Change and parenting go together hand in hand. New nurseries, schools, friends, clubs, teachers…
Somehow this latest chapter of ‘Mum returning to work‘ we are navigating feels the hardest yet. (Don’t they all?).
The girls are now seven and four, and after a pretty steady five years since the last major shake up, when I was made redundant, they have been pretty lucky to have had me at home with them, giving them stability and comfort whenever they have needed it.
Having displayed phases of being a Daddy’s girl and a kamikaze menace, The Mouse hasn’t always seemed to worried about Mum being around or not. The assumption probably being that I always would be; something which the failure to settle in her first nursery proved. Maybe underneath that tough exterior was a Mummy’s girl all along, it just took a moment of realisation that we were not, in fact, one entity after all.
We gradually increased the nursery hours at a pace we were all comfortable with, and up until recently her fifteen morning hours across five days at the school nursery were suiting her just fine. But all that was about to change.
When I landed the job I had only dreamt about after the somewhat unplanned career break, my fears and anxieties about returning to work were always centred about how it would impact the children over my ability to show up and do what I knew I was still capable of doing.
We have tried all we can to mitigate how this change impacts on the kids, but here’s how it’s panned out.
Heads Up: This specific example relates to changing childcare but honestly, I think the same would apply for dealing with any big life change…new baby, new house, new school…thoughts?
Give it time
Obviously there isn’t always the option to be picky, but when negotiating a start date with an employer, consider the time needed to prepare the children for the upcoming changes. You are probably all going to need a bit of time to get your head around it all.
I managed to negotiate a delayed start to align with the next term, allowing me to work changes to nursery into the new term. You may be surprised what an employer will say yes to, and if they really want you on board, they should be at least prepared to listen to and consider your requirements.
Be positive and open
Kids hear and understand way more than we give them credit for. As soon as I had decided I would go back to work at some point in the future, it became an open conversation with the girls. We chatted casually over how exciting it would be and all the things we’d have to tell each other at the end of our days. I helped them to understand why I’d made that decision, on a child appropriate level, and spoke to them about how lots of other Mummies go to work, despite them believing that their bubble would never burst.
They have always known that Mummy had a job (before being a toy tester) and that she was passionate about Science. I shared that pride in my career even when I was on a break from it in a bid to encourage the kids to take an interest in STEM and as much as I could, hope to be a role model for them.
Set up your infrastructure
For us, the major hurdle was finding a childcare provider to cover wrap around care for before and after school. Each unique set of circumstances will warrant a unique set up, so by hook or by crook, find an option that works for you.
Once the plan’s in place, it’s really important to spend as much time as possible allowing the kids to feel comfortable in that new setting. Short or long sessions, with you there if necessary. Meet the other children and adults that they might come across and allow them to test the water of as many possible scenarios before you permanently implement the change.
Make sure all points of contact are in the loop so that the drip feed of positive discussions about the change are coming from alternative sources. Key worker, club leader, grandparents…it all helps and you never know, they might just have some great advice.
Even the tiniest of worries can cause a lot of upset. Make time to ask if there are any worries and listen to them. Creating an open communication channel where they know they can voice any issues they are bottling up will make any bumps along the way so much easier to tackle head on.
We found this a lot easier with our seven year old who was able to articulate clearly specific (and unexpected!) concerns, but even The Mouse had irrational fears which we were able to pinpoint through talking and play. By reassuring her and communicating to her key worker we were able to work together and offer her extra support around the times causing her distress.
By allowing the children to make choices about their day and let them get involved in planning and preparation, they became more engaged in the new processes required to make it all happen.
Tigs has become master of getting the breakfast bowls out and ready, whilst The Mouse and I spend a quiet time before bed planning what she might like in her lunch box the next day. Providing them with control and decision making has clearly empowered them to feel a little in control of the new routine…and it does me a huge favour too. Win:Win!
Adding visual aids like a social story or process plan could be an idea if you need to do a little extra – mapping out each step such as get up, have breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth on a chart can be a really useful way of helping children to understand and learn what is happening and when.
Even amidst some less than ideal behaviour, it’s so important to try and be patient and understanding with the transition period. There will always be positives to focus on, and by encouraging the right behaviour and the small wins, we as adults who understand the driver for change, can pull gently in the right direction of embracing the change.
Of course love isn’t always letting them get away with murder, and consistently keeping boundaries is as much an act of love as all the cuddles and praise. The kids need that consistency more than ever, so forgiving wrongs at this time isn’t doing them any favours at all.
Expect the Unexpected
Whatever camp you fall into, few can argue that kids thrive on routine. Messing with their comfort zones is inevitably going to turn their little world on it’s head. That doesn’t mean they won’t adapt; in fact children are probably more robust than we think.
As we have discovered, we’ve had crazy tantrums on mornings we weren’t expecting it and ideal behaviour the days we have been dreading. There has been clear attention seeking behaviour that we have walked right into, and we have probably failed to acknowledge the positive behaviour of one whilst dealing with the constant turmoil of the other. We aren’t perfect, and neither are our kids, but we are giving this our best shot.
What we have achieved is to make this change happen, together, as a team. We have shared the burden and tag teamed the tantrums. We’ve doubled up on the school run if needed and lived up to promises of pick ups at the end of the day and treats of quality time at the end of the week; Baking, chilling, swimming, hitting the park as opposed to hitting the shops / Amazon Prime.
We are tired. The kids are tired. But we have made it through two weeks and before long we’ll barely remember a time things were different.
Lucky for us that as they say, a change is a good as a rest.
Hmmmm. The jury’s out on that one.
Anyone got any other advice?! It’s most welcome…