A Parent’s Worry-Free Guide for Returning to Work
Published: July 26, 2021
By: Christa Melnyk Hines
Whether you’ve been out of the workforce for months or years, making the transition back after staying home with your children can cause a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Read on for tips to make it a smooth adjustment for your family.
Celebrate the change. How a child reacts and adjusts to changes in home life can vary by personality and age. Talk to your kids about your decision to return to the workforce by explaining how the transition will benefit the entire family.
Life and leadership coach Julie Edge, Ph.D., helps guide parents back into the workforce and says we often underestimate what our youngsters can understand.
“It’s really about making it relevant for kids so that they can put it into context. Have them have a role in mom or dad going back to work: ‘We’re all going to chip in more’ or ‘we’re all going to need to help out in certain ways so that mom can have this time to contribute to the family differently.’ They can be a cheerleader for mom or dad and help celebrate the change,” Edge says.
Manage your fears. When you think about the prospect of going back to work, try not to get carried away imagining all of the things that could go wrong during the transition. Edge says we often blow fears out of proportion.
Edge suggests saying your fears out loud. Often, what seems like a big deal in our heads sounds ridiculous to our ears.
“Stay the course and let things unfold instead of trying to over-manage everything,” Edge suggests. “My clients are always surprised at how well it goes and that their fears really don’t come true.”
Expect multiple conversations. Talking through your return to work with your kids probably won’t be a one-time conversation. Anticipate questions and concerns throughout
“What you don’t want to do is promise that everything is going to be the same because it’s not going to be and kids are smart,” Edge says. “Reassure them and make sure quality time with your kids — eye to eye — doesn’t feel like it’s being taken away.”
Quality time. While you may spend less hours overall with your kids once you start working, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality time. Try to eat meals together and periodically schedule family activities.
Leigh Carr was a stay-at-home mom for four years. She returned to work when she and her husband Dustin decided to start an online shop.
“My oldest son Nolan, who was 4 at the time, had more anxiety than his younger sister, who was 2. I made sure during the transition — and to this day — to make individual one-on-one time with each of my children so that they know in their mind and heart that I am still mom before all else,” Carr says.
Plan ahead. Take time on the weekend to scope out the upcoming week’s activities. Also, plan meals and arrange carpools to alleviate last-minute stress.
Laura FitzSimmons, a single mom of three sons, ages 14, 17 and 22, schedules family meetings to discuss the week ahead during their Sunday dinners together.
“That little bit of planning is what’s saving me right now,” says FitzSimmons, who is a certified lymphatic specialist therapist and business owner.
FitzSimmons initially returned to the workforce on a part-time basis after staying home with her children for 13 years. But she went back full-time soon after her husband died from a sudden heart attack
“I had to learn quickly how to plan more crockpot meals,” she says. “And when you’re working evenings, you can’t follow strict family dinner time hours. Dinner is always on the table, but not at exactly 5 o’clock.”
Ask for help. When you were a stay-at-home parent, it may have been easier to manage the moving parts of a busy household.
But once you start working, your family may have to participate more when it comes to household chores or helping with meals.
“It took solid and honest cooperation with my husband. We had to focus on communicating about shifts in the priorities and duties around our home as well as continuing to focus on work-life balance,” Carr says.
Carpools can also help take some of the pressure off, especially when your kids are involved in multiple activities.
FitzSimmons relies on her older son to help with driving his younger brother to his activities.
“If he’s not available, I’ll just put a text out to a couple of his friends in the neighborhood,” she says. “We call it the Teen Uber. I flip them five bucks for gas — it’s awesome.”
Forgive yourself. Some days will be harder than others. Work obligations might sometimes prevent you from attending a school program, a soccer game or getting a home-cooked meal on the table.
“I’ve learned to forgive myself,” Fitzsimmons says. “It’s OK if they have a turkey sandwich two nights in a row at dinner because that’s the best I can do. Allow yourself to be in that place of surrender and quiet and accept that it’s OK if you fail. At the end of the day, my kids have a roof over their heads and their bellies are full — they’re fine.” Carr agrees. “Outside influences do not understand your own family’s dynamic and what is in the best interest of your family. Go easy on yourself. It does no one any good to be hard on yourself when things don’t go quite right or get stressful.”
Benefits of working parents. In addition to gaining valuable life skills like helping to prep meals, budgeting, and learning personal responsibility, kids take pride in seeing their parents pursuing goals outside of the home.
“Despite the initial guilt and stress of returning to the workforce, for my children to see continued hard work, dedication, perseverance, compassion and motivation both in the home and outside is such a true blessing,” Carr says.
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer who re-entered the workforce when her youngest son was 2. She enjoys her work and attributes that to making her a happier mom.
The Kids Will Be Alright
Studies find that working moms tend to raise:
- Children who become high-achieving adults
- Daughters who enjoy successful careers
- Sons who believe in gender equity in the workplace
- Kids who are just as likely to be happy adults as kids raised by stay-at-home parents
Source: Harvard Business School