If you’re a stay-at-home parent who has recently returned to work (or are contemplating a return to work), you’re probably worried about how your child will handle the transition.
After all, in the days since his birth he has probably spent most, or even all, of his waking moments with you—a fact that is bound to cause at least a bit of anxiety when he is suddenly in the care of someone new. This is true whether your child is six weeks old, six months old, or six years old.
We humans—and especially children—are creatures of habit, and it takes time for our emotions to settle after facing a change. But that doesn’t mean your child cannot adjust, and do so beautifully. In fact, your child may surprise you with how flexible he or she really is, especially if we, as parents, give them the right support. Here are six things you can do to help foster a more seamless transition as you return to and rebuild your professional life.
1. Show Enthusiasm
Whether you are returning to work out of financial necessity or because you simply miss your career, make sure to give your child the impression that you are super-duper excited about this change. Let me repeat, act REALLY happy about this change!
It is very common for parents to try to avoid hurting their child’s feelings by saying that they don’t really want to work, but that they have to in order to make ends meet. This is a mistake with the unintended consequence of teaching your child to hate money (because it is taking you away from him) and to believe that a job is nothing more than a drudgery (which, of course, it shouldn’t be). Instead, show your child that a vibrant career is something to be excited about—something that can enhance both your life and his at the same time.
Also, children are tend to absorb their parents’ emotions like a sponge. If you are unhappy about going back to work, it will signal to your child that something scary is about to happen—which, of course, will increase his anxiety even more.
2. Let Your Child Voice His Concerns
Facing a major change in life—especially ones you aren’t in control of—can be scary. Make sure you have ongoing discussions with your child (both before and after you start your job) about any fears or anxieties he may be having. Give him a chance to ask questions, express fears, and share his opinions. Then, address each concern one by one and plan out how you will work through them together. Be sure to do this with compassion and empathy, even if his thoughts or feelings seem unreasonable to you. It’s very important at this point that your child feel validated, important, and to know that, ultimately, you have his back.
3. Explain What’s in It For Her
Okay, so you’ve shown made sure your child knows how this new lifestyle will work. You’ve shown her that a fulfilling career is an important part of being a happy human. And, you’ve address her concerns and shown compassion. Despite this stellar parenting, your child might still be left wondering, “What’s in it for me?” So give them some examples of how this new development will improve her life.
Maybe it’s working towards that Disney vacation she’s been asking about or the means travel more often. Maybe you are trying to save up to buy a bigger home or move into a nicer apartment. Maybe you want to start building a college fund for this child so she can be a happy adult. Maybe you want to give your child those extra-curricular activities she wants, like gymnastics classes or guitar lessons.
What financial security really boils down to is having the freedom to live the way you want to without limitations. It can be a great development for your life for sure; but you’re also doing it out of love for her. Gently help her understand this is in everyone’s best interest.
4. Make Sure to Arrange an Enjoyable Care Situation
It sounds obvious, but your child will adjust to his new situation much quicker if he actually enjoys how he is spending his time. Enjoyable is a relative term, of course, so you’ll have to tap into your child’s personality to determine what’s best. Some kids do better in quiet, intimate settings with nannies or relatives who are willing to bond with them. Others need a more bustling atmosphere full of fun activities and other children their own age. Take care to find the right situation.
5. Schedule Quality Time
If your child is used to spending a lot of time with you each day, she’s probably worried that your return to work will spell out less time together. Give her something to look forward to each week by setting up special dates to do the things your child enjoys. This way, she knows without a doubt that she’ll always get quality time with you even if her daily routines are changing.
6. Beware of the Evening Rush
Evenings are busy for working parents. After a hard day at work, you’ll probably feel pressured to complete the barrage of things on your personal to-do list: check personal messages, do the grocery shopping, make dinner, address homework issues, pack lunches for the next day, and get the kids ready for bed. It’s a lot, yes, but try to refrain from jumping into these things immediately.
When you pick your child up from daycare (or you return to him at home) the message he needs to hear from you is, “I missed you today. There’s nothing more important to me right now than being with you and having the chance for us to catch up.” It doesn’t have to be long; just 15 minutes of quality time before the chaos ensues can do wonders for your relationship and your child’s sense of self-worth. This could be a nice chat on car ride home or some snuggle time on the couch before the evening routine begins. Either way, just be sure your child feels like he comes first.
Returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent can create a feeling of upheaval for children and adults alike. But, know that this anxiety is only temporary. You have created a strong bond with your child, and with proper support everyone in the house will adjust–just be patent, and know that ultimately, your actions are for the greater good.