When a new baby is born, the dynamic between each couple goes on something of a rollercoaster and very often it can feel like each parent is on their own individual ride – this is only emphasized when those precious first days are over and one half of the couple finally returns to work. For most couples, one half will be in sole charge of the new born in the early days, staying at home and looking after the baby, while the primary earning parent goes back to work full time. This means each parent has a vastly different experience of life with a new baby.
Whether you’re a new stay at home mum or dad, or a working parent, one thing is unavoidable – you’ll have your work cut out for you – it just looks different from each side of the fence. Because there is so little time given to talking about what working partners face when going back to their job with a new born at home, I wanted to write about this process, as I think it’s massively important for couples to understand each other’s roles when a new baby comes along. You’ll both be facing different tests, but the more you can understand each other’s challenges, the better you can work as a parenting team.
There’s no such thing as a standard family these days which is why I want to use the terms ‘lead’ and ‘support’ parents for this article. Whether you’re a typical mum and dad, a mummy double act or a daddying duo, inevitably one of you will be facing the front line as a lead parent in the early stages – changing nappies, sorting feeds, and being the constant carer day to day, while the other half will be out there in the working world. Lead parents are those who are predominantly with the baby most of the time, while support parents are those who work for the most part of the week and have family life around their working hours. Either way, both of you will be working your socks off, but very little time is given to considering the impact of a new born on the life of the supporting parent; sure it’s less intense in terms of nappies changed and tears dried, but that’s not to say the working parent has an easy ride.
When you become a new parent, it’s undeniably the beginning of a brand new you, in one way or another. Often becoming a new supporting parent means you’re set up to have less day to day interaction with your child, and a whole new set of pressures on your relationship and working life. In fact, because the supporting parent has to work so much, it can often take a bit longer to settle into the new role of parent and this period of ‘settling in’ can sometimes be fraught with worry. Fears about bonding, worrying about how well their other half is coping and feeling the strain of having to provide financially can become all-consuming concerns for a new supporting, working parent.
One of the main problems I see working parents facing is whether or not they should articulate their feelings. Often they feel as though they should keep their feelings or fears inside because their day to day lives haven’t changed as dramatically as their partners. They can worry that their emotions are less valid or worry about adding another layer of pressure or stress by opening up when they are finding the work-family life balance hard. This is such a shame because the more each parent is able to open up, the better your communication will be, and the better you’ll be able to manage.
Support parents know exactly what they have to do in the world of work to succeed. Life is more regimented and processes are in place, but with a new born, things are rarely so straightforward. Each day there’s something new to discover (or worry about!) and the goal posts are constantly changing. Needless to say it can take a while for working parents to really find their feet and feel comfortable with their baby and in their role as a parent. In the early days, support parents can often feel overlooked or unnecessary, some even say they feel useless, which, when you stop to think about it, are really negative and difficult emotions to have to deal with, especially when as a parent to be, the expectation was that you were about to embark on some of the best days of your life. This sense of distance that support parents feel can lead to a lack of confidence and insecurity.
The work-life balance can feel like a myth for most new working parents. Combining a full time job with being a new parent is hard – there’s the usual day to day pressures of work, as well as a whole new set of expectations and pressures at home. Trying to perform well professionally, at the same time as performing well personally is a really tough line to walk. The dynamics have suddenly shifted, and work becomes even more important than ever, as the working parent truly realises that they have to provide for their family. The security of their job becomes more of a concern and it’s common for new parents to feel as though they have to give more than ever to their jobs to make sure they’re secure and able to provide, which can sometimes lead to having less to give when they walk through the door at home.
Truth be told, the role of the working parent is very stop start. Working parents have to switch from work mode to parent mode at various points in the day and it’s not always easy for everyone to transition instantly from one environment to another. Allowing a working partner some space and time to change gear each evening, can lead to a more fulfilling dynamic, it just takes a little patience.
Working parents usually want to help to make up for the time they’re away from their family, but help is only helpful when it doesn’t impact negatively. For example, there is simply no point in asking working partners to help feed during the night if they have to go to work early the next day – its just not sustainable. If the lead parent is breastfeeding it may be easier to introduce a dream feed (by bottle) as soon as the milk supply is established, and mother and baby are confident. Working parents can then enjoy doing a dreamfeed before they go to bed and have some time to bond with their baby, all while their partner gets some extra time in bed. Alternatively, if things are getting too much with disturbed nights, a night nanny a few nights a week or month can give you both something to look forward to – a good night’s sleep!
It’s so important that working partners are able to carve out some one to one time with their baby, to help with bonding and to give the lead parent a break. Whether it’s taking the baby to the shops on a Saturday morning or to visit family while the lead has a nap or some time out of the house, the more opportunities that the working parent has to be with their baby alone, the more confident, secure and capable they will feel.
Dare I say it, but working parents need me time too. Ok, sure, when they’re at work they have the freedom to go to the loo without an audience or drink a hot drink when it’s actually hot, but remember that work is still work, and that everyone is entitled to some alone time to pursue their interests – whether it’s catching up with friends at football or going to the gym.
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