During the early days of new parenthood, my husband once asked me when he got home from work, "Would you be mad if I had parked around the corner before reaching our house, and took a nap?" My initial response to any question of his that begins with "Would you be mad if..." is always DEFINITELY, but after thinking about it, I told him, "No, if that's going to help you be refreshed, present and engaged when you step through the door, then do it."
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OK, a full daily nap might be a little much (if you can swing it, rock on), but as the parenthood mantra goes, the days are hella long, and it's important to break up them up with transition periods. Sure, I miss the days when I could come home from work, take off my bra, and space out on the couch with nobody talking to me, climbing on me, or asking me to turn on Octonauts, but that's no longer happening. If I keep thinking that's the way it should be, and craving that downtime, I'm only going to be cranky and resentful until bedtime. So instead, I try to spend five minutes after work channelling whatever energy I have left into the rest of the evening.
I've found this time to be critical, and for the most part, I'm in a much more in-it-to-win-it state when I pick up my daughter from her full-day preschool. The ritual is worth it, even if it means getting to work a bit earlier or cutting down your lunch hour.
Here are some ways you can create a five-minute transition zone before re-engaging with your kids. (Parents who stay home definitely need these transition times, too, so help each other out.)
- Sit in your car by yourself. No, don't park next to the playground where your kid and all his friends can peek through the gate and wave. Find a calm spot, turn off the engine, and make this your "me time". Do some energising breathing exercises, or a short guided meditation. (I like this one called "Simply Begin Again" by Joseph Goldstein on the 10% Happier with Dan Harris podcast.)
- Walk around the block.
- Write down a few things you're grateful for.
- Plan your evening. We often have clear outlines for our work days, but when it comes to our home lives, we tend to take on a "let's just see what unfolds" mentality. And what unfolds is usually chaos. Having a general plan for the evening can take some of the pressure off later on.
- Plan something special for after the kids go to bed. A Netflix show? Another chapter in the book you're writing? A date with your partner? A date with that carton of gelato in your freezer? Give yourself something to look forward to (in addition to seeing your kids).
- Expect your kids to be at their worst. Especially if you're heading into The Witching Hour. When I used to pick my daughter up from school, I would tell her I missed her so much and would ask her all these questions about her day. She'd respond by whining and turning her head away from me in her car seat. I've learned that kids need a release after keeping it together all day (a tough thing!). Parenting expert Janet Lansbury often tells mums and dads to "roll out the red carpet" for our children's emotions. They will be more likely to transition back into their content selves more quickly.