Dear Mr Dad:We have a three-month old baby. My wife really doesn't want to go back to work so soon, but the sad fact is that we can't get along without her salary. She's really unhappy about having to leave the baby. Is there anything I can do to help her feel better?
Armin answers:Unfortunately, with more and more families relying on two incomes, there's a lot of pressure on new moms to go back to work. That explains why a third of new moms are on the job again only six weeks after giving birth, and two thirds are working after 12 weeks.
While some of these women are glad to be back at work, a large percentage -- including your wife -- are anything but glad. In fact, a lot of them are just plain miserable, worried that they've failed as mothers, and wishing they'd win the lottery so they could quite their job. This can be a very tough time for your wife and she's going to need your help and support to get through it. Here's what you can do:
- Be flexible. When it comes to coming up with an acceptable work-family balance, your wife may not be operating completely rationally. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Before my youngest was born, my wife and I discussed having her to stay home full time for five months, work part time for four months, and then transition to full time. All that changed when the baby was born. All of a sudden she didn't want to go back to work at all. But in the interests of being able to make our mortgage payment (as you know, Bay Area real estate is outrageously expensive), she decided to do a full year part time before going to full time. Everything changed again after her first week back at the office. Now she decided that she wanted to stay part time until the baby entered preschool. Obviously, you and your wife have to keep talking about this stuff. And you have to find reasonable (and fiscally responsible) ways 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 find most unsettling about going back to work.
- Take the pressure off her. In most families, regardless of how enlightened and egalitarian they want to be, working mothers still do most of the work at home. Because so much of women's identity is tied up in motherhood, your wife may try to do more than she can really handle -- just to show herself and anyone else she thinks might be paying attention. Don't let her. Instead, anticipate what has to be done and take care of it in advance. Simple things like making sure the table is set and dinner is ready when she comes home are great and will do wonders for her mood. If you get home later than she does, make a habit of doing something nice for her on a regular basis. Massages, a few hours alone with you, and even renting a video and snuggling up on the couch will really help. And make sure that you remind her frequently what a great mom she is even though she has to be away.
- Let her spend more time with the baby. If you and your wife are both 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. Be a nice guy and let your wife have first dibs. This is especially important if she's still nursing; her breasts may be ready to explode by the time she gets home and she may need to have the baby Hoover her out.