written by Sarah-Lee Patterson

I returned to work as soon as my 18 weeks of PPL were up. Not just for financial reasons but because I love my job & also because I knew my daughter (Parker) would thrive 110% better at Daycare, than she would at home with me. I do love being a Mum but staying at home & being responsible for my Daughters learning & development just wasn’t for me. It sounds terrible when I put that in words but I know I’m not the only one who worries about how much pressure that is felt to ensure you’re supporting your child in hitting their milestones.

I returned 3 days a week initially then gradually increased back to full time hours from there. In hindsight, I wish I had worked 3 day weeks until Parker was 12months old. Unknown to me, once Parker hit 7-8months old, I found that my life was a constant cycle of work, washing (to ensure there were plenty of fresh daycare clothes) & pureeing baby food. Especially because help at home was limited (my husband is out of town a lot for his job). This is when mild PND set in & I started to wonder what I was doing with my life. I had a discussion with my manager & it was agreed that I was able to work from home 1-2 days a week so I could keep on top of things. I feel really lucky to have had a workplace that supported this at a time where it could have gone the complete opposite way.

Everyone’s return to work situation is completely different – some will have more support at home, some will have less. But just know that there ARE other people in the same situation as you & everyone copes with similar situations in different ways. Talk it out with someone you feel comfortable with or your Doctor if needed & come up with a strategy to lessen your load. Both physically & mentally. I didn’t respond well to medication so a change in work/life balance was really only option.

Because I put Parker in Daycare so early & had friends going through the same battle of working out how to approach it after me, I often got asked my tips/tricks/hacks for starting Daycare & keeping on top of things, so here they are :

CLOTHING : Leave the cute stuff at home & keep it simple. In Winter, dress in bodysuits, trackies/leggings and sweatshirts. In summer, the same again but with short sleeves and shorts. We frequented the Warehouse, Kmart & even Baby Factory. They grow so fast that I used to buy things in a range of sizes. Especially if it was black or another dark colour with less chance of being stained by food.

USE THE DRYER : It’s my holy grail. If I had to hang every piece of Parker’s clothes out to dry, I’d certainly go stir crazy. If you insist on hanging out washing to save a few bucks on the electricity, use those offers of help to get it done.

PRE-PACK OUTFITS : If you’re OCD in terms of outfits that need to go together/colour co-ordinate, put together your baby’s weeks worth of individual outfits in plastic sleeves (I kept the ones that our cot sheets came in) or laundry delicates bags (which I used when she grew up a bit and her clothes were a bit bulkier), then in their own drawer or shelf. This makes for getting dressed quickly in the mornings & when Dad is there to help out with the morning routine, he doesn’t have the stress of finding a suitable daycare outfit either.

STOCK DAYCARE UP WITH THE ESSENTIALS : We would stock Daycare up with whole boxes of nappies, tins of formula and breakfast (Farex etc) so that all we needed to do was ensure there were a couple of changes of clothes & a sleep-sack in Parker’s bag each day. Then the addition of lunch once she started on solids. To make this easier, I would highly recommend finding a daycare that provides meals.

BULK MAKE FOOD & USE PRE-MADE POUCHES : Bulk make a weeks worth of puréed foods and pop it in Kai Karriers ready to go to Daycare for lunches &/or dinners. You can also do this for breakfasts and bulk containers of yoghurt. However, don’t feel guilty if you opt to send them along with pre-made pouches from the Supermarket. I did this a lot too to save my sanity and even now (Parker is 2) we still have a stash of fruit pouches in the cupboard and opt for yoghurt pouches for breakfasts or an easy snack.

DAYCARE BAG : You can use basically any bag – a lot of people use their nappy bags for the first little while. I invested in a Herschel bag for Parker last March and she has used it every day since. It’s still in great condition with no signs of wear. I highly recommend them. Also, Pop a wet bag in their bag for wet/dirty clothes (I believe most daycares are advising this now as they’re trying to go plastic bag free)

NAMING DAYCARE ITEMS : I went through the painstaking process of ironing Dymo name labels on all Parker’s daycare clothes. Realistically, this was more of a pain than helpful. Their clothes rarely go missing when they’re smaller as they generally have less changes of clothes. Name labeling is key when they’re transitioned to a toddler room though. Stuck on You labels are great but get the larger sized ones. Name all plastic surfaces with vinyl name labels – bottles, drink bottles, kai carriers & lunch boxes. I personally love using Vinyl Junkies. Their service is top notch and their labels last well too.

MAKE TIME FOR YOU : Take a day off work every now & then just for you and don’t feel bad about it. Everyone needs this. In fact, I checked myself into a hotel for the night a couple of times just to get some rest without worrying about anything else.

ACCEPT OFFERS OF HELP & DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP : I had friends bring dinner over a few times. Not just because I’m useless at cooking when it’s just myself at home but it was also nice to have the company on those days. Also, I know personally that if any of my friends needed help folding their laundry, doing their dishes or vacuuming their house, I would happily be there for them. If anything, I’d make me feel good knowing that they feel like that can reach out to me for help. This goes for babysitting too! It’s not so daunting looking after someone else’s kid now that I’m somewhat “experienced”.

HIRE HELP : if finances allow, just do it. We had someone come to do the essentials for us for a few months last year & it was so good knowing that each fortnight, the kitchen, bathroom and floors were getting a decent clean. I would walk in the door with a feeling of relief knowing I could just sit down for a few moments without feeling like my house was a absolute sty riddled with germs. Of course the cleanliness didn’t last with a toddler but at least temporarily, I could breathe a little.

Once Parker was somewhere between 12-18 months, juggling things did get easier. She can feed & entertain herself (mostly) which means there is some room for getting housework done while she is occupied & I got a new job that allows me to work flexible hours so now I get home a lot earlier than I used to.

So, if you’re about to return to work or have recently returned & are feeling like everything is a bit much, remind yourself that the best is yet to come. You may feel overwhelmed at times but it will pass & it does get better.