When you work from home, the transition from mother to worker and back again can be sticky.
On those rare days I work in the office, the change in physical surroundings helps me separate the different parts of myself. It’s easy to leave worker-me at my desk. And then shed off any straggly remaining bits on the car journey home. By the time I pull into the drive, I’m ready for them and can muster the big smile, big heart and full attention my kids deserve.
But working from home is a different matter altogether. Sometimes when they return home – whether from school or from a day out with their grandparents – it can feel like they are bursting into my space before I’m ready for them. Before I’ve shaken off the worries and wonders of my childfree day. Before I’m ready to put the brain work away. Before I’ve switched from egocentric human to patient, generous mother.
At those times, the transition can feel prickly. And it sets us all up for a difficult evening.
Here are four gentle things I try to do to help switch my mind and soul from worker back to mother. I hope you find them helpful:
SET A BUFFER ZONE
I try not to work up to the wire. It’s so tempting, especially if I’m really in the flow of something, to eek out every last minute of work time. But I find it impossible to switch my brain back without a little fallow space between the two states – a temporal piece of no-womans-land in which the boundaries between worker and mama can blur and smudge into one another.
It doesn’t take long – 15 or 20 minutes will do it. Just a little breathing space.
MAKE THE HOUSE THEIRS AGAIN
When everyone else is out, and it’s just me and Maud the cat at home, we’ve got the whole peaceful place to ourselves. The house turns into my workspace. I’m in control of everything – the temperature, the lighting, the sound, the ambience. And I love the space I create.
But, just like I’ve got to get my head back into the mother zone, I find I have to do the same for the house before the kids come back.
First, I shut the office. That means closing my laptop and putting my teacups in the dishwasher.
Next I try to bring the essence of my kids back into the house. It only takes a small gesture to get me thinking about them again. Like going up to their rooms, making their beds, arranging their favourite toys. Or plumping cushions in the living room, making it a bit more homely for them. I’m talking really small gestures that take just a couple of minutes. Just to get their presence back into the house. To make it our family home again.
ADD SOME NOISE BACK
I have Maud purring away beside me when I work, but I don’t listen to music or the radio unless I’m doing something really ploddy that’s boring me to tears. I love a podcast, and I’m listening to the audiobook of Tara Mohr’s wonderful and inspiring Playing Big, whenever I get the chance. But I can’t multitask. I refuse to multitask. So that kind of listening happens at break times, at lunch, etc.
For most of the time, the house is in silence. But it’s my own silence, and I love it.
The payoff for all of this blissful quiet is that, when my kids first come home, their noise can feel excruciating. Their beautiful, crazy exuberance bursts through the calm silence I’ve nurtured all day and sets my nerves jangling.
I find it really helps to ease myself back in with some gentle noise. I put on the radio, softly at first. Then I crank up the volume until I’m feeling more upbeat and less delicate. And by the time I’m dancing around the kitchen, I’m ready for them.
PUT YOUR IDEAS SOMEWHERE ELSE
It’s Sod’s Law that my best ideas will come to me in the few spare minutes before I turn back into mother. I can’t do anything with them at those times. If I let them develop, I’ll have to take my brain back into worker mode, undoing all the good stuff I’ve just done. The end result will be me getting shitty with the kids for wanting my focus to be on them when I just want to be alone to pursue my train of thought.
So I have to put the ideas somewhere else. I scribble them into a notebook if I have one to hand. Or on the back of an envelope. Or in the notes on my phone. It doesn’t really matter where. The process of jotting them down seems to be enough to get them out of my head for now. To get me back on the right track.
READY TO FOCUS ON THEM
What I’ve described is an ideal scenario. It’s what I try to do everyday. Although I admit it doesn’t always work out this way.
But if I manage to do all of these things together, if nothing gets in the way of this gentle transition from worker to mother, then I’m ready to focus all of my attention on my children. On those days, I can give them my kindest eyes, a beaming smile and the heartfelt attention they need.
And on those days, when there’s no half-listening from me, there are no histrionics from them. It’s easier for all of us.