Whether going back to work was a choice for your personal fulfillment or based on the financial needs of your family, the transition is going to be hard on your whole family for a time. Stay-at-home parents do a lot throughout the week, and as you head back to work, some of the things you used to take responsibility for may now fall on your kids’ shoulders. This can be an extra-difficult time for them to make the transition to doing more for themselves because they’re also dealing with the emotional transition of having less of your time throughout the day. However, with some planning and communication, you can not only make it easy for your family to make this transition together, but you can also use it as a teaching opportunity to set your kids up for more success in their lives.
One of the best ways to get your kids on board with taking on new responsibilities is to have a candid conversation with them. Sit them down and explain that its your whole family’s job to do the things that need to get done in the home. Talk to them about the fact that you used to do a larger chunk of household care because you were home and could, but that now that you’re going back to work, the whole family needs to pitch in more to make sure everything still gets done and everyone can still be happy.
If you have time before you go back to work, it can also help if you ease them into their new responsibilities, adding them a little bit at a time and practicing with them so that they can get used to doing more around the house.
If your kids have never had to do certain chores or activities before, it makes sense for them to forget steps or freeze up in the moment. Help them out by streamlining processes to make things easier. Visual reminders can help even your littlest kids stay on task and complete a chore from beginning to end.
If you want to make packing lunches easy, putting some bins in your pantry and fridge. In the fridge, you could have a bin that says “Take 2” with pre-portioned fruits, veggies, yogurts, and other healthy snacks. You could also have a “Take 2” bin in the cupboard with fresh fruit, raisins, nuts, or other healthy snacks, as well as a “Take 1” bin with a sweet treat option and a “Take 1” bin with drink options. This makes it easy for your kids to throw their lunches together in the morning without supervision. They’ll feel like they have choices, which makes them more likely to actually eat the food in their lunch box, and you can feel confident that they’re getting a healthy mixture of foods throughout the day.
Have kids with block periods or alternating schedules? Consider buying 2 different backpacks so that they can keep each day’s materials in one place. Just make sure you buy two house keys so they don’t get locked out on their way home.
Reward Positive Behavior
Kids deal well with positive reinforcement, so make sure that you’re overzealous with your praise when they do a good job, especially at first. On weekends, reinforce that it’s so nice that everyone got their chores done throughout the week so that you can spend some fun time together as a family.
Similarly, if your kids forget their chores, try not to punish them, especially at first. These are new skills, and it might be hard for them to keep everything in mind. Instead let them experience the natural consequences of their behavior. For example, if they don’t up early enough to pack their lunch, maybe they have to use their allowance to buy hot lunch that day.
Some kids may resent the fact that you’re going back to work and refuse to do chores as a way to assert their control. This can be hard, especially if you harbor any level of guilt about going back to work. Understanding why they’re behaving the way they are can help you not get mad, but it’s also important not to give in. Remind yourself that your job is to raise healthy adults, and that when your kid is an adult, they’ll have to run a whole household, not just get themselves ready for the day and do a few chores when they get home.
Give them some times to transition, and if the behavior persists, offer reasonable consequences. For example, if they don’t get themselves up and ready in the morning, consider sending them to bed earlier so that they’ll get enough sleep to wake up on their own. If they misbehave while you’re gone, they might have to stay in on Saturday—and you might be too busy doing the chores they refused to do to play with them. Eventually, by standing firm, you’ll have kids who understand what’s expected of them and are able to do it.
Expecting more out of your kids because you’re going back to work doesn’t have to be a battle. If you position it as yet another developmental milestone for them—and another way that you’re preparing them for adulthood—it’ll be easier for you to have the grace and patience necessary to see them through this transition period. Because at the end of the day, the goal is for all of our kids to become the healthy, independent adults we know they can be. So look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that you’re doing great, Mama.