My daughter recently ran in the house with a longing look on her face, hands pressed together in prayer position, and pleading, “Mommy, please, please, please tell me you didn’t get a new job today!”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing, dressing up more often than I have been since taking a step back from work before the holidays. For twenty years, I’ve worked full-time and this is all my girls have known since starting daycare at four-months old.
So, the recent change in my “dress-up” to interview tipped them off that all the extra mommy time they’ve enjoyed lately might soon come to an end. Needless to say, they aren’t sure what to make of it.
Rather than answer our six-year old immediately, I responded with a few questions of my own. “Would you like mommy to get a new job? How does it make you feel to think about mommy going back to work?” As you might expect, the answers were a definitive “no” and “sad”… no big surprise!
This is the punch in the gut most working parents aim to avoid. We thoroughly vet babysitters, sign-up for after-school programs, enroll in cool activities (think, hip hop and cooking class), stock the pantry with favorite snacks, and block time to volunteer occasionally at school. We do all this to be sure our children are safe and engaged, but also to protect ourselves and avoid the “guilt” that we’re not always around, particularly when other parents may be.
So, with our daughter, I asked her to think of reasons why mommy should work. We went so far as to make a chart of the pros and cons of mommy staying home versus going back to work.
The exercise highlighted five key insights.
Feel the feelings. Unfortunately, the icky feelings about being away from our kids are never going to go away – for parents or our children. There may some days that are better than others, but they aren’t going to disappear. So, acknowledge that. Feeling the sadness and disappointment, rather than trying to stuff it all down gives everyone in your family a shared, emotional experience that will build skills for life. It’s not all about where we go or what we do, but rather how we feel, knowing that we’re OK and have each other, even when those feelings are scary.
Have the conversation. Talking to your kids about “why” we do what we do is important. Children are hyper aware, but have limited life experience to process what’s going on around them. So, sharing how work is challenging and fulfilling helps them understand that work is a place where you feel connected and learn. Get excited about work by letting your kids know that you’re darned good at it and (hopefully) enjoy it!
Spotlight Your Priorities. Helping children understand that work provides for some of the things your family needs and wants is also an important conversation. No two families share the same circumstances or make the same decisions. So, talking about work and your family’s priorities helps children understand what makes one family different from another. Hopefully, the way your family spends its time when you’re together (and also, apart) is something that makes you all special. Children won’t know this unless you talk to them about it.
Share the journey. Transitions are never easy for anyone. They stir up thoughts and emotions, we may not always be ready to tackle. Oftentimes, thinking about our careers and what’s next leaves us looking inward, which can make it hard to take care of the people around us. Sharing updates during a career search that celebrate the good news and bad, help to make everyone in the family part of the experience and will also help to prepare for changes that may be coming soon. Next time you get that email confirming an interview, crank the tunes, it’s time for a dance party. Found out one of the jobs at the top of your list is passing on your resume, pillow fight anyone?
Make it fun. From early pick-ups and ice cream play dates to more far flung adventures, set aside time to think big about what everyone would like to do during the time that mommy (or daddy) has off. Any gaps in your work life will fly by, so make it something that everyone will look back on and smile. And in a few years, definitely keep talking about it positively, time cherished, rather than lamenting its loss.
Doing these things may not make it easier to return to work. However, it may help families to connect during what is likely an uneasy time for everyone. By slowing down to ask and answer questions with your kids, you’ll also be more open to doing the same for yourself. It’s truly amazing how the small humans in our lives repeatedly act as a mirror for behaviors and thoughts we need to consider, with or without them.