We celebrated Labor Day this week and the holiday prompted me to reflect on my personal journey in the workforce…specifically on my time in the work force after having children. For almost 15 years I have been a full-time mama who has worked at a full-time job outside the home. During my reflection, I was able to clearly identify things that contributed to my struggles and things that contributed to my successes, so with that in mind, I thought a post sharing a few of the things that have helped me might be something of value for other parents in the same situation.
**A quick aside…I just want to say that I personally think all parents are awesome…those that work outside the home, those that work from home, those that are full-time managers of their home…and I don’t believe there needs to be any debate about what is better/best. I simply choose to believe that all parents are trying to do their best in the circumstances they live in. So nothing about this post is meant to indicate I think a parent should be working outside the home, I am just simply trying to write something that other work outside the home parents may find supportive and beneficial. Ok moving on.
Hands down probably the best thing I did was include my children in my morning routine. I didn’t initially set out to do that on purpose…the parenting Gods just gave me children who are early risers…so when the kids were babies and I couldn’t leave them unsupervised I would move them with me from room to room and spend time chatting at and engaging with them as I was getting ready each morning. Once my kids got a bit older and could play a bigger role in getting themselves ready, I continued to keep them in my space every morning, only now I would have them mirror me as I did my getting ready tasks. We ate breakfast together. When I got dressed, they got dressed. When I brushed my hair and teeth, they brushed hair and teeth and so on. Sure there were moments when I would think to myself…what I wouldn’t give to just to get ready alone and in quiet…but I will say this, I have 3 children with 3 distinctly different personalities and I really feel like our home had less than typical amounts of resistance to these tasks because all they knew was moving through them together in this familiar and parallel way. Once the kids were fully ready I avoided giving them the option to go off and play on their own or turn on the TV. I honestly tried to time the morning so we all finished getting ready when it was pretty much time to leave, but if they beat me their option was to hang out in my room. Sometimes I would put music on, sometimes they read books that were in there, sometimes they just played with each other on the floor. I know this saved me a lot of morning stress because I never dealt with the challenge of separating kids from activities they enjoy (like screens or toys) to get them out the door for school because they never started in with them in the first place. It is also worth mentioning that an additional benefit of this practice I didn’t see coming is that now my kids are 14, 13 and 12 and obviously capable of getting completely ready on their own and in their own space (which they mostly do), but I often find them rotating through my room to brush their teeth, do their hair, etc. Sometimes we just get ready together in the quiet and sometimes they share about things going on at school, sometimes they vent, sometimes they disclose stress over a test happening that day, but whatever it is I really love those little moments of connection before we head off and separate for the day.
My second tip would be to consistently give yourself a 10 minute transition break between returning from work and jumping back into things at home. My responsibilities at home vs work are so different and require such immense amounts but completely different types of energy so these 10 minutes are used to allow myself to calmly switch gears and briefly re-charge. I know 10 minutes probably sounds short, but for me it absolutely was enough to make a difference and I think asking young children who have missed you all day to give you more just isn’t that realistic. Everyday I when my kids were little, I would walk in the door, greet them with hugs and then set a timer for 10 minutes. In those precious 10 minutes I would change clothes and then go back into the living room, get down on the floor (so my kids still got to start re-connecting with me physically) and read a magazine or a book or sometimes I would even just lay there on the floor, shut my brain off and do nothing. And if you are thinking in your head…there is no way my kids will let me do this…I would recommend you just give it a try. I think kids begin to understand and expect things that happen consistently and I know that my kids got so used to it they just accepted it as a normal part of their day. Somedays they would go off and play on their own, but most days they would just sit right by me (often times when they were really little sit literally on me) and hang out until the timer went off. This short break was SO necessary for me to be a better mom in the evening for my kids, but I don’t think the benefit was mine alone. I think this was a perfect exercise to help my children practice the incredibly important life skills of patience and delayed-gratification and I think it also modeled for them that it is important and perfectly acceptable to give yourself a few minutes to re-group during a busy or stressful day.
My final suggestion would be to create and adhere to an extremely consistent evening routine. I will be the first to admit that doing the same thing day after day can feel sooooo monotonous but I truly believe it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for children…especially children who have spent a majority of their day navigating an unpredictable world without your physical closeness. A consistent routine provides the structure that children crave to feel safe and secure. It assures them that no matter what has happened in their day each evening they can settle into things that feel familiar, predictable and comfortable. I always noticed increased behavioral challenges with my kids on days we were forced to deviate from our typical routine and by evening time, when my energy and patience levels were often running on fumes, that was really, REALLY hard for me. Obviously every family will know what routine is right for them, but I think that an important note is that young children who have not had a ton of time with you during the day are going to want to get as much close, connected, quality time from you as they can, so try to make the routine focus on being together as much as possible. I also think it is important to appreciate how much the working parent has to manage at home in a limited amount of time and if you need to get a chore or two done while your kids are still awake to relieve a bit of your stress you should absolutely add that in your routine…just include your kids in that time. When I look through old photos I probably have 50 pictures of kids sitting in full laundry baskets because getting a load of laundry going each evening did a ton for my stress level so I just made sure that the kids were with me while I did that. Sometimes they were in the baskets laughing as I threw mounds of clothes I was sorting on top of them and sometimes they were helping me match and fold socks or put away clean clothes. Whatever works. My last note regarding the evening routine is that if you choose to make screens any part of your routine (like in our family my kids got to watch a 20 minute video while I got dinner on the table) I would advise that you use something that has a very clear stopping point that your child will easily understand. My suggestion would be to use a DVD or TV show because once the episode over…it is just over. Simple as that. It is so much easier for tired child to manage and regulate the finality of a show then it is for them to have a timer go off to signify the end of their time to play games or watch YouTube because that almost always occurs when they are in the middle of something that doesn’t feel finished and then that will make them beg for more or leave them feeling uncomfortable. All us parents know what a slippery slope that is and activities that cause an increase in stress levels or open the door for battles right before the often taxing task of getting ready for bed is never good.
So there you have it…my 3 tips for my fellow work-outside-the-home parents. I hope you find something here that will help you better survive and even help you feel like you are able to thrive as a work-outside-the-home-parent. It sure isn’t easy, but we can do this!!