Expert / 19 October, 2022 / Anita Cleare
Being a great parent after a long day at work isn’t easy. Summoning up the energy to be Fun Mum whilst shepherding little ones through their evening routine can be hard enough on a good day. But when you’re frazzled from work and all you want to do is collapse on the sofa, it’s even harder to bring your ‘A’ game.
One of the biggest challenges for working mums is simply starting that second shift in the right frame of mind to parent. It sounds easy enough but, for many of us, that involves learning how to be two different people on the same day.
When we are at work, we tend to be very goal-focused and task-oriented. We achieve things, we’re organised, we get things done! Doing well at work is all about sticking to schedules, ploughing through tasks efficiently and always thinking one step ahead.
However, when it comes to family life, that workplace mindset is not always a good fit. Getting things done isn’t so easy at home – mainly because young children seldom stick to the plan. They are exuberant and spontaneous, messy and stubborn, and not at all concerned about doing things quickly or efficiently! When we bring our three-steps-ahead work-mode mindset to parenting, it’s easy to get wound up or frustrated when children drag their feet or their big emotions spill over.
Children need adults to deploy a different set of strengths when we are with them. They need emotionally attuned parents who are curious and playful and empathetic. Who aren’t always rushing from one thing to the next but who can slow down a little, pick up on children’s subtle cues and prioritise connecting and listening. To be a great parent after a long day at work, we need to learn to dial down our work mode and switch to a different mindset.
Here are five quick tips to help you summon up your best parenting skills after a long day at work:
Before you head home, check in with yourself. Don’t start the evening parenting shift hungry or thirsty – you are much more likely to get impatient or snappy if you are running on empty. If you were too busy for lunch, make sure you pick up some water and a healthy snack before you pick up the children, so you aren’t completely drained of energy.
If you are feeling stressed from work, take a minute to close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. Take a deep breath then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of ten. Then smile, and feel your brain release the feel-good chemicals that come with smiling. You might be one minute later walking in the house, yes, but you’ll be in the right frame of mind to be the calm consistent parent you want to be.
Be intentional about switching from work mode to parent mode. If you have work tasks still banging around your head, speak them all out into an audio note on your phone and schedule to listen to it in the morning. Then immerse your attention elsewhere. Audiobooks are great if you are commuting back from work or try listening to a funny podcast.
You might find it helpful to reset your mindset into parent mode by carrying a photo of your children with you. Something that gives you a warm feeling when you look at it. Take this out and dwell on it for a whole 60 seconds. Then close your eyes and conjure up your child’s face and allow those fuzzy Mummy feelings to sweep through you. Tap into positive emotions before you get home and you’ll walk in the door ready to parent.
You know the kids are probably going to want a piece of you as soon as you walk through the door. So, accept that and give them a 15-minute burst of attention. Don’t rush around trying to make a dent in that To Do list. Sit down and be still. If you are sitting still and available to them, children are less likely to feel the need to fight for your attention. And once the connection has been re-established, they will be much happier to let you disappear for a few moments to get changed or do whatever you need to do.
It’s tempting to approach the evening shift as a series of tasks to be completed. Our lives are so tightly timed (and there is so much to do!) that we can end up rushing children through that evening schedule of dinner, bath, books, and bed – while all the time feeling guilty because we know they just want our attention. But we just want them to go to bed on time!
Yet, if we reframe that thinking and view parenting not as a series of tasks to be completed but as a relationship to be built, that opens up potential for a different dynamic. Our most important task of the evening is to do at least one thing that builds the relationship between us and our child. That doesn’t have to take long – it’s quality moments that matter when it comes to building a relationship.
When we’re tired and stressed from work, it’s easy to slip into the trap of ignoring children when they are being good and overreacting to the behaviour we don’t like. When they are quietly playing, we slip off the get things done.
The problem is that children tend to repeat behaviour that gets our attention. So, if the biggest dose of attention they get this evening is for refusing to clean their teeth, they are more likely to repeat that again tomorrow night.
Working parents are often wracked with guilt about not being able to give our children enough attention. But it’s not really how much attention we give children that is the crucial issue, it’s where we direct it.
Your attention means everything to your children and they will do pretty much anything to get it. So, target your attention towards the behaviour that you want to encourage. Catch your child being good as often as possible and use positive praise to encourage them to keep it up. Not only are they more likely to repeat that behaviour next time, you are more likely to have a happier and calmer family evening
And most of all, give yourself a break. You don’t have to be perfect and bad days are inevitable. Children don’t need you to get it all right all of the time. They just need us to care and to keep showing up. You’re doing great!
Article by Anita Cleare, MA AdvDip (Child Development)