Pregnancy and Postpartum

7 Tips for Parents Going Back to Work

How are you feeling about going back to work? The past few months have been all about baby, and now you’re suddenly expected to balance work, childcare, and other needs. There’s no way this can go smoothly.

If you’re among the many, returning back to work after maternity leave (or paternity leave) can be a difficult transition. Here are seven tips that can help you along your emotional journey and set you and kiddo up for success.

#1: Change habits ahead of time

changing routines. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers therapy for trauma and perinatal mental health. Online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario

Unfortunately, your schedule will look different. You won’t have the same flexibility with your morning routine. Things you may have fobbed off (e.g. getting ready on time, wearing clothes that are not pyjama/sweats, putting baby in clothes) have to be reintroduced into your routine. Changing your habits can be challenging, and it’s best to give yourself some time with these transitions.

Take a look at your routine and consider what you can do to fine-tune your schedule before going back to work:

  • What is getting in the way for you to have a successful day?
    • Are you staying up late at night scrolling on your phone? Do you drink too much caffeine to fall asleep on time?
    • Once these problem areas are identified, create ways to make them harder to repeat. For example, put the coffee machine away after 11 AM, turn off the wifi after 10 PM. It may sound silly, but any barriers that get in the way will make these problem areas less desirable
    • e.g. If the cookie is right in front of you, you’re going to grab it. If you have to grab the kitchen stool and reach to the top shelf on your cabinet to get the same cookie, you may reconsider if it’s worth it.
  • Consider the habits you’d like to introduce into your schedule: Do you need to wake up earlier? Are you intending to pack your lunch the night before? Do you have a regular night out with your friends? How will you get your child to eat breakfast on time? This step may involve some creative problem solving. You may also have to rely on the support of friends, family, or childcare providers to make it work.
  • Work on introducing one new habit at a time. Rather than manage all of these changes from the get-go, give yourself plenty of time to get used to forming these habits.
  • Have reminders to cue you about your new habits. e.g. Place your gym clothes near the foot of the bed so that you have it ready to go when you wake up in the morning.
  • Use rewards to motivate. Behavioural psychology works! If you pair your new changes with a reward, you’re more likely to follow through. E.g. If your child finishes breakfast on time, you will set aside 10 minutes to play or read before heading out the door.

It takes time to get used to things. Going back to work is huge change from your daily routine of the past few months. If you’d like to learn more about creating changes, check out Atomic Habits or The Power of Habit.

#2 Remember that you will still have a strong attachment with your baby

A big fear of returning back to work is about losing the bond you have with your child. If this is you, remember that attachments and relationships are not so delicate that they will break with having a few hours apart.

If you’re in a secure relationship, you may notice this pattern more easily. In all likelihood, you go to work, hang out with others, pursue your own interests, and you come home to this person knowing that the relationship is still strong. The time apart has not shifted your feelings towards this person. It’s the same with your child. Your infant trusts that you will come back. Your infant will have strong relationships with other peers and adults. You will always be a solid person in his/her/their life.

Going back to work from maternity leave. parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers postpartum and prenatal counselling in Kitchener, ON. Online and in person counselling.

Rather than focusing on the amount of time you have with your kids, focus instead on the quality of the time. Engage in play, conversations, snuggles. Make sure that your kids feel seen and heard by you. This doesn’t mean you have to provide 100% of your attention when you’re at home with them! Instead, try and create some time in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for hanging out. Some examples can include: sitting down together for meals, having chats in the car, splashing around during bath time, or having snuggles while reading a story at bedtime. Going back to work does not have to stop you from having these wonderful moments.

If all of this does not convince, you, there have been studies have shown that babies do not suffer when their caregivers return to work following parental leave. Instead, the results show that children learn they are being left in safe and nurturing spaces AND that their parents always come back to them.

#3 Talk to People

Returning back to work from parental leave. It takes a village. Build a community. talk to people. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario.

Every single new parent I’ve talked to has varying degrees of concern and worries about going back to work! It’s an adjustment and it’s perfectly normal to feel cautious towards change.

Managing childcare, work, relationships and your own interests is hard. Rather than sitting with these frustrations alone, please reach out to your community. Let your work know about needing time to pump. Talk to other parents at your workplace to see how they managed. Work with your family members to access emotional and practical support. There’s a reason that the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” exists. Gather your village!

#4 Get to know your childcare provider

Get familiar with your daycare. Ask for a tour. Have a list of questions. I promise you, you are not alone in being anxious. Your daycare provider has answered these questions many, many times.

Talk to daycare providers. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Nervous about going back. Build a community.

