Returning to work - things to consider

Returning to work - things to consider

Contributed by
Roxanne Elliott

Founder CareforKids.com.au enquiries@careforkids.com.au

To make the transition back to work as smooth as possible for both you and your family you''ll need to take some time to ease everyone in to the new arrangements.

To feel secure in care, your child needs to develop an emotional attachment to the adults who care for him or her. For this reason it is important to try and maintain continuity of care and to avoid changing carers more than once a year. Younger children will benefit from even longer relationships, so try and keep this in mind when you choose your care provider.

The relationship between your child and his or her carer is an important one for ensuring the success of the child care arrangement. Rest assured, however, that quality care is no substitute for the value of your primary parent-child bond and you should not worry about being ''replaced''.

Things to Consider When Choosing Care>>
The Settling in Period>>
In the Longer Term>>
Staying in Touch with Your Child After You Return to Work>>
Creating a Strong Family Culture While Working>>

Things to Consider When Choosing Care

  • There should be a good match between your child''s temperament and needs and the carers ability to meet them
  • Look for small numbers of children to carers. For pre-school children, it''s ideal to have no more than four children to one carer although this is not always achievable
  • Look for a carer with the potential to develop a continuous, strong and positive relationship with your child
  • Make sure staff have been trained in health, safety (CPR) and child development

These rules apply no matter whether you choose a nanny, an au pair, an in-home carer, family day care, long day care centre, a pre-school, or a nanny share arrangement. The priority is to ensure your child receives quality, professional child care which accommodates their needs and helps you meet your professional commitments.

All of the child care options available have pros and cons and you''ll need to weigh them up against your family''s requirements to ensure you put your child in the best type of care. The following table summarises some of the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular types of care:

Type of child care Advantages Disadvantages
Nanny
  • Individual attention for your child. One-on-one care is especially important for children under one.
  • Consistent care from one person.
  • Generally a professional child carer, with relevant qualifications.
  • Hours are flexible, depending on your contract agreement.
  • Child stays in own home and familiar environment. Routines do not have to change. No need to travel and less exposure to illness.
  • You can have more say in child care as nanny is your direct employee.
  • Some nannies do light housework.
  • Can be expensive compared with other child care if you have one child.
  • Child may miss out on daily social interactions if there are no regular play dates and outings.
  • You will need to arrange back-up care if the nanny is ill, takes holidays or leaves.
  • If you employ a nanny directly, rather than use an agency, you will be responsible for wages, tax, superannuation etc. Read about your obligations for employing a nanny.
  • You may feel you lose some privacy and space with a live-in nanny sharing your home.
Nanny sharing
  • You have the benefits of a nanny but with lower costs.
  • You only pay for the time you need the nanny.
  • If the nanny is caring for children from two families simultaneously, they may form strong friendships.
  • Administration and paperwork can be shared with the other family.
  • It can take time and effort to find a compatible family to share a nanny with.
  • You will need to co-ordinate holidays and any changes in schedule with the other family.
  • Disagreements between the nanny and one family may affect the other family.
Au pair
  • Exposes the family to another culture and language.
  • A cheaper option than a full-time nanny.
  • Individual attention for your child.
  • Child stays in own home and familiar environment. Routines do not have to change. No need to travel and less exposure to illness.
  • Au pair is living with the family, so can be flexible to fit in routines and special needs (eg holidays).
  • A typical au pair placement is 12 months, so consistency of care can be an issue. (NB: Au pairs on a Working Holiday visa are restricted to 12 months'' work with one employer.)
  • Generally young and living away from home, so will need some personal guidance and advice.
  • May not be interested in child care as a career option, and may have little experience.
  • You may feel you lose some privacy and space with another person sharing your home.
  • If you employ a au pair directly, rather than use an agency, you will be responsible for wages, tax, superannuation etc.
Mother''s help
  • Can help with housework as well as child care.
  • A cheaper option than a full-time nanny.
  • Individual attention for your child.
  • Child stays in own home and familiar environment. Routines do not have to change. No need to travel and less exposure to illness.
  • Not qualified or newly qualified so may not have much experience.
  • Initially, should not be left unsupervised until they are comfortable with the child and their duties.
Long day care (child care centre)
  • For a single child, it is usually cheaper than hiring a nanny.
  • Care is always available during opening hours. The centre will manage replacement staff if any carer is ill or unavailable.
  • Provides a structured program with routine and activities.
  • Centres are licensed facilities, and all staff will have relevant experience and qualifications.
  • Child meets a range of other children and carers.
  • Less individual attention than nanny or au pair.
  • Child is exposed to more people and more illnesses.
  • Child may find it hard to settle in to unfamiliar environment.
  • Many centres have long waiting lists and fees can be expensive.
  • May not be flexible enough to suit your child''s individual temperament and needs.
  • You will have to arrange travel to and from the centre.
Family day care
  • A relatively cheap child care option.
  • A safe, home environment with consistent care.
  • Most carers have had children of their own.
  • Interaction with a small group of children of varying ages.
  • Can be arranged to fit in to your schedule.
  • You will need to arrange back-up care if the carer is ill or unavailable.
  • There is not the same range of toys, equipment and activities as at a child care centre.
  • The carer may not have formal child care qualifications.
  • You will have to arrange travel to and from the carer s home.
In-home care
  • May be the best option in special situations eg parents working non-standard hours, sick child.
  • Flexible child care to suit the hours you need.
  • Individual attention for your child.
  • Child stays in home environment. Routines do not have to change. No need to travel and less exposure to illness.
  • Can be expensive, depending on how long care is needed.
  • Child may miss out on daily social interactions if there are no regular play dates and outings.
  • You will need to arrange back-up care if the carer is ill or unavailable.
Babysitter
  • Flexible child care, especially for short periods over evenings and weekends.
  • Child stays in home environment.
  • Gives parents a chance to take a break without a long-term child care commitment.
  • Child care experience varies and babysitters are not always qualified.
  • May not be available for regular long-term care or longer hours.

