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Understanding Family Structures and Dynamics

Working Parents

family dynamics
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Paternity leave is an option that many companies offer these days.

Even among people who prefer to work, many new parents return a lot sooner after childbirth than they may want to for financial reasons. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, employers must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for certain family and medical reasons. This act secures your position, salary, and benefits. Most companies base the length of paid maternity leave on long-term disability time available. Paternity leave -- time off for the new father -- is a wonderful concept, and, fortunately, it is becoming increasingly popular among many companies.

Other options may also be available. One or both of you may be able to negotiate returning to work part-time at first, so you'll be a little less pressured until you and your baby have your routine down. Job sharing is another option gaining ground; it means you and someone else, possibly another parent, share a full-time position. Also, take another look at your budget if you must pay for child care. Is it really worthwhile to return to work when you consider the cost of child care? Or could you come out even by tightening up a little?

Child-Care Benefits

As more and more parents work full-time, corporations are becoming increasingly involved in the problems of working parents. Corporations are not altruistic; they provide benefits when it costs them more money not to. Companies are adversely affected by parental problems of finding and paying for adequate child care and sick-child care when they result in troubled and unproductive employees and in absenteeism.

Most child care benefits are provided in the form of resource and referral services and as optional child care financial assistance in employee benefits packages. (When employees pick and choose a package of benefits out of many options, the program is said to offer cafeteria-style benefits.) Some companies in larger cities also pay for sick-child care both in and out of the home, and a few firms actually run on-site child care centers or buy slots in nearby consortium centers; a consortium is formed when several organizations buy space in and support a child care center. In addition, companies of all sizes are beginning to respond by offering flex- time (flexible working hours), flexible benefits (which may include financial help with child care), and work-at-home options.

Assuming you have decided to return to work and you have some latitude about the timing, the next question is when. If you decide to return 6 to 12 weeks after your baby is born, make sure you properly introduce your baby to her caretaker, and make sure she gets used to being held and fed by that person while you're still present. Babies can tell the difference between one person and another almost as soon as they're born. In the first 6 to 12 weeks you already know some of your baby's idiosyncrasies, and you can relate these to her caretaker.

If you return to work when your child is about six months old, keep in mind your child already has a sense of who you are and a sense of her separateness. She may really fuss when you turn her over to the child care center, and she may cling to the teacher when you come to get her at the end of the day. It helps to find ways to make these daily transitions easier; a familiar toy or blanket or just a distraction may do the trick. But do not sneak off and leave your child without saying goodbye.

Waiting a year to return to work meets your need for time to get to know your child and share her first glimpses of the world. But returning to work at this point may actually be more of a problem than it would have been early on. Your one year old is extremely possessive of you and won't yet be able to understand why you must leave. You may need to phase her into child care gradually. It is important to see that the caretaker will give your child the same kinds of stimulation you've been providing; continuity is important to your child's emotional and developmental well-being.

Quality Time

As a working parent, you have many demands and little time at the end of the day. How can you get all the household chores done, have time to spend with your child, and maybe even have some time left over for yourself?

Creativity is the key. Small children don't necessarily know the difference between work and play, so any way you can find to incorporate the two may help. For instance, one parent may put his baby in a backpack, turn on rock music, and dance while he vacuums the house. Taking your baby along while you do errands can be fun; if it's a nice day, why not take the stroller and walk? You might (watchfully) allow a toddler to play with the bubbles in the sink as you do the dishes.

Toddlers can learn to set the table, and they take great pride in it. If your child begins to learn to pitch in with household responsibilities at an early age, there will be more time for everyone. The time you spend teaching him to perform these tasks can be quality time, and your child feels more valued and grown up.

Remember: Quality time does not have to be a major scheduled event. It might be the time you spend reading to your child right before bedtime, or the time you spend helping him build something with his blocks. Every task you must do with your child can be quality time: putting him to bed, getting him dressed, feeding him. The trip to and from the child care center can be a good time for you to hear about your child's day. You can use these moments to share feelings, laugh, and even argue. Yes, you will argue because your and your child's wishes and intentions will conflict at times. When you aren't able to spend much time with your child, any conflict is painful for both of you, so it's important to sit down and talk about the conflict.

Try to save some of your sick time so you are available to be home with your child when he is ill. If the illness is not major, this time can be special for both of you. Your child cherishes being cuddled, read to, and listened to.

Make your vacations family events, but don't schedule them so heavily that they are as stressful as everyday life! Establish weekend family routines or plans. Let your child contribute to those plans as early as possible.

Trying to be a Supermom or Superdad while your children are very young can be draining. You can alleviate some of the stress by accepting that these years will be over sooner than you think. Focusing now on trying to have a perfectly kept house robs you of time you could be reserving for yourself and your children. Make the most of this special time of early childhood. You'll miss it when it's gone.

And keep in mind that "quality" time involves a reasonable "quantity" of time. Young children don't respond well to having experiences tightly scheduled into specific time slots. Flexibility and spontaneity are essential ingredients in pleasant and productive parent/child activities, so make sure you have sufficient time to include these elements.

As challenging as it is to be a working parent, the obstacles facing a single parent are sometimes even more intimidating. We will explore single parents in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.