Where to start
Talk about it
Firstly, talk to your boss. Companies are obliged to consider a request for your job to become part-time if you want it to. If it’s a viable option, you could negotiate an arrangement to work some of the time from home or a few days a week.
See both sides
Remember you need to be flexible. This isn’t about you going into the office and saying, “I’m a mum now so you have to accommodate me.” Take solutions not problems in to your meeting, and be prepared to discuss ideas on how it’ll all move forward.
Think through the options
Now you’ve had a baby, there are so many new options open to you. Think about what kind of mum you are. Could you work part-time? Could you set up your own business from home? There are so many things you could try.
Preparing to head back to work
Routine is key
Yes, I say it every time, but mums, it’s so important to get into a good routine. Because when you do, everyone benefits. When you do everything you can for your baby or toddler you’re both happier and more relaxed. And you both have a good day, leading on to a happy evening together, sharing time and catching up.
Get your sleep
If you’re tired, everyone will suffer. When you know you’re returning to work, make time to look after yourself so you’re on the ball. Eat healthily and get lots of sleep so you can cope with the emotional and physical challenge ahead. Think ahead with tasks such as expressing milk and preparing food for your little one so you’re not rushing around in the mornings.
Plan for illness
Everything’s going well, you’re both settling into the new routine when suddenly there’s a phone call at work to say your little one’s ill. Stay calm – panicking won’t help anyone and certainly won’t portray you as someone whose mind is on the job. The answer is to think about how you’ll handle sudden illness before it happens. Hopefully your plan will include other people (such as your partner or another carer) who could pick up your child if it’s necessary.
How you may feel
Control your emotions
If you don’t feel like you’re coping, don’t bottle it up. When you go back to work your situation is less balanced than you’re used to, and that stirs up all kinds of emotions and reactions from your child.
Don’t beat yourself up
A lot of parents ask me, “Am I hurting my baby by going back to work early?”. There’s been a lot of press in recent months about babies needing their mums to be around for the first one or two years of their life in order to be the happiest they can be. But let’s be realistic – life often dictates otherwise. If you need to provide a home, that might include working to pay to run the home, that’s OK.
Try not to call
When mums come to me and say they miss their child and can’t concentrate at work, I ask them to challenge themselves, and to make that challenge ‘at the clock’. That basically means setting deadlines as far ahead as possible for yourself. Such as, “I won’t call home for at least…” and then set a time, such as another two hours, or lunchtime.
Dealing with overtime
There’s always going to be that one meeting you have to stay late for – or go in early to attend. That’s business. The time to speak up is when something’s really affecting your schedule. For example, if the meeting is once a week and always scheduled for first or last thing. Again, it’s about flexibility.
Suggest an alternative
Say that you want to be there, and it’s important to you, but ask if they’ll consider making it earlier or later. If you have a healthy working relationship with your boss, he or she should let you approach them with the suggestion. Ultimately, they’ll want you to be productive as possible.
I have a mantra when you’re choosing childcare. But don’t worry mums, it’s very easy to remember: “Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask”. There are never too many questions you can throw at a potential nanny, nursery, daycare centre or childminder. And if they’re good at their job, they really won’t mind answering them.
As well as going through their facilities and hours, ask them things like, “How do you deal with a tantrum?”, “What’s your approach to meals and snacks?’” and “What happens if a mum is late one evening?”. Give scenarios rather than questions with yes or no answers.
Find out if they’re registered, have an Ofsted report, have been CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked and ask for references. Speak to other mums and get their opinion too. You can never be too inquisitive when it comes to someone looking after your child.
Build up gradually
The more you prepare your toddler before she goes off to nursery, the more confident she’ll feel. Take it in stages. Start by having one friend over for play dates to promote one on one social skills. Move on to having more than one friend over. That way, when she gets to nursery, sharing a table with four or five others won’t be so daunting.
Build her trust
Having adults around at home makes your child more trusting and confident in other adult company. If you have time, move on from play dates at your home to arranging one at a friend’s house where you can drop her off and collect her later. Make sure it’s a familiar environment.
The last thing your toddler needs is you being upset when you leave her at nursery or with her nanny. Be positive and re-enforce that this is her exciting new place with fun things to do and people to do them with. Give positive affirmations such as, “Today is going to be exciting!” Then make your exit a happy but swift one. You can always leave something with her, like a scarf, and say “Mummy will be back later to collect you and her scarf” so she’s reassured.
Jo’s Top Tips
- “Texting is a great way to get updates from whoever’s looking after your child without the phone ringing all day long. You could even get them to text a picture of what your child is doing at lunchtime.”
- “Practice and time does make separation easier. Try to be patient with your emotions.”
- “I kept daily diaries (like ‘10am – played with jigsaw’ etc) when I was a nanny. It helps to keep the parents informed when a child’s done something new.”
“I treasure the evenings”
“I went back to work when my son David was 5 months old and I was quite a mess during my first week back. I called the nursery almost every hour and then realised I was keeping them away from the children.”
Astrid Heitz, 38, from Middlesex, mum to David, 9 months
“I keep photos of my son on my desk”
“I’ve gone back to my job as a teacher now that Tom’s a bit older and I have a photo of him on my desk to help me cope when I’m missing him. A friend recommended a childminder who is near my workplace so pick ups and drop offs are stress-free for both of us.”
Lucy Phillips, 31, from London, mum to Thomas, 13 months