The Settling in Period

You''ve chosen the right child care and the first day has arrived, some of the simple preparations described below should help make you first day and first week a little easier.

Remember, many children experience anxiety when they first start in care and this is completely normal. Prepare your child by talking to them in the days beforehand about where they will be going and what they will be doing. Try and focus on the positive aspects such as the new toys, the new friends and all the fun activities they can participate in.

Take your child to visit the service on a few occasions before you leave them on their own. It may be helpful to start your child in care a few weeks before you need to start work so you can conduct these visits in a relaxed and leisurely fashion. Take your child on a ''tour'' of all the new equipment and make sure you answer all their questions as openly and honestly as you can, make sure you reassure them that everything will be okay.

On your child''s first day try and arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time so you can help your child settle into an activity before you leave for work. Your child will be less likely to protest your departure if they are having fun and involved in an activity and you are more likely to enjoy your day if you are not feeling guilty and concerned about leaving behind a distressed child.

In case of an upset make sure you have a familiar object such as a favourite toy or security blanket on standby to give the carer. Your child may find it easier to adjust to the new situation with an old friend in hand.

For the first few days when saying goodbye and leaving pay attention to your body language. If you''re feeling uncertain about the new arrangement you could convey some of your anxiety to your child so make sure you are as relaxed and reassuring as possible, even if it is forced!

Resist the temptation to sneak out the door when your child isn''t looking. Fearing that you''re going to disappear again, your child may become unwilling to let you out of sight for a minute even when you are at home.

In the Longer Term

If, in the longer term your child continues to protest strongly when you leave try and arrange for your partner or a trusted friend to drop your child off instead of you. Your child might simply be objecting to your departure rather than their child care environment.

If your child continues to be miserable ask your carer if they can provide any insights. Your child will experience a swathe of new people and experiences in their first weeks of care and any one of these could influence their emotions.

It takes time for young children to adjust to child care and some children take longer than others, however, be open to the possibility of an underlying problem. If your child hasn''t settled in to their child care arrangement after a few weeks it may simply mean that the service is not right for them.

Remember consistency is very important for children so establish a routine and stick to it and avoid making other changes to your child''s routine while they are getting used to their new child care arrangement. This doesn''t necessarily mean that abuse is occurring. The problem could be something as simple as a personality conflict between your child and a caregiver.

Child care can be a fantastic learning and social experience for children click here to search for child care in your local area.

Staying in Touch with Your Child After You Return to Work

Returning to work after having a child can be a challenging time for parents. There are a multitude of conflicting emotions you may have to deal with, ranging from guilt and heartache at the thought of leaving your child right through to excitement and relief at the thought of returning to work.

Many parents worry that making the decision to return to work means they will miss out on many of the key milestones and developmental stages in their child''s life. It is also common for parents to feel concern that they will be replaced by the care provider.

These anxieties are completely normal and are exacerbated by our desire to be perfect parents and exemplary employees all at the same time. Remember that in the early days separation is often more difficult for the parents than it is for the child and that by putting your child in care you are opening them up to a whole range of positive new experiences, including the opportunity to make friends, participate in new activities and develop trust and confidence in other adults.

