What can I do to help my wife transition back into the working world?
February 21, 2012 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My wife's going back to work after a year worth of maternity leave (we're in Canada). I expect a large amount of separation anxiety from both the baby and the mom. We've talked about this a bunch already. Basically we both acknowledge that's it's going to be hard for her. What can I do to be more supportive? What has/hasn't worked for you? Is there anything I can do to ease the transition?
posted by aeighty to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest that you get childcare a few days or even a week before she goes back to work, if it's financially feasible. That way you can deal with the transition without the pressure of OMG MUST BE AT WORK, practice the morning routine, deal with questions from childcare providers, etc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Who will be watching the baby while mum's at work? If she feels confident in whoever is taking care of the little one during the day, that will help. Can she check in on the baby with whoever is the caretaker throughout the day? Does she know what the caretaker's plans are every day? Does she feel confident the caretaker will notice any signs that the baby is sick, or not their usual self? Is the baby happy with and attached to the caregiver?

Will she get some special one-to-one time with the baby that is not stressful when she gets home - a nice dinner or bathtime? You could handle something more chore-like so that baby and mum can have some downtime together to play, read, or reconnect after their days. It's hard to come home from work and still have to handle household stuff - if she will be missing the baby and the baby missing her, it would be nice to make sure she has some "just enjoy the baby" time. On the weekends as well, doing stuff together as a family with the baby would help - planned time to go for a long walk together or something.

Our babysitter is a home daycare provider so when my children go to her, I always hear about where they're going that day; I know that I can call her anytime if I need to; I know that she'll call me if something's wrong, but she won't bother me with little stuff; and when I pick them up I hear all about what they did, what they enjoyed, if they're feeling well, what they ate. I watch her interact with my kids while we play at the playground and I know she is affectionate but has reasonable expectations of the children when they're in her care - she doesn't let them get away with misbehaving. She is firm but fair and she is fun with them. My 2 1/2 year old lights up when he sees her. That all contributes to me feeling confident leaving my children with her.

Also our babysitter she likes to take pictures (with her phone) of the kids at whatever outing they're at that day, then send them from her phone to Facebook, so you can see what they're up to. It's minor, but it's nice.
posted by flex at 9:37 AM on February 21, 2012

Oh, yes, the young rope-rider's answer is good. Having your routines established and understood is really helpful. Babies feel more comfortable and less anxious when they know what to expect; and it's less stressful for both of you to know clearly who's responsible for what prep in the mornings, and then who's doing what around the house or with the baby in the evening.
posted by flex at 9:40 AM on February 21, 2012

The biggest thing you can do is ease the baby into the new care provider (whoever that may be), because that transition is stressful. Better to do that beforehand, than have to handle the transition on the first day back at work. My kids go to a home daycare like flex, and we started by dropping off for an hour one day, then a morning, then almost a full day, then a full day. I did that in the week or so leading up to my return to work. It was stressful for both of us, but it made it better than going cold turkey.
posted by Joh at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Start your childcare the month before you need it. Take as much time as you need to transition your baby into care. This is a big change for everyone and there's not need to roll it all out in one week. Your baby is used to being with someone who knows and loves them and now they may be in a group environment or else with a new care provider who may be a little more distant. You can be really kind to your little one and roll this out gradually. If you need the whole month, you need the whole month. If you don't, your wife has a week or three off to deal with the emotional and life upheaval of going back to work - or just to chill out and reflect on a lovely year. I found that it was hard for me to wrap my head around how daycare pick-up affected dinner, for example. Having a little extra time to get used to the new schedule would have helped.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2012

Our son was at his new caregiver's home three half-days a week for the two weeks prior to my return to work. We probably did a some afternoons and some mornings. That worked out well for the babe and for the caregiver, too, so she could get to know our son.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2012

Well this can go either way, in-home or daycare.

We did the first year at our home with a student nurse/nanny. It was great. She emailed me at times and included pics of him doing silly things. She even left a daily log for me so I knew how his day was, anything cute, special, sickness, eating, etc.

Then at 15 months he went to a local daycare. It's awesome for socialization, he loves it, learns a lot, and it's reliable for a schedule (6:30am to 6pm). That was the ONLY drawback we had with the nanny---we had a strict "don't show up if you're sick" policy since he had some risky 1st year illness. So if she called in sick, we had to take off of work and sometimes that was nearly impossible so we had to scramble for backups.

