It’s hard to imagine how having a baby is going to affect all aspects of your life. Everyone speaks about the shock of the first child – and it is a shock. You may read lots of books about parenting, but the reality is a different thing altogether. So what can you do ahead of the birth to prepare for how having a baby will affect your domestic life and how that might impact on your life at work? Workingmums.co.uk has some suggestions of how to plan ahead.
1. Think about how you divide up tasks with your partner [if you have one] and what you envisage to be the best way forward after having the baby. Just as the most progressive employers encourage you to talk through what your plans for work might be before you go on leave and to speak to other parents so you are aware of some of the issues that might crop up, it’s important to have similar conversations with your partner. It can be easy to focus on the day to day and the excitement of the actual birth itself without thinking about longer term logistics. Often this is because you just don’t know what will happen and how you will feel, but it is still a good idea to have at least a vague plan.
2. Firstly, this may be about the leave itself. It’s important to have honest conversations about parental leave. Nowadays, many parents can share their leave. Every family will be different and have different circumstances they are dealing with. For some, it may make more financial sense for the women to take all or the majority of the leave, for instance. But it is important to have those conversations openly and to explore how different social expectations might affect these. Are you reluctant to share your leave because of social pressures, for instance? How does that make your partner feel? How will that impact on the family in the long term? For instance, are you setting up long-term patterns for being the main carer and how will that affect your career progression? Does this matter to you? Of course, you may not qualify for Shared Parental Leave, but it is still a good idea to think ahead and talk about how patterns that are set in the first few months after the birth of your child may impact on longer term sharing of childcare responsibilities when both parents are back at work.
3. Sharing child-related and domestic tasks: many couples simply fall into specific tasks, for instance, the woman does most of the housework. There can be many reasons for this – the woman is off work, working from home, working part time, it is expected that she do it, she feels she does it better, etc, etc, but it can create resentment. Again, talking about this in advance is a good plan. When dividing up tasks, it can also be a good idea to play to people’s strengths rather than divide tasks randomly. Not addressing these issues early on can cause tensions. Resentment can eat away at relationships and can cause a lot of arguments, particularly if both parents are sleep-deprived and quicker to anger than usual. That is why being open and anticipating particular problems in advance is a good strategy. You’d do it at work, so why not at home?
4. Review the set-up on a regular basis. Is it working? How do you feel about it? Things change in work and family life all the time. Children go through different ages and stages. Families grow. What people want from family and work life changes too. It’s important to keep channels of communication open and make some time to talk these things through. It doesn’t require a board meeting, but just a bit of time and space to look at the wider picture – something that isn’t always easy in the maelstrom of working families’ lives. If you don’t make time for it, you will find it goes out of the window. After all, businesses which don’t regularly schedule time for long-term thinking and planning and function mainly on firefighting day to day tend to be the ones which are most at risk of hitting turbulence – particularly in the current uncertain times.