structure imposed, or will you accomplish more with no set schedule? It takes self-discipline both to get work done and to throw in the towel when you should at the end of the day. It can be tough to peel yourself away from your desk when you aren’t part of a mass exodus that’s heading for the door.

The convenience of working from home is exciting, but consider the practicality, too: are you someone who can divide your attention without getting stressed out?

Do you need daily social interaction with grown-ups? Think about your employee personality type: Did you enjoy the professional, social interaction, you had with your colleagues when you were working? You’ll probably miss having those mid-day laughs with co-workers, brainstorm sessions and chats by the water cooler. On the other hand, if you are more of the keep-to-yourself type, then working from home might be the perfect fit! If you’re on the fence, offers some great advice on this topic and identifies various work ethic-related personal characteristics that you should look out for if you’re considering the transition to work from home.

How would you feel about being your own IT person? Seriously, think about it. You need to be pretty tech savvy to work from home without hiccups. Could you handle the frustration if/when your technology fails? Speaking of technology, you’ll need to make sure that you have all the tools, tech and office equipment needed to do your job properly (i.e. a laptop, printer, stapler…etc.). It can be expensive to outfit yourself as a soloist. But it could also be worth it if you can make it work!

Carving out space for your work life at home  Make sure your home office area is separate from the rest of the house and that the space is one you actually want to spend time in. This is important. Eke out a space — ideally with a door — that’s comfortable (but not so comfortable that you’re going to doze off), so you don’t begin to work outside of it, or grow to resent it. Need home office inspiration? Check out Lifehacker’s Featured Workspace series, or view these 10 inspiring home offices from Harper’s Bazaar. Oh, and that corner desk in the kitchen that’s within view of your to-do list, your running shoes, your overgrown garden outside, and your ever-evolving fridge door, is just not going to work for a home office space.

When the kids are home, establish a respect for your workspace by teaching your family that when you’re in there, you’re ‘at work’. A great teaching opportunity for this moment is to make signs with your kids to hang on your office door that will function like a ‘green light’ or ‘red light’ signal and identify to your children if they can come in or not. Get out the glitter glue and construction paper, or make a hangable chalkboard sign, and have some fun together while you explain to your kids how these signs will work.

Where can I find more information about working from home? The popularity of this movement towards working from home is due in part to the wide variety of digitally-oriented career options out there, the ‘craft’ product marketplace that is so trendy right now, and the entrepreneurial, DIY mentality we all seem to have these days. This recipe produces a scenario where more parents than ever are transitioning to work from home. Ask around and you’ll likely find that many parents are even using their maternity/paternity leave time as an opportunity to launch the early, experimental dabblings of their at-home-business and evaluate the results. Great resources for this topic include Kate Lister’s book and blog, ‘Undress for Success’ which details the different types of career options that best suit a home-based working environment, and Holly Reisem Hanna’s award-winning blog, ‘The Work at Home Woman’, a great resource for all the moms out there who are thinking about taking the leap to work from home.

Canadian Companies that are Rocking it for Working Parents!

Without question, there are some stand-out leaders in Canada’s employer pack that are making waves and are now known for being in to top ‘family-friendly’ companies to work for. Check out Canada’s Top Family Friendly Employers for 2016 and get inspired! This year’s winners include companies that offer flexible work arrangements, such as the option to work from home or flex work hours. For instance the University of Toronto supports their employees with young families by providing generous maternity and parental leave top-up payments for new mothers, fathers, or adoptive parents. Another great example is Stryker Canada, who offers their employees a subsidy for IVF if needed (up to $15,000), parental leave top-up payments, up to 100% of salary for 26 weeks — and also helps employees balance their work and personal lives with flexible work hours, telecommuting and a shortened work week option. Sure, these are examples of more progressive approaches to the traditional work day structure, but go ahead and talk to your employer to see where they sit on the spectrum! Encourage them to get on board with these new policies – you may even influence change that your co-workers would be more than appreciative of.

Remember, only you know what is best for you and your family. If you’re not looking forward to going back to work, honour that feeling, and figure out whether it means you need a confidence boost or a lifestyle change. If you’re REALLY looking forward to going back to work, honour that feeling too! You don’t have to let parenthood define you any more than you want it to. Everything has its place in your life, and balancing it is all, however that works for you, is a great achievement.
You can do it. We believe in you. Good luck, working parents!

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.