The good news is that 60 percent of families with young children now have both parents working, which has led to an increase in demand for quality child care. Child care centres are responding to this increase in demand by introducing a range of new resources and systems designed to keep parents up-to-date with their child''s daily activities and developmental progress.

While you might not be able to be there to watch your child meet all of their milestones, regular feedback from a trusted and reliable provider will hopefully make the separation a little easier to manage.

Many child care services keep daily logs about what their children get up to during the day and requesting simple information about when your child napped, what they ate, when they went to the toilet and if and when they cried will help you stay in touch with the rhythms of your child''s day. This information can also be useful in helping you plan your evening with your child.

If staying informed about your child''s daily activities is important to you, make sure you choose a child care service which has a proactive approach to keeping parents updated. Put this on your list of criteria and remember to ask what they do to keep parents in ''the know''.

Most child care services offer parents the opportunity to receive formal feedback on their child''s progress and development through the year by making an appointment with their care provider. However, if daily updates are important to you as well make sure you choose a service which allows you to drop in and chat to the carers on a more casual basis.

Some services take digital photos of the children during the day, print them out and display them in a book for parents to view when they come to collect their children at the end of the day. Seeing your child happily immersed in an interesting activity or playing with their friends will hopefully reassure you that your child is content, will provide a talking point for the drive home and will hopefully help you stay in touch with the smaller parts of their life.

Staying in touch also happens at home, after picking your child up at the end of a busy day, take a few moments when you first get in to sit with them quietly and engage in activity which makes both of you feel close and connected. Depending on age this could be anything from feeding your baby, to reading a book, cuddling or just chatting about each other''s day. Try and get in to the habit of doing this before you launch in to your next round of jobs such as bathing, cooking or bedtime routines.

While leaving your child in care may be emotionally challenging at first, it can be easy to stay in touch by employing some of the simple strategies described above. By getting in to the habit of regularly talking to your child of their carer you can stay completely up-to-date on your child''s day-to-day achievements even if you can''t be there to see them.

Creating a Strong Family Culture While Working

If you are one of the ever increasing number of Australian parents who relies on child care you have probably wondered what your children think about your work. You may also have spent time worrying whether the separation is affecting your family.

Author of The Working Mother''s Guide to Life: Strategies, Secrets, and Solutions, Ms Linda Mason has done a lot of research in to this subject and after conducting numerous interviews with working parents has shown that it is possible to have a rich and vibrant family culture even when both parents are working.

''A strong family is one with a deeply felt connection, a sense of belonging and security, and unconditional love. The sense of family is defined by values and connections, not by any particular configuration of individual roles'', she writes.

In her book Ms Mason encourages parents to continuously share their professional world and working life with their children. She says that taking your children to your workplace to see where you work and meet your colleagues will make the whole thing seem more real to them.

''When we take our children to our workplace, tell them stories about lunchtime and company outings, and explain what we actually do throughout the day, it helps our children shape views of what they want to be when they grow up. They will also be proud of our achievements when they have a better understanding of what we do for work'', she says.

Ms Mason suggests in her book that it''s possible to create a balance between working life and home life by helping children understand that work is a natural part of life and by cultivating a rich and strong family life for the times when everyone is home together.

She says that families can achieve this by intentionally creating a unique set of rituals and traditions which are easy and fun to do on a regular basis and which everyone can get involved with. Some ideas include playing a favourite song before everyone leaves the house in the morning, walking the dog after dinner, Sunday brunch, Saturday cuddles in bed and/or reading a favourite book before bed.

In addition to the family rituals, Ms Mason says it is very important for family members to make the most of the time they have together, even with the competing pressure of work.

''In the eyes of children, it''s the little things that count the most: the hugs, the conversations, playing together, listening to your child play an instrument, singing a song together or reading a book'', she says.

Ms Mason says for families with working parents it is especially important to share feelings and to be intimate and honest with your children. She says this fosters an open environment which encourages constant communication and allows children to develop a broad range of emotional responses to the things they experience in the world.

''Sharing life stories, personal interests, and relaxed time with our children can help us appear real and accessible to them. Through this, we create a bond with our child that is based on intimacy and honesty'', she says.

As a final suggestion for creating a strong family culture Ms Mason advises parents to create intimate family spaces which are cozy and inviting for children. This has the two fold benefit of providing your children with a snuggly nook where they can go and read a book or do some drawing as well as a place you can go to share these moments with your children.

''However we choose to create a strong family culture – inventing unique family rituals, continuous verbal family bonding, or designing intimate family settings – the real values lie in the focused family time spent together. Such occasions will develop into cherished family moments for everyone'', says Ms Mason.

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