Your partner can be the make or break of success as a working parent

Countless working parents tell us: ‘My other half has been my rock – if I didn’t have him, there would be no way I would have been able to come back to work.’

We are always being asked for practical tips and the ‘secrets’ of how to make things work as a working parent with babies and young children.  One area we often don’t discuss but which is hugely important to your long-term success for good work/family balance is the relationship with your other half.  Put simply, if you work hard to get your relationship with your other half in a good place (even before your baby is born), you will both reap rewards later.

Think sleepless nights and then juggling the nursery run when you are back to work…all this takes a huge amount of negotiation and give and take, often when you are lacking physical and emotional resources for stability.

The first trigger point for potential problems for most couples facing new parenthood is in the early weeks following the baby’s birth, as you both grapple with the change you are facing (and the lack of sleep). New fathers often find it hard to be involved and feel ‘helpful’, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. This is often the time when family and friends descend on you – further stretching the dynamics.

The second trigger point is often when one parent returns to work after parental leave (this is still usually the father due to lack of paid leave options, but not always). One reason for this being a tricky period is that the 2 worlds of home and work are almost opposite in so many ways, and not appreciating and understanding this difference can have an impact on the relationship with your partner. Within a number of weeks, you will quickly find that one of you remains deeply immersed in the world of ‘babyland’, whilst the other has to get back to working life.

Up until now, especially if this is your first baby, it is likely that you have both been working, and therefore facing a similar structure to your day. With the arrival of a baby, however, and the practicalities of 1 person having to go back to work, suddenly your daily routines are worlds apart. Consider the differences below:

Life at home with a baby can be:

- Unpredictable
- Physically challenging
- Exhausting
- Slow-paced
- Volatile
- Unstructured
- Cosy, safe, loving
- Lonely
- Fulfilling
- Baby-focused
- Focused on the day-to-day

Life at work can be:

- Routined
- Hectic
- Scheduled
- Structured
- Sociable
- Time-pressured
- Political
- Back-stabbing
- Rewarding
- Self-focused
- Strategic

Not only is it difficult to relate to each other’s daily lives, you may well fall into the traditional pattern of dad doing the paid work; mum doing all the childcare and the chores at home. This may work well whilst you are on maternity leave, but be careful that you don’t set yourself up for continuing all of these responsibilities on top of your job when you return to work, because it can happen. This can then lead to the third trigger of stress on a relationship – the change in dynamics if/when the second parent decides to go back to work.

The relationship you have with your partner can greatly affect your return to work experience.

Many women who return to work find that unless they can now share the childcare drop-offs and pick-ups and the daily chores at home, the stress of trying to ‘do it all’ will inevitably lead to break-point. If your partner isn’t supportive of your return to work decision, this can feed any guilt or insecurities you are already facing.  According to last year’s ONS report, women are still doing 40% more household chores than men.

What to do?

  • Talk about your expectations of each other now, before you become bleary-eyed and emotionally-drained, and then again at each of the above trigger points
  • Re-visit the chores and responsibilities list regularly and re-juggle based on available time, who enjoys what and who is best at each
  • Be mindful of how you communicate. To avoid a list of nagging requests, a very simple but effective tip is to communicate with the desired result in mind.  So, if you want to ask your other half for a coffee, instead of:
    ‘Please make me a coffee’ try ‘I would loveit if I could sit down for 5 minutes and have a coffee’
  • NHS Choices website have a good video to watch with some simple tips on managing your relationships alongside parenthood

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