Most people, especially children, thrive on routine. If you or your spouse are planning a full-time return to the workforce, your family may feel a sense of upheaval and uneasiness about this change, and what it will mean for them. When a parent leaves the nest, even if it is only for a new 9-5 job, the systems and procedures you all find comfortable, familiar and safe will be, to a large part, upended. Much of the anxiety and uncertainty about this lifestyle shift and its impact can be mitigated through communication and planning. Here are a few simple steps to help you all ease winningly into the transition.
Prepare – You’ll want to discuss this upcoming change with your child, using age-appropriate language. Before you have this conversation, make sure your child care plans are firmly in place so you can better address your child’s fears about where they will be while you are at work and who will be taking care of them. If you will be using a new caregiver, let your child spend some time with them prior to your departure. If your spouse will be taking on more child care responsibility in your absence, have them plan together what their days will be like and discuss their new daily systems, such as child pick-up from school or from daycare and mealtime planning. If you have a young child, take this opportunity to teach them about telling time. Use a clock to show them the times of day when you will be leaving work and coming home, as well as marking the special things they will be doing at specified times such as napping or watching a favorite TV show. Only do this exercise if you are confident about being able to keep to a schedule, so your child’s confidence in their new routine is solidified, not shaken.
Anticipate upsets – It is understandable that your child will feel some anxiety, both before and during the early days or weeks of your new routine. Your spouse may also be feeling increased concern about their added responsibilities at home, or even about you changing in ways that might shift the relationship. Addressing these concerns head-on and with compassion will alleviate everyone’s stress level, including your own. Remember that change, even positive change, brings with it unease as well as a mixed bag stuffed full of emotions. Change, if approached correctly, also presents an opportunity for your growth, both as individuals and as a family.
Practice separations – Small children will benefit from multiple trial separation runs. Have them spend short amounts of time away from you as a means of easing into longer separations. Use these for fun times such as excursions to the zoo. For school-aged children, also include some work times. If you have always been the homework helper, for example, have someone else take on this responsibility occasionally, so your child can build up confidence with their new caregiver.
Create a new routine and stick to it – Mornings are notoriously chaotic for many families. Make sure you establish a set routine your child can anticipate every morning, such as having their new child care provider come to the house 15 minutes before you leave, or by taking them to daycare via the same route. Make sure you always say goodbye and never sneak away, even if your child is crying. When you leave, only leave once. As difficult as it may feel, it is not in your child’s best interests for you to continually return to console them. This will only reinforce their upset and prolong the behavior, as well as give the impression that their new child care situation is not one where they can be cared for. It is better to let your child know of a specific time of day when you will call or text them, such as your lunch break, or when you leave work to return home. This will give both of you something to look forward to.
Keep connected to your spouse – Date nights may be even harder to schedule, now that you are working full time. Create a haven of one-on-one time every day, even if it is only doing the dishes together or reading in bed. Every couple communicates differently but no matter what your connection style is, make a point of keeping the lines of communication not only open but well greased. Your going back to work may represent a shared goal, such as additional income to buy a home your family will share or to further a career that was kept on hiatus. Don’t lose sight of these dreams as they can cement your family and give all of you an opportunity to support each other’s hopes for the future. Reminding each other of positive reasons for your current lifestyle can solidify an atmosphere of mutual support.
Don’t ignore your own feelings – Your family members are not the only ones who will be experiencing anxiety about this change. After a long absence from the workplace, it is to be expected that you will also get the jitters about your return to the daily grind. Hopefully, these feelings will be tempered by excitement for your new life as well. You may occasionally come home to end-of-day chaos, but despite spaghetti sauce smeared all over your child’s face or laundry accidentally died pink by your spouse, your family is the haven you get to return to each day. That knowledge can provide an emotional safety net when the copy machine breaks or when you accidentally hit “reply all.” Keeping perspective and maintaining balance both at home and at work will help you to remember how very, very lucky you are, despite the challenges of a new routine.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.