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Our Favourite Discussions When You Both Go Back to Work

In every house there are tasks that become someone's job, but when one parent goes back to work how fair is the split and what conversations need to be had to make it work?


Many people remark that everything changes once you have children. Your whole world is turned upside down and you may question previous priorities. Such an upheaval cannot fail to have an impact on your relationship, whether for the positive or negative or, more likely, a mixture of both.

Renegotiating the domestic contract

Even in the most equal of partnerships, you can find yourself adopting what you might have thought of as traditional gender roles. This is in part because the mother is often at home with the baby while the father is out at work, meaning mum takes charge of childcare issues. This can be a hard routine to break once the mother returns to work.

Working together

Shared parenting, whereby dads will be able to share maternity leave with the mum, could make this easier.

A recent survey by Workingmums.co.uk shows that there is a larger appetite for this than might be expected. Some 41% of women said they would consider sharing their maternity leave with their partners when shared parenting legislation comes into effect in 2014.

What a survey of working mums said

Workingmums.co.uk conducts an annual survey and this year 27% of working mums say they split childcare and housework equally with their partners.

Unfortunately the rest feel they are doing most of the domestic work and childcare. The most common reason given for this is that women are more likely to work part time and this in turn is because men still earn more, although this is changing. Indeed, 18% of working mums earn more than their partners, and a further 19% are the main earners in their family due to being single parents.

Women can also take a hit in their working life by ending up in lower paid jobs than they were in before they had children if they take a career break.

Finding solutions and making plans

Renegotiating the Domestic ContractHow and to what extent household roles change varies from family to family and depends a lot on couples' different working patterns.

It's important to remember that going back to work after maternity leave or a career break is a period of adjustment for everyone - mum, dad and kids - and that things will take a while to settle, but it definitely helps to prepare in advance and to sit down and have a discussion about how the logistics will work.

While it sounds regimental, having plans, lists and timetables will help to create balance - particularly in the early days, so that everyone knows what they're doing when and also where they need to be. It certainly helps to reduce some of the stress and potential tension, and ensures that you continue to communicate about the stress points rather than letting them percolate under the surface.

Workingmums.co.uk suggests these talking points:

Childcare arrangements

It's really important to feel happy and confident with your childcare arrangements before you return to work. And to ensure those arrangements are sustainable and fit with your working patterns, so you're not constantly rushing, and that both parents are involved in deciding what those childcare plans are.

Both parents need to find out whether they are entitled to any financial help through tax credits or childcare vouchers which are applicable to both mothers and fathers.

See if you can split drop-offs and pick-ups so that it's not just one parent doing it most of the time. Timetables for pick-ups and drop-offs may change on a weekly basis so it's important to set aside half an hour or so each week to discuss schedules. There may be short term changes that have a big impact. We've all suffered from that last minute panic when both parents realise they've got early meetings and can't do the drop-off.

It's important to have a backup childcare plan. It could be that you both have meetings, or your child is home with the chicken pox or your nanny or childminder has called in sick. A general plan needs to be agreed beforehand so that it is not always the same parent taking the time off and feeling guilty about the impact on their work. It shouldn't become a competition about whose work is more important than the other's - this can be self-defeating for everyone concerned! If it's always the same parent taking time off, it can lead to a general feeling that they aren't pulling their weight at work, causing a dip in confidence.

Some companies provide backup or emergency childcare cover through organisations like My Family Care, which can greatly alleviate the stress of last minute discussions. If you don't have this facility you may also need to consider your own backup plan, just in case neither of you can take time off or you're both stuck in meetings an hour or more from home and can't collect a sick baby; this can involve relatives or friends or babysitters. Make sure you have their mobile numbers in your phone and can get hold of them easily.

Flexible working

Both parents have the right to request flexible working under the flexible working legislation, although mums currently have more rights on appeal. However, companies overwhelmingly report that women are much more likely to request it - men's reluctance to request flexible working may be partly to do with peer pressure.

Some organisations hold workshops to encourage men to talk about how to go about making a request and their fears about the consequences, for instance, on career progression. The work culture is changing, but there is still resistance to a more flexible work culture for all. If both partners negotiate some flexibility it can be easier to share the childcare arrangements.

Bedtime and bath time

Who does it? Once again, it comes down to talking through how you can share this as equally as possible between couples. Bedtime in particular can be a drawn-out process, so sharing it can make all the difference. Ditto to lie-ins at the weekend.

Don't make it a competition over who works the hardest so that it is always one person getting up in the night and doing the early morning shift. If one person is permanently sleep deprived tensions tend to be exacerbated.

Share the sleep deprivation; that way everyone is tired, but no one is at the point of screaming with exhaustion. It can be difficult to share getting up in the night evenly if mum is breastfeeding and a teething baby finds that their only comfort, but dads can compensate by giving mum an extra lie-in. It's just about being considerate towards each other.

GP/dentist visits, time off for deliveries, etc.

Again, make sure it's not always the same person doing this. It looks as if you don't value their job as much as yours, which can be a particularly fraught issue if one parent works from home most of the time. It is assumed that, because they are at home, they should always be the one to take time out. However, it needs to be remembered that while it might be easier for them to pick up a sick child, they are still working and have deadlines to meet. When it's not possible to share the load, try to cut your partner some slack in the evening so they can catch up.

Shopping, saving time, and sharing

We live in a world which has changed dramatically due to technology: Make use of it. In the past, you would see women popping out in their lunch hour to do the shopping. Nowadays it can all be done online, saving hours of time and you can plan meals in advance to make the shopping and cooking even more streamlined.

In fact, actively seek ways of saving time and making your life easier, whether that is hiring a cleaner if you can afford one, or lowering your cleaning standards so you can spend more time with the family. For instance, is ironing actually necessary?

Learning to "let go" can be one of the most difficult things when you go back to work, but everything doesn't have to be perfect. The temptation can be to take on extra tasks and responsibilities to show willing, but it's important not to overstretch yourself in the early days back at work and to try to keep things simple until you get into a routine.

Make sure you discuss responsibilities so everyone is on the same page. Sharing - or not sharing - the cleaning and other domestic chores can open a can of worms. Scratch the surface and you'll find many a couple debating whether cooking is a domestic chore or, if your partner actually likes it, a hobby.

Equally you'll find the debate deepens when couples argue over the value of different chores... Is taking the bin out once a week equal to picking up all the toys and cleaning the toilet every night?

Giving yourselves some free time

Make sure both partners have some time off. Everyone needs some time away from the routine. Make sure this is equal and make sure you also have time just for you and your partner to relax and talk properly, rather than just discussing schedules. Don't turn your relationship into a series of business meetings!

Basically, it all boils down to treating your partner as an equal and trying to see things from their point of view, and the only way to do that is through regular communication. The trouble is that children and work can occupy all your time if you let them.

You need to ensure you make time for the oil that greases the wheels of family life and keeps the whole operation - and it is an operation - on the tracks.

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