I remember the first day I returned to the office after having my son. Honestly, going back wasn't difficult — I was pretty excited — it was the coming home that broke me, because I began to think about the parts of my baby's day that I missed. Fortunately I had an amazing partner who understood that dads can help when mom goes back to work. I asked other parents to weigh in on the subject, because moms and dads and all parents in-between need to be cluing each other in and helping one another out.
Now, just to be clear: dads shouldn't "help" with childcare. To classify that kind of work as "help" implies that taking care of a baby (and all associated activities) is the primary responsibility of someone else — usually the mom. This is unfair to everyone involved. Because not only does one parent have all the responsibility dumped on them (on top of their career or job!), there's just no way a parent can appreciate the "highs" of of parenthood unless they're regularly down in the trenches. Moms deserve a full partner, and dads deserve to be one.
Here's what 15 parents had to say about ways dads can step up when their partner goes back to work:
"Prepare a bunch of premade meals you can throw in the microwave or slow cooker every day. Whether you usually cook or your partner does, the time you’d usually spend preparing food on a daily basis can be devoted to doing other stuff."
"Setting up a family calendar with all appointments/activities, and taking lead on getting kids to those things. Taking time off after coming back always felt so inevitable/defeating."
"My husband is a firefighter, so his odd schedule was sometimes a help and sometimes a hinderance when I returned to work after our son was born. Many days he was on sole caregiver duty (minus breastfeeding), and others, I was single-parenting for days (and nights) on end. ... My husband started prepping bottles, thawing milk, and making dinner for the days/nights he’d be MIA. He also encouraged me to see a therapist for what was pretty serious postpartum depression (PPD), and to spend time with adult friends while baby-free.
Returning to work can be a shock (and often happens far too quickly), but carving out an hour or two for adult interaction that wasn’t work-focused was really humanizing. He also took the night-waking shifts with our munchkin as much as possible in the first month I was trying to work. You’re strung out as a new mother as is; every nanosecond of sleep is helpful. (Honestly, he was sleeping more at the firehouse than at home those early days!) Perhaps most touchingly, he kept in contact with me on the days he was watching our son and I was working, making me feel more connected to the little guy. I know that’s not a possibility for everyone, but it was awesome."
"Taking turns with doctors' appointments, birthday parties, and daycare drop offs/pick ups was a real help to me. I didn't always feel the weight of before- and after-work activities on my shoulders."
"Not asking your partner to delegate tasks for you. All adults, heck even older kids, should be able to see that dirty dishes need cleaning, dirty laundry needs washing, and the house is down to two rolls of toilet paper. Don’t think of it as helping, it’s doing your fair share."
"Taking lead on organizing — even inquiring or thinking ahead about — booking babysitting/outside childcare! All too often, the secondary partner leaves it to the primary caregiver to take the lead on that, which sets a pattern that lasts for years.
Four years after going back to work, I am still the one sitting at my desk coordinating with the outside childcare [providers] daily to verify kid is where it’s supposed to be. [It n]ever crosses my husband’s mind."
"When I went back to work after my second child was born, [my baby] was 13 weeks old and exclusively nursing. In order to make this easier on all parties, my husband and I sat down and did a chore chart. He took on 60% of the household chores, since I was breastfeeding all night long. My husband also made a point to add solo activities for both of us in our chore chart so that we both got 'me time'."
"Don't wait to be asked to 'help.' You can see what needs to be done. Pitch in."
"Do the morning routine. Change diapers, get them dressed, feed them breakfast, make their lunch, brush their teeth. The morning routine kills me. My husband has taken over breakfast, sandwich making, and teeth brushing and it’s helped so much!"
"If your wife is managing work and pumping, do her a solid by washing the pump parts every night. Her days are stressful, even at work!"
"Don't wait for your partner to ask for help with dishes, laundry, diapers, bedtime, doctors appointments, etc. They will already be juggling going back to work and managing postpartum stuff; they shouldn't have to dictate chore lists as well."
"Do the dishes when they are in the sink. Do the laundry when the baskets are full."
"EMOTIONAL SUPPORT! Whether returning to work out of necessity or desire, leaving your baby is hard. Having a spouse who understands you may need to cry, or want to hold the baby for an hour when you get home, or whatever it is you need to adjust mentally to the new normal."
"Dress the damn baby if it is going to daycare. Every day I would get myself dressed and the baby dressed and [my partner] would... get himself dressed. 'Primary parents' also need to let their partner parent. We are very quick to say 'you’re doing it wrong' if they don’t do it exactly like we would. As long as it isn’t dangerous, let it go. So you would have fed different food or put on a different outfit. Don’t micro manage."
"If the partner stays at home, sending photos/videos and updates throughout the day helps immensely!"