Any working parent knows the struggle of bringing frustrations from work straight into the house at the end of the day. Most of us have been guilty of this.
Sliding from work to home carrying baggage is too easy to do—it’s the default mode of operation. I shudder thinking of the times I’ve acted irritably toward my daughters when it was really a work problem irking me.
So how do we consciously interrupt our thoughts and come home as the engaging, loving, calm parents we want to be?
1. Maximize your commute time by using it as a “third space.”
Adam Fraser coined the term “third space” to describe the transition between work and home. He says your third space doesn’t need to be a physical location, but a mental shift. Fraser suggests giving closure to your workday by contemplating the high point and low point of your time at work. Then consciously deciding what kind of attitude you want to bring home.
Use this time to pray for patience as you enter your home. Pray for excitement when you greet your children. Ask God to provide you the ability to shift your mind and attitude away from one priority to another.
“How you show up determines what sort of evening you have,” Fraser said in a Ted Talk. “And how you transition home determines how you unwind, relax, and socialize—or obsess and worry about the day.” Another way to transition in a healthy way is to listen to inspiring podcasts, worship music, or thought-provoking audio books during your ride home to shake off any lingering concerns about work. If schedule allows, a trip to the gym could serve this purpose also.
2. Maintain boundaries by leaving work at work.
Most people would agree that spending your entire day at the office texting your spouse, browsing social media, or shopping online would be an egregious abuse of your employer’s trust and time. Plus, using your hours for personal matters is a waste of a workday because you would not be accomplishing a thing for your company.
In the same way, spending your evenings responding to business emails or tackling work projects is an egregious abuse of your family’s trust and a waste of your precious (and few!) hours with them. Leave work at work so you can be fully present with your family! Our time is the very best gift we can offer our kids and spouse.
My husband confronted me about this early in our marriage. I frequently picked up my Blackberry (remember those?!) after dinner to respond to emails for my nonprofit job. One night when he asked me what I was doing on my phone, I told him I was dealing with an emergency—without even looking up from my device.
Calmly and lovingly he responded with, “Leigh, the police handle emergencies. Emergencies involve 911, the law, and sometimes blood. Is that what you’re dealing with?” Talk about perspective! That really stuck with me.
Sometimes we have busier seasons at work that require putting in supplemental hours at home. On those occasions I talk to my husband about it in advance. If we communicate, we can make a plan that will allow me to steward my responsibilities at work well without totally neglecting my family. This plan usually involves him taking our girls out for ice cream so I can knock out my project undisturbed and efficiently. And they still feel cherished!
3. Make a plan.
The evenings I know what we’re doing for dinner and am aware of our evening extracurricular activities are much less chaotic than the nights I try to “wing it.” As much as I wish I loved cooking, I’ve accepted that it doesn’t come naturally to me or “spark joy,” in the words of Marie Kondo. However, I still try to serve my family by having some kind of plan for dinner—and one that’s easy to execute.
I’m a fan of one-dish meals and my crock pot. I’m an even bigger fan of kids-eat-free nights at our favorite restaurants. We also have a whiteboard on the refrigerator where I write down our evening commitments one week at a time. We post our soccer game times, homeowners association meetings, and everything else to keep us all straight and set expectations for our time outside of work. I include our dinner plans on the whiteboard, too.
4. Keep the house tidy.
I love coming home to a neat house. Dirty dishes, papers, and toys strewn about make me tense. We try to get our home in order before we leave for the day.
I’d be lying if I said this happens every single morning. But my husband and I try to stay on top of things and ask each member of the family to participate in this effort. One way we set ourselves up for success in this area is by straightening up, starting the dishwasher, and packing lunches before bed the night before.
One final thought: Give grace. Give it to yourself, your colleagues, and your family. None of us are perfect. We all have days that require us to stretch. Try to be honest and communicate when it’s “been a day” and you may need an extra measure of that grace. Your family will thank you!
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