Some would say the cost is also a consideration. Daycare is cheaper.

I would say what helped for me with the in-home was trial days and my husband had his own work schedule so he did a lot of work from home days getting things done while she was there. She didn't mind (my best friend's nanny, however did mind a set up like this). And we got to know her where it was old hat for her to watch him and we didn't worry. The biggest stranger worry for me (school or nanny) was harming him. Then again, I had horrible post partum anxiety and our local news didn't help with a few nanny/daycare child fatalities. Our son had wicked colic so all I cared about was "if you can't handle it, call us asap. We won't judge." We encouraged honesty first.

You wife was very lucky to get a year off. In the US you're lucky to get 6 weeks, let alone a 'generous' 12. Defiantely not enough time for bonding either way. I would say the illness plus the "hurry up and trust your kid with a stranger in 3 months" was the worse things ever. I said if I would have another child, I would figure out a way to stay home for a year then go back to work. Seeing I'm in the US, that will never happen.
posted by stormpooper at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2012

With my first we began part time and it was really difficult. Each time I took him back the tears would start, often for both of us! He was reading my discomfort too of course. With baby number two we went full time and I found the process much easier.

Even though you and your wife may want to stick around I recommend a policy of drop, hug and leave from day one. This is what worked best for us. Once I committed to this routine everyone knew what was going to happen and even if baby was screaming I would give the hug and kiss and then pass him (#1) or her (#2) to the caregiver. Once I was in this routine the children adjusted really quickly, like within a few days.

How to help your wife? Well, lots of family cuddle time at night and weekends of course. Hopefully she likes her job because this will make it a lot easier to go back to work. Let her know what an awesome mom she is. You can also remind her that those screaming, crying children seem to recover very quickly once mom and dad leave!
posted by Cuke at 3:08 PM on February 21, 2012

When I went to work 6 months after having my son, I coped by taking in pictures in a frame, and calling the daycare daily for a week or so. They understood that this was for me, not a lack of trust in them. I was still nursing, and I was doing temp work, so it was ... interesting. Totally agree with making dropoff fast. Give care provider any necessary information, give baby a smooch, and out the door. Make sure Baby knows that you trust the caregiver.

I also coped by recognizing that a good day care enriches a child's life. Mom & Dad will still be the primary source for values, beliefs, culture, etc., but child care will provide diversity and structure, both good things. My son is 24, and his only complaint is about 1 particular summer program, where too many other kids were bullies and hooligans. He liked day care, but always loved his Mom & Dad best.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on February 21, 2012

If they are still nursing, and she wants to continue, you can support her by buying a good pump and pumping accessories (hands-free bra, appropriate containers, etc.) so she can pump more comfortably at work.
posted by bq at 3:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

She, and the baby, will be fine. I spent weeks freaking out but once I was back, and knew my daughter was happy and healthy, I relished my work time.

The hardest part will be getting used to just how little time you'll both have with the little one. Given that babies go to bed around 7pm, you'll be lucky to get 1.5h with her each night. That said, time goes by quickly, and now I find I can't wait to get my 5 year old to bed at night! :)
posted by kilikina73 at 6:13 PM on February 21, 2012

It might be helpful if, for now at least, you can mostly take over the stuff that needs doing from the time you guys get home after work, like making supper. This will let your wife concentrate on being with the baby rather than having to do stuff that doesn't let her hold it or really enjoy their daily reunions.

Also, be aware of a very common reaction that many babies and little kids experience: crying at the first site of mum or dad after a day in day care. Babies and toddlers will often be on their best behavior, using various internal coping mechanisms, while they are at day care without their parent. This is very tiring, so often when they first see their parent at pick-up time, they will burst into tears or misbehave (act crabby and mean to their parent). This is perfectly normal and does not mean that they have been unhappy during the day. It's just a way of relaxing and letting down their guard, now that they are safe with mum or dad. It can be heartbreaking, but it is not necessarily a symptom of problems with day care.

This will be a wrenching time for your wife--probably more than your baby! Just be sweet to her and supportive. But it sounds like you already are!
posted by primate moon at 6:24 PM on February 21, 2012

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