If it’s financially feasible, arrange a few half-days for your child to participate in childcare ahead of time. By having this short time period away, you will both become familiar with the routine of doing drop offs and pick ups. This trial period also provides an opportunity for you to see how your child manages when spending time away. Your childcare provider will be able to provide you some feedback (did they cry for 5 minutes or 15 minutes? Were they able to settle? Did they make friends?). You both get used to this routine ahead of time, which is helpful for when you do officially go back to work.

#5 Create a balance between needs and wants

You may have had all the time, energy and resources to invest in twelve different interests and hobbies prior to having your child. But, it’s hard to keep up at that pace. What can you feel comfortable dropping? What are you willing to be a little less “good” at? Be honest with yourself in what you really want vs. what you really need.

work life balance. going back to work from maternity leave. Support with transitions. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in person counselling (Kitchener, Ontario).

Find a balance between work, family life AND you-time. It may feel hard to carve out that space for your own interests, but it’s so important to make time for self-care. Without this time for your own needs and interests, it’s easy to burn out, grow resentful or lose yourself in the process of parenthood.

#6 Acknowledge the feelings

No matter what happens, there are going to be feelings. Some good, and some not so pleasant. Rather than pushing these emotions down, allow yourself some time to reflect on what’s coming up as you go back to work. You may experience rage, guilt, anxiety or overwhelm. If this is the case for you, the solutions may vary. You may ned some time to adjust to the transition. It may be helpful to reach out for support. Or, you may require some specific problem solving to address these emotional needs.

Alternatively, you may experience a sense of calm and peace now that you have some time with other adults. You may feel proud that you and your child are handling the transition as well as can be. If this has been your experience, enjoy it! Everyone adjust to change differently, and this transition may be a smooth experience for you.

#7 Cut yourself some slack

Going back to work after so many weeks or months with your child is a huge transition for you and your baby! Give yourself permission to feel all the feels, make a bunch of mistakes AND learn from your experiences. Trust that you are capable of adjusting, and that it will take time before this becomes second nature. Set up manageable expectations for yourself. You are not always going to crush it every day. Sometimes you will half-heartedly parent. Sometimes you will rely on cartoons to occupy your kiddo while prepping a meal. You are human. You are loving. You are doing your best.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Mental Health

5 Tips to help keep your New Year’s resolutions

As we welcome a new year, some of us may be considering the endless battle with New Year’s resolutions. About 80% of people abandon their resolutions within the first few months of starting. We know this is not due to will power, but because it is hard to create new habits and change old patterns. Moreover, the mere 20% of people who have accomplished New Year’s resolutions don’t necessarily feel happy or accomplished at the end of the year. Instead the resolutions have brought upon stress and pressure for months.

So how do we try and change habits and reduce the likelihood of failure? How do we do this without burning out? Here are a few strategies that can help.

1. Habit Formation

Think about the lack of effort it takes for you to drive your car, make a cup of coffee, or put on your makeup. These are tasks that require limited thought and effort today. However, consider the first time you ever learned these tasks. You went through endless hours of driver’s ed, botched up your first cup of coffee, and resembled a clown for many days until you got your makeup just right. The difficulty of mastering new skills are understood and accepted. This is the same empathy and patience I encourage you to keep with your New Year’s resolutions.

fresh hot coffee prepared with machine
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Whether your goal is to learn a new language, go to the gym more often, save money, or any other endeavour, it will require some effort at first. The consistency of practicing these skills is what will help you achieve success. You don’t have to think about the steps involved to brew a cup of coffee; the task is automatic. You repeat the same steps of getting up in the morning, shuffling over to your kitchen, and pouring in some coffee grinds over and over until the tasks became routine. Similarly, the more often you work on your New Year’s resolution in a consistent manner, the easier it will be for these patterns to become automatic. Consistency at the start is really important. I encourage working on a resolution at the same time of day, at the same location, and with the same steps.

With habituation, you don’t have to think about doing the task. It just becomes a part of your lifestyle: 6 AM is when you meditate, 4 PM is the time you practice Italian, and 7 PM is when you go for a run. These tasks may still require effort; however, the routine is set in place to increase success. You don’t think about it; you just do it.

2. Changing the All-or-Nothing perspective

new year's resolutions. how to keep your goals this year.
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One of the biggest factors that demotivate us from completing New Year’s resolutions is failure. When we’ve gone four days in a row of not smoking, it can be incredibly discouraging to break that flow with a cigarette on Day 5. However, addiction therapists can confirm that changing a long-term habit takes time and that relapses are normal. The American Cancer Society suggests that it will take, on average, 8-10 times of trying before an individual is able to finally be smoke-free for a year. If these individuals stopped after their first failed attempt, this level of success would never have been achieved.

