As a working parent we go through so many roles and transitions throughout the course of a day.
When I support working parents, they say that one of their main struggles is the switch from work mode into family life, from employee mode back to mum or dad in a smooth and stress free way.
We might come home after a long day at work with our mind still racing with what we have done (or not done) today and might still have to do that evening! Then we come into the house and we get a storm of kids coming at us, ‘mummmy.. daddyyy’ – we might react with a ‘slow down, let mummy in first’, ‘Can daddy just get 2 minutes before getting attacked’ etc. etc. Not only does this make us feel bad if we see a look of disappointment on our kids’ faces, but our kids also sense it and after a while might stop coming to us when they don’t get the response they hoped for!
We might get our partner, if we have one, attacking us (or so it feels) with things that we need to attend to, worries about their day or something the kids have been up to. And straight away we are in a bad mood and might reply too hastily. Or in defence mode, ‘Well it’s not my fault that people always bang the door and it breaks’, and so on.
But likewise, we might come to work still in ‘parent mode’, maybe feeling guilty or stressed about how the morning went with our family. We take these emotions with us into work that most likely will be affected.
All this is not a nice way to come home to the family that we hopefully have missed or start our workday. It can be quite draining and become something we start to dreading.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. With some small but powerful changes we can make the ‘homecoming’ and work day a smooth and positive one and something we all look forward to.
Planning and teamwork for a calm transition:
Check in with yourself before you enter the house or work building: before you go in, sit in the car or just pause outside for a while and check in with yourself. Think about what you have to do later, and plan it for later. Then place your attention on what, and who, you will meet in the house or work and how you want to respond. Prepare yourself for what lies ahead so you are not taken by surprise.
● Set the agenda: if you really do need a breather before engaging with the family then say so and agree to this beforehand. I.e. mum comes in, she gives everyone a big hug, then goes to her room, gets changed, maybe has a shower, listens to the radio for a few minutes and gives herself time to re-engage with the home and family life. Then comes down again and gives her family full attention until she has agreed (with herself and family) that it is her work time in the office. You can have weekly family get-togethers where you talk about what makes everyone in the family feel respected, calm and happy. Tool Family Meetings.pdf here to read about how to set up weekly family chats
The same can happen when you enter work: set an agenda of how it will work for you.
● If you have a partner. talk to them about how the situation can work better: use an ‘I-message’ where you state how you feel and what can help you, i.e. ‘When I get home after a long day I’m so tired, I get angry easily and can be too quick to react in a negative way. I don’t think that is fair on you as I know you have also had a long day. So, I was hoping we could figure out and agree on something that suits us both?’
● It is ok to have a bad day – but say it: We all have bad days and that is ok. But if we don’t tell our partner, kids or colleagues about how we feel and why they might start taking it personally and react to you in a way that might not be helpful i.e., anger, ignore you, blame you etc. So if you have had a stressful day at work or at home, tell your surroundings straight away so they know what is going on with you but also tell them what you need:
• I have had a really difficult morning at home so I just need a minute to settle into work or
• if I am a bit quiet today, it is because I am having some issues at home or
• I have had a long and stressful day at work so I am really tired – but it is nothing to do with you, I am so happy to be home with you, but I just want you to know etc.
Give it your 100%:
It is all about having clear and agreed expectations and sticking to them. But also giving each task or activity your full attention.
When you are with your kids give them 100% (even if it’s just for 15 minutes) and when you are working give it your all as well. Try to plan everything else for later on i.e. if you still have work to day, agree with yourself and family that you will do it at, lets say 20.00. If you are at work and you have to sort something out at home m plan when you will do so you can give the here and now your full focus, knowing it IS planned for later.
You will find you will not only be more productive but feel proud instead of guilty. Your kids will feel more connected to you since you become safe company to be with and your kids (and partner) don’t have to second guess how you will react – you become a predictable parent.
Also, you and your partner will start feeling like a team instead of getting upset at each other and competing about who has had the roughest day, which brings peace to the home and benefits everyone.
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team