1. Grown-ups
  2. Work & child care
  3. Going back to work

Returning to work: preparing your family

By the time you have to go back to work, your child has got pretty used to having you around. Adjusting to the change might be a challenge for you both. And going back to work could mean changes in your other relationships too.

Your child

Thinking about what your child needs to be happy is a good start. Depending on age, your child’s needs range from just feeling safe and secure to interaction, play, encouragement and skills development. If you can work out ways to fulfil your child’s needs when you’re not around, it’ll make it easier for her to get used to your return to work.

When they start child care, young children might experience separation anxiety. They might get upset and worried when they have to spend time away from you. This is a normal part of childhood development. Although it’s heartbreaking to see your baby upset, there are steps you can take to reduce his anxiety.

Here are some ideas to help your child adapt when you go back to work:

  • Talk to your child about what’s going to happen when the daily routine changes. Routine provides security and a sense of belonging for children, and they like to know beforehand if things are going to change.
  • Practice with small separations, to show your child that when you go away, you always come back. This will build up your child’s sense of security. These separations need to be very short at first – even simple games of peekaboo are a good start. It can take a long time (even years) for your child to get used to being apart from you. It also pays to be aware that this change can have a novelty factor for some children – they might seem happy at first, but get upset a few days or weeks down the track. 
  • Take all the steps you need to make sure your child will be safe and well cared for. Feel free to ask your child care provider lots of questions. They expect it, and it helps you feel better about the separation too.
  • Help your child become familiar with her new carers and child care environment by doing some orientation visits.
  • Always say goodbye, and explain when you’ll be back. When your child’s upset, you might feel tempted to sneak out, but saying goodbye will build trust and reinforce the pattern.
  • When your child’s at child care, let him keep something that makes him feel secure (a dummy, a teddy or a blanket).
  • Be sympathetic to your baby. Let her know that you understand it’s hard and you wish you could stay.
  • Follow the same routine each morning so your child knows what to expect.
  • If you can, ease into the new arrangement by working part-time for the first week or two.
For more information, you might like to read our articles on settling your child into care and getting started with child care. If you have mixed feelings about going back to work and leaving your child, other parents can be a great source of advice and support. You can connect in our online parent forums.

Your partner and other family members

Your relationships with your partner and family might also be affected by returning to work. The secret to making this work is to make the most of your time together. For example:

  • Spend time with family members, even if it’s just reading or watching TV.
  • Talk to or email your partner during the workday.
  • Schedule lunch or dinner dates with your partner. If you work near each other, you can spend time together having a quick coffee or lunch without having to find a babysitter.
  • When there are jobs to be done around the house, try to do them together so you can talk. One of you can clean the shower while the other does the basin. One can wash the dishes while the other dries. You can both fold laundry.
  • Put the kids to bed early so you have some time with your partner.
  • Go to bed at the same time as your partner – who knows what might happen!

If returning to work is proving very difficult and you don’t feel it’s working out, it’s all right to look at your work options again. There might be another way to manage your time and money so that you have a happier balance.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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