Rather than seeing relapses as failure, we want to shift away from an all-or-nothing mindset. It is so easy to fall into a pit of shame and guilt when we have slip ups. However, relapses are incredibly helpful teaching opportunities. Each moment of relapses helps us learn about our vulnerabilities, and the patterns involved that made us go back to our old behaviours. We can learn and prepare for these moments.

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Depending on your new year’s resolutions, having a relapse may be an indicator that you may benefit from having a strong support team. This might involve connecting with supportive friends for feedback and encouragement as you try once again. Or, it may involve returning to treatment (e.g. connecting with your physician, therapist, dietitian, whomever is part of your treatment team).

The beauty of relapses is gaining the confidence that you can return back to trying this new habit after a setback. Just because you have a drink, smoke a cigarette, or ditch the gym does not mean this is your life sentence. Success comes with increased confidence to return back to the work in creating a better lifestyle.

3. Check your environment

We are all triggered and motivated by our environment. When there is chocolate sitting next to us, we are more likely to reach for the chocolate. If the bed feels warm and toasty in the morning, we are more likely to sleep in than get up. We want to create the ideal environment that increases the likelihood of maintaining positive behaviours, and reduces negative behaviours.

New Year's resolution. Changing Habits. Kasi Shan Therapy
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Let’s say your resolution is to save more money this year. The first step in achieving this goal is to consider what your usual patterns are when it comes to spending money. When are you more likely to spend? When are you more likely to save? Let’s assume that you’re most likely to spend money after going on social media during your lunch hour. What would happen if you turned off your social media at this vulnerable time? Alternatively, what if you’re more likely to save after seeing your bank account. If this is the case, how do you ensure that you have easy access to your bank statement? This may involve looking at your statement weekly, or having a screenshot right next to your computer.

Consider setting up some deterrents for the behaviours that you are looking to reduce. If you have a harder time accessing a bag of chips (e.g. it’s on a higher shelf), you are less likely to reach for it. In the same way, you want to have access to things that will help you maintain your new habits. For example, if you’d like to exercise in the morning, you can place your workout clothes next to the side of your bed. You can have your work out mat and dumbbells ready for you in the living room to start right away. By setting up your environment effectively, you’re able to shift your behaviours and increase the likelihood of fulfilling your resolutions.

4. Pair with a reward

New Year's resolution. Kasi Shan Therapy. Changing Habits.
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New year’s resolutions are hard, and we cannot rely on will power alone. This is why it’s important to pair our goals with a reward. Until that automatic behaviour is formed, it’s helpful to have rewards paired together with a new habit. These rewards can be anything that you love and are already motivated by. For example, let’s say you love tea. If your resolution is to meditate daily, pair this habit with the practice of drinking tea following your meditation. If this favourite tea can only be enjoyed after meditation, you are more likely to be motivated to follow through on the task. Another example is pairing exercise with watching TV or listening to your favourite podcast. You’re more likely to go for that run in order to catch up on some episodes.

5. Plan for the hard days

white blank notebook
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I don’t want you to get caught up in thinking of the worst case scenarios, or to focus on failure. However, it’s helpful to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. I know that, after an especially long day, I love watching terrible TV and eating all the carbs in my house. Normally, I’m fine with this and accept it as part of my self-care. However, if my New Year’s resolution involves healthier eating, I’m going to have to plan ahead for those tough days. This involves stepping back to consider how I want to manage in alternative ways. I will have to problem solve others options for self-care (e.g. reading, crafting, taking a bath). I can also ensure that I have healthier snacks available that satisfy my love for savoury foods. What will make you more likely to fall back on old patterns? What are alternative ways to handle this situation?

A Word of Caution

Truthfully, I am cautious about New Year’s resolutions. Some people love the idea of a fresh start to practice healthier habits. However, it’s important to recognize if following new year’s resolutions will actually exacerbate mental health struggles. Be kind and honest with yourself. If you struggle with body image, for example, then adding a resolution like increasing exercise, losing weight, or eating healthy may actually increase frustration, guilt, or inadequacy (especially when we know that setbacks are normal!) Rather than adding unnecessary stress, focus instead on some of the above strategies without a time frame or measurable markers of success. You don’t need these markers to deter you from making positive changes. It’s a lot easier to manage a goal of reading more often by just picking up a book. You don’t need to read a certain number of books within a certain time frame to pursue this new interest.

New year's resolution. Changing habits. Kasi Shan Therapy: Counselling online and in Kitchener, ON
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Let me know if your new year’s resolutions stick this time, or if you need support in working with these habits. I’d love to hear.

I hope 2021 brings you much happiness, comfort and good mental health!

Best wishes,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.