Planning the logistics of your return to the job after paternity leave might not seem as vital as your prep work for the baby at home, but figuring out the specifics of the hows, whens, and whys of getting back to work are key to having a healthy life in the weeks and months to come. There will be upsides, of course (you’ll be having real adult conversations again) and downsides (you’ll miss the hell out of that baby, and your spouse.) Here are some things you should consider for the smoothest transition possible.
1. Get ready for your return to work even before you leave.
The weeks leading up to a child’s birth may feel as still as the eye of a hurricane if you’ve planned ahead. But maybe you haven’t, and you’re reading this at 3 am while taking a break from assembling IKEA furniture in the new nursery, five days out from the due date. Either way: it’s time to think about your return to work after your paternity leave — whether you take two weeks or three months off.
“The better you plan for your return — by clearly figuring out roles, who you’re transferring what parts of your workload to, etcetera — then setting up meetings in advance on your return — the better off you’ll be,” says Scott Behson, author of the Working Dad’s Survival Guide and a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Most new dads think they’re going to come back like a rock star, like they never left. But you have to be honest with yourself — and your supervisor — and commit to a reasonable pace on your projects.”
Yes — it’s more fun to think about taking time off of work for a mind-blowing new life experience than it is to plan to come back — but it’s reality, and the more forethought you put into it, the less bumpy your next few months will be.
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2. Make Sure Your Spouse is On Board With Your Plans
This may sound obvious, but you’ll want to clear up who’s taking how much time off work, and when, before the baby arrives. “Have all of those conversations before the storm hits,” says Behson. The last thing you want is for your spouse to feel trapped, if they take on more of the initial caregiving responsibilities.
3. You’ll Have to Be Clearer About Setting Boundaries at Work
As soon as you become a new dad, you’ll be less likely to tolerate time-sucking meetings that wander off on tangents and ramble on past their allotted time. Don’t be afraid to speak up, move things along, help get back to the point of the meeting. Remember that five minutes at home is more vital than hearing a co-worker’s hot take on the NFL.
It isn’t always comfortable, but asserting yourself is essential, says Joel Beukelman, an Interaction Designer at Google and a father of three. “I quickly learned to be less generous with ‘asks,’ or meetings that occurred after office hours. I will decline meetings that are after five — me being home on time is a rule I set for myself on being the kind of dad I want to be,” he says.
4. Get Ready For Guilt
Talk to any Dad who has taken paternity leave and they’ll likely say that coming back to work induces a kind of guilt — if you’re coming back to work quickly, you’ll likely be leaving a maelstrom at home. “After coming back, I found that work felt like a retreat — almost a vacation — and seemed far simpler than the complexity and stress at home. So you feel this real sense of guilt,” says Beukelman. To assuage it, listen to your partner’s needs so you can ensure things are going as well as possible at home while you’re away.
5. Get Your “System” Down at Home
When Paperflip founder Tim Cederman-Haysom’s second child arrived, it was a chance to correct some of the mistakes he felt like he made the first time: first off, he took the full term of paternity leave that was available to him, which he didn’t for his first child. But he also focused on a better-coordinated home life, via increased support from family. He did this by incorporating a “shift” system where one parent slept soundly at a time, and more “helpers” such as a subscription to Google Express — a service that delivers to your door from retailers in your area — and Munchery, a pre-made meal delivery service. “These things all helped lessen the inevitable ‘shell shock,’ the second time around,” he says.
6. Thank Your Coworkers Who Pitched In
Buy the teammates who took up your tasks bottles of booze, or take them out to lunch upon your return. “You should recognize the people that stepped up for you, as a courtesy, of course. But they’ll be more likely to lend a hand when something arises at home, because you are showing that you appreciate their help,” says Behson.
7. Prepare For The Inevitable Oh-You-Just-Had-A-Baby-Banter
People will playfully ask if you’re “Getting any sleep?” about every fifteen minutes. Don’t feel like you have to give a different answer every time. Act accordingly.