New Mother Has to Go Back to Work Too Soon

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I just had a baby two months ago. I’ve been off work under the Family Leave Act until now and would like to take the remaining 4 or 5 weeks. But, unfortunately, we really need my salary to make ends meet. The prospect of leaving my baby (my husband needs to work full-time too) is making me miserable. I’m feeling like a terrible mother and I have no idea what I can do to feel better about this situation.

A: You may find this hard to believe (I certainly did), but the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without a paid family leave policy. Combine that with a tough economy and the social pressure many new moms feel to go back to work, and it’s no wonder that the average maternity leave is only 10 weeks. It’s even harder to believe (but true), that about 16 percent of new mothers taken between one and four weeks of leave, and a third don’t take leave at all, rushing back to work as soon as they’re physically able. That’s according to the latest data from HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

I’m sure some of those new moms are happy to be working again, but I’m betting that a lot more are, like you, miserable, beating themselves up for being bad mothers, and wishing they could quit their job. You’re not in an easy spot, but here are a few ideas that should help:

Talk—and listen. A lot of couples in your situation tiptoe around the elephant in the room: money (or the lack of it). You and your husband have to buck that trend and start talking about finding a reasonable (and fiscally responsible) way of making sure that everyone’s needs are met, or that they’re at least taken into consideration. That means listening to each other carefully and respectfully and acknowledging the pressures that each of you face.

Get your childcare situation in order. Fear that the baby won’t be adequately cared for is what many new mothers—and fathers—find most unsettling about going back to work. Since you need your husband’s income as well as your own, make finding a trusted childcare provider a top priority.

Relieve some of the pressure. Most couples, regardless of how enlightened and egalitarian they want to be, end up slipping into “traditional” roles after becoming parents. And because women put so much pressure on themselves to be good mothers, you may try to do more around the house than you can handle. Don’t. If your husband can’t take on any more, you can either hire someone to help out (which, given your financial issues, doesn’t sound very realistic) or learn to relax your standards. Does the house really need to be immaculate? Also, be sure to schedule some couple time or “me” time. A few hours alone with your husband—even if it’s just renting a video and snuggling up on the couch—will really help.

Spend more time with the baby. Since you and your husband will be working, you’re both going to miss your baby and you’re both going to want to spend time with him from the moment you walk in the door. Negotiate first dibs with your husband—especially if you’re still nursing: your breasts may be ready to explode by the time you get home and you’ll need the baby to do what babies do

The Gold Standard of Childcare + Redirecting Our Personal Narratives

Tammy Gold, author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.
Finding and achieving the gold standard of care for your child.
Issues: The truth about nannies—what they do and how they think; identifying your family’s needs; conducting interviews, reference checks, trial periods, and work agreements; understanding “nanny speak”; troubleshooting to avoid drama, resolve problems, and handle any issues.

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect.
Changing the stories we live by.
Issues: Why so many self-help programs, drug use prevention programs; teen pregnancy prevention programs, and crime reduction programs (like “scared straight”), don’t work—and may even do more harm than good; how, by making small changes to the narratives we tell ourselves, we can create lasting, positive change.

Eight Things Women Can Do to Get Fathers More Involved

Even though I’m married, I sometimes feel like a single mom. How can I get my husband to do more around the house and with our child?

About 90 percent of couples experience an increase in stress after their children are born. And the number one stressor, by far, is the division of labor in the home. Unfortunately, even the most egalitarian couples tend to slip into traditional roles, which means that you’ll probably end up doing more of the housework and childcare than your partner. Research shows that the more equitably domestic tasks are distributed, the happier wives (and husbands) are with their marriages. So resolving these issues may be critical to the health and success of your relationship. How are you going to do it? Well, if your goal is to make the division of labor around your house fairer to you, take a deep breath and read on.
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Sharing Childearing

I’ve got a pretty flexible schedule at work and I’d really like to share the childcare equally with my wife. She seems so good at it, though, that I’m not sure I can ever catch up. Is there anything I can do to learn this parenting thing and feel like a competent dad?

Many of us-men as well as women-simply assume that women know more about kids than men. On average, women do spend more time taking care of children than men do, and their skills may be a little sharper than ours. But parenting skills are not innate-they’re learned on the job, through experience and training. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll be able to have an active, involved relationships with your children.
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Dealing with Daddy Stress

My son was born four months ago, and things are starting to settle down. We’re really enjoying our new roles as mom and dad. But every time I sit down to do some extra work on the computer, I feel guilty about leaving my wife to take care of our child since she’s with him all day and I know she would appreciate a break. I try to help, but I also need to get ahead with work. What should I do?

The first thing you need to do is not let your guilt get out of hand. A little bit of guilt is okay, but some fathers (and mothers)–in an effort to make themselves feel better about not being able to spend enough time with their children–end up withdrawing from their kids emotionally. Leaving your wife to take care of the baby is a habit you don’t want to get into (and if you notice yourself doing this, there’s still time to stop). The earlier you and your baby start getting to know one another, the closer and better your relationship will be.
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