How Dads Readjust When — or if — Mom Goes Back to Work

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Not every mother (or father, for that matter!) decides to go back to work. Others have to do so for financial reasons even when their hearts and tear ducts tell them otherwise. And some mothers and fathers are excited to get back to the daily routine and job they love.

Everyone’s experience is different, but regardless of what choice you and your partner make, the transition is challenging.

Mom gets far more time off work after baby is born than you (usually 6 to 12 weeks), which only makes the going-back process more difficult and emotional for her. There may be tears, running mascara, threats of quitting her job — lots of them — and it’s your job (on top of everything else!) to support her through this difficult transition.

Mom’s innate protective instincts will be at an all-time high the moment she’s forced to put her 3-month-old baby into full-time day care for 40-plus hours every week.

When you went back to work, you had the benefit of transitioning back when baby was at home with the only other person you trust as much as yourself to care for your child. Under most circumstances, mom doesn’t get that luxury, and taking the leap back into business-as-usual won’t be easy for her. Try these techniques to ease mom’s return to work:

  • Get comfortable with childcare. Trusting someone else to care for your fragile baby isn’t easy, but the sooner you start, the easier it will be when that care becomes more frequent. Start letting friends and family take short shifts watching the baby, and even ask your future childcare provider to take on a shift before your partner goes back to work.

    Also, feel free to ask your provider for time to observe his or her interaction with your child on-site.

  • Plan ahead for morning. Mornings are tough for everyone, so don’t leave anything other than showering and getting dressed for the a.m. because you now have to factor in getting baby ready for the day and travel time to the sitter. Take time the night before to make lunches, pick out clothing, pack baby’s diaper bag, and so on to create a calmer mood in the morning.

  • Practice in advance. Getting out the door won’t ever be the same again, and the last thing you want is a panicked, rushed mom on her first day back.

    Much like you did with the trial run to the hospital before baby’s birth, take the time to go through a trial run for mom’s first day back to work. It will benefit you, too, because you’ll be involved in the process of getting baby fed, clothed, and delivered to the sitter and still making it to work on time.

  • Provide mommy alone time. It’s not so unusual for new moms to cling to their newborns, and in some cases, going back to work is your partner’s first separation experience after giving birth. Start slowly by giving your partner blocks of time to be alone on the weekends or evenings during which she can practice doing things without baby around.

  • Stagger the return. Going from full-time mom to full-time employee overnight can be a major shock to the system. Have your partner talk to her employer about the possibility of a staggered return. If the first week back she only works one day, and then the following week she works three, and so on, the transition will be much smoother.

If your partner is threatening to quit her job the first day back, don’t panic and certainly don’t try to change her mind. The best thing to do is listen to her concerns and give her all the bonding time she needs with baby upon returning home from work.

Tell her to take it day by day, and that at the end of every week the two of you will reevaluate the situation. There’s nothing wrong with her making the decision to stay home, but making the decision when her emotions are heightened isn’t a good idea.

Following are some thoughtful ways to improve your partner’s emotional state during the transition back to work:

  • Digitize baby. Buy your partner a digital picture frame for her desk at work or even a pocket-sized device if she works in a non-office environment. Add new pictures every day to give your partner a daily, visual baby update, which will help her feel more connected.

  • Don’t try to fix it. Let her cry and validate her experience, even if you don’t understand why it’s so hard. Mothers give birth to babies, and as deep as the bond between fathers and kids can run, it’s still different for mom. Call her throughout the day to check in and let her know that what she’s experiencing is normal.

  • Give her chore-free nights for bonding. Though you won’t want to shoulder the chore burden all by yourself forever, consider giving your wife a get-out-of-jail-free card during her first week back. Allow her to spend every waking moment with baby to give her the opportunity to reconnect with her child and not feel like she’s missing out on everything.

  • Shower her with gifts and praise. You don’t have to go overboard, but some flowers on her first day back may go a long way toward making her smile, at least for a second, during that first week back. Also, tell her how well she’s doing at adjusting to the changes and that you think she’s a wonderful mother.