Research* states that children whose family connects with, contributes to and engages with their early learning services have better outcomes for learning and for life.
For many families, returning to work after the birth of their baby is fraught with emotion. There is the excitement of returning to the workforce and engaging with other adults again alongside a feeling of dread and guilt about placing their baby in child care. Parents struggle with concerns about the level of care and attention that their child is going to receive and feel as though they will potentially miss out on important milestones and beautiful moments with their baby. Here we discuss ways that families can reduce the stress of returning to work after maternity/paternity leave.
- Budget Planning. The unexpected high costs of quality child care can add to stresses of returning to work. Before returning to work contact the Department of Human Services to receive an estimate of the child care benefit and child care rebate that you will be entitled to. You will receive a percentage amount and many parents get confused as to what will this mean for them. Services all charge varied rates and this percentage is NOT necessarily off the actual fee that you will pay. It is incredibly important that you contact your potential child care services to get an accurate quote of the amount that you will pay as an out of pocket expense. There is more than just the added cost of child care to consider, you may also need to consider the additional cost of fuel now that you are working and driving more, costs of parking, cost of public transport, meals and coffee (are you going to take lunch every day? will you buy coffee from the cafe now?) are all items that you should consider in your budget planning.
- Do your research. There are a wide range of early childhood education and care services available for families. These include Long Day Care (aka. child care centres), Family Day Care (where a small group of children are cared for in a home environment by qualified and registered educators), Nanny services, Occasional Care Services and In-Home Care services. It is important that you understand the way that each service operates so that you can make an informed decision about what type of care service you are comfortable with. www.careforkids.com.au has a range of checklists available to families to help you choose the right service for you.
- Start care earlier than needed. So that you and your child can build a trusting, caring, mutually respectful relationship with the educators who will be caring for your child it is important to create an orientation/transition plan. This is where you initially visit the service and stay with your child for a very short period of time (usually an hour), gradually building up to a full day over a week or two (depending on how quickly your child settles). Initially, it is best if you can be available to collect your child early from care even when they have settled into full days. Gradually increasing from two days to full time care will assist you and your child to feel most comfortable. Use these days as “training” for returning to work – getting ready and leaving so that you will arrive at the centre at the time that you will be doing so when you return to work.
- Create home/child care connections. Building a “bridge” between home and care settings can assist children to feel safe, secure and supported. As an educator I use to have parents create a “me page” to be brought into the service when they first commenced care this would then go with the children as they moved to another room creating yet another connection from their old room to their new room. This was an A4 sized picture collage created by the family which included images of their family, pets, special toys and favourite things with short description labels so that educators could use this to talk with the child about their special people and things, creating a comforting link to home when at care. We would also create a “day care page” which would stay at home on the fridge (usually at the child’s level) that had images of the centre director, the child’s educators, the place where they ate meals, the sleep room, the change room, the play area and the outside area. This page helped families and children to keep the connection to care when they were at home, especially for children who only attended one or two days a week. Families could use this as a catalyst for conversation at any time.
- Plan for illnesses. When first attending an early childhood education and care service children are exposed to new bugs and germs that they have not developed immunity to yet. Be prepared for coughs, colds, fevers and exposure to common communicable diseases such as tummy bugs and hand, foot and mouth. Couples should discuss their plans for when their child comes down with an illness, will they take it in turn to take time off from work? Is there a relative or close friend who can be available to care for your child in the event of a minor illness? Preparing for this will mean that if it does occur you already know what you are going to do. Ensuring that your child is getting a nutritious, balanced diet will also improve their ability to fight off these illnesses. Make sure that you are aware of your employer’s policies and procedures relating to sick leave and carers leave.
- Flexible child routine. Even children with the most rigid routines at home, will undoubtedly change this routine when attending care. Children can also quickly fall into having one routine at home and one slightly altered routine at care. It is best to provide an outline of your child’s routine to your early childhood education and care service but to be prepared for this to change according to your child’s needs while at the service. Educators will make every effort to keep to your routines. consider though that children usually have their own bedroom at home, whilst in early childhood education and care settings they are sharing a room with multiple other children. They probably don’t have the number of other children and adults coming in and out of your home that they encounter every day at care and these things can initially unsettle a routine. Being flexible with your child’s routine will reduce your stress levels in the event that they are not exactly the same whilst in care.
- Wear something over your uniform. The last thing you want is to go to work with the lingering smell of 1. baby vomit or 2. baby poo never mind the smear of this morning’s breakfast on your collar. I highly recommend wearing an over-shirt of some description once you are ready for work and until after you drop your child off at care. This way you are not as flustered in the event of a last minute “accident” and can still go to work with stain free attire. This is a small mercy when you have had “one of those mornings”.
- Stay connected and up to date. The first five years is a time of rapid and critical development for your child and you want to make sure that you are not missing a thing. It is also proven that children who have family that connects with, contributes to and engages with their early learning services have better outcomes for learning and for life. EarlyWorks supports families to stay connected and informed about their child’s day with a FREE online parent portal. You will be informed of your child’s food intake, bottles, sleep times and get a real time view into their daily routine. Through EarlyWorks, you are provided with an insight into your child’s day, providing a platform to launch conversations and engagement about experiences that are relevant and interesting to your child NOW. Even babies benefit from family having conversations with them about their day, exposing them to rich language and deep connections. You are able to access the portal at any time day or night, allowing you to take the time to review and reflect on your child’s learning and development AND to contribute your own experiences and suggestions for future developmental opportunities. EarlyWorks allows you to contribute and communicate securely, providing easy access to all past communications and contributions. EarlyWorks can be accessed using your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure that you are eating well balanced nutritious meals, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep and looking after yourself. You may find that preparing meals for the week in advance over a weekend helps to make sure that even on the nights where you can’t be bothered you can just pull out a healthy satisfying meal from the freezer. Keep an eye on your water intake, as most people don’t drink enough H2O which can lead to headaches, moodiness, inability to concentrate, poor sleep quality and other negative side effects that you could definitely do without. Allocate time out for you at least once a week – a relaxing bath or a walk along the beach is enough if it is all you can manage.
- It’s ok to get help. Many families struggle with returning to work after maternity/paternity leave. At times it can feel overwhelming and you may need support. You can call Parentline on 1300 30 1300 for the cost of a local call. Web Counselling is also available on Tuesday and Thursday between 11am and 2pm.
* Charles Sturt University, 2012 Sandie Wong, Frances Press, Jennifer Sumsion & Louise Hard