Share the load: Conversations to have with your partner BEFORE a return to work

Posted in Work and Finance.

Relationships and families bring all kinds of positive benefits, but they sometimes carry a mental and physical load that’s a little hard to anticipate …

Working mother at desk

Terrific transitions

Pair these extra responsibilities with a change in circumstance – like heading back to work after a baby – and couples are well advised to plan ahead and talk potential tricky bits out.

While that might sound a tiny bit doom and gloom, rest assured that it really isn’t. Rather, it’s a great opportunity to reinforce some excellent planning and  communication habits – and level up the domestic and parenting playing field (if need be!) in the process.

The ABC reports that “census data clearly shows Australian women spend, on average, five to 14 hours per week in unpaid domestic work, whereas men spend less than five hours a week. Women also spend an additional hour a day looking after children.”

Of course, that’s terribly unfair, but the data also doesn’t take into account the time women spend worrying about and planning a plethora of issues and responsibilities, in a bid to keep our families on track. That’s the insidious, exhausting mental load! 

It’s with this load and inequality in mind, we’re keen to give transitioning families a kickstart on some discussion topics. It’s a readymade agenda, so parent number two can head back to work knowing the whole family has a positive plan in place – and the juggle is not all on their shoulders.

Let’s begin!

The kid load conversation

Heading back to work sparks a lot of change for the littlest people in the family, and it’s really important that managing these changes doesn’t fall solely on one parent’s shoulders, unless that is exactly what your family wants!

Planning childcare, transitioning your child into the care of others, getting them ready on their daycare mornings, ensuring they get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before and managing/making decisions about their health/developmental opportunities are all responsibilities worth chatting about before the change occurs.

It’s also good to make plans for what might happen if your child is not well enough to go to childcare. Who will stay home? Will you take turns? Is one parent more able to stay home – or work from home – under circumstances like these?

While you’re making these important plans, why not nut out how things are going with the care of your child overall? Is one parent struggling with certain tasks? Are there ways to better support them? How can you make things less fraught, ensure your child is nicely cared for AND safeguard both parents’ health and happiness? Discuss!

Mum putting son in car

The commute load conversation

Heading back to work often means that your child needs to be dropped off at daycare – and picked up – so these are great logistics to nut out well before that first day back.

It’s good to note that the person returning to work is not fully responsible for all this childcare to-ing and fro-ing! Rather, it’s a joint responsibility and should be discussed as such. 

It’s important to remember that a second parent returning to work benefits everyone, and everyone is equally responsible for making sure it happens as seamlessly as possible and with equality in mind. 

Photo of father works on a computer with her son at home

The planning load conversation

Women often speak about the mental load they carry in relationships and this is sometimes supercharged when there are kids involved.

Sharing the family’s planning load – be it scheduling and commuting to extra-curricular activities, managing the diary, sorting out holidays for everyone, thinking ahead to preschool/school choices – will help to keep resentment at bay. More importantly, it will ensure that both parents are involved in family life and the decisions that surround it, rather than one tired and cross parent trying to anticipate the others’ needs and organise it all.

This discussion point also includes the Financial Load and planning for the future. This ball should not fall in one particular parent’s court, but rather be divided up for fairness, happiness and transparency.

It’s also really important that everyone’s needs are taken into account here, too. Be it budgeting, paying bills, investing, sorting taxes, book keeping … BOTH parties have a role to play and now is the time to firm those roles up fairly so that everyone feels valued.

mum and daughter working

The social load conversation

The task (joy!) of planning social events and making sure everyone sees enough of family and friends should be a shared one and take into account everybody in the household’s needs.

A shared diary like Google Calendar can help with this. Slot in everyone’s work days, work commitments, childcare days and special events, then both parents can add other outings and experiences to make life even more fun.

Check into the calendar and update it regularly – and ping each other if you add events so that everyone is in the loop. Before you know it, you have a system in place and everyone is active and involved.

Dad and child in bathroom

The domestic load conversation

Ugh. Cleaning. Look … some people are huge fans, but very often this is a bit of a battlefield in the family home. Couple this enduring battle with one partner having less time at home – because they are back at work – and it’s a simmering issue, possibly set to explode.

Talk out this cleaning stuff, in a non-personal and non-accusatory way. Make a list of all the tasks that need to be completed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and discuss the best way to approach getting that stuff ticked off without tears.

Perhaps it’s about division of labour between the two of you? Maybe you need to call in the reinforcements and hire a cleaner? Or maybe an hour or two tidying up together on the weekend is enough to take the edge off the day to day domestic duty squabbles? Chatting about this when everyone is calm and receptive is the best way to sort this boring stuff out and have a house that does not resemble a rubbish tip.

The shopping load conversation

Feeding your family and keeping those staple items in the pantry/laundry/bathroom can be quite the battle when everyone is exhausted and busy. 

Nutting out a great system, ahead of your transition, can help ensure that you’re not screaming at each other in the dead of night, when you’ve just used the last nappy. Or glowering over the iPad when there’s no milk for your coffee the next morning.

Make a master list and shop together as a family if you can, or type that sucker into a home delivering grocery service and get it dropped on your doorstep, eliminating the drama once and for all.

This plan ensures there’s at least the ingredients for dinner every night, even if it doesn’t make it to the table in the timeliest of fashions!

Father cooking with his son

The dinner load conversation

And that leads us seamlessly into dinner load – or really mealtime load. This is a flexible one, because very often one party might LOVE to cook dinner, while the other is happy to look after a touchy toddler and keep things running smoothly.

Again, chat about this ahead of time. Think about what works for your gang and your schedule ahead of time, bravely and kindly raise any resentments while you’re both in the mood to nut it out. Make a plan and make sure everyone is cheery and fed. Or as cheery and fed as your child dictates, anyway!

These load-sharing discussion points are the beginnings of a proactive, positive approach to balancing a return to work and parenting – together.

Not only will they make the transition back to the workplace more seamless, they’ll set your family in excellent stead for a happier and more secure future.

(This is a sponsored post for NAN Toddler)


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