The commute acts as a natural buffer between the spheres of work and parenting, a time to decompress and potentially to have some precious “me time” before being launched into childcare. However, for the 12.1% of parents in the UK that work from home, the commute from upstairs to downstairs or home to the school run might not quite cut it.
The pandemic and flexible working have provided positive opportunities for parents to fit work around their childcare responsibilities but for many, work from home has blurred the boundaries between work and parenting.
Children want their parents to be present but it’s hard to be present when you haven’t had closure from work. Equally, after a tough morning with the kids, it can be hard not to carry the stress of parenting into work. It can feel like you are being tugged in different directions and not succeeding at any of them.
Whether you realised it or not, commuting serves as a transition ritual. A transition ritual is a series of mental and physical activities that nudge us into a change in our physical and mental state. By boarding a train, walking or driving, your body moves from home to work mode and back again and by listening to music or reading a book on a commute your brain gets the signal it’s time to switch gears.
Without these cues for our body and mind we can get lured back into thinking about parenting when we are working/ thinking about work when we are parenting. Our brain and body haven’t received closure.
Noticing Your Nervous System
When we are at work we are often slightly (or, depending on the job, significantly) raised in our nervous system into contained fight or flight. We are activated and alert but we are largely in control. The issue comes when we carry this activation and alertness into our parenting. We can be quickly overwhelmed and triggered. In the work arena it’s much easier to have control over your life but in parenting, it’s a great deal harder. Most children push back at feeling heavily controlled.
Noticing where you are in your nervous system can be such a powerful tool. How fast are you breathing? Are your muscles tense? For some parents, simple practices can be transformative such as noticing tension in their jaw and consciously loosening it before going into parenting.
Creating Your Own Transition Rituals to Move from Work Mode to Parent Mode
Luckily, for parents willing to get intentional, there is a lot you can do to create your own transition rituals and shift gears in your nervous system.
Here are 4 ideas for creating your own Transition Rituals Between Parenting and Work
1. 5 Minutes of Bio Energetic Shaking
This is a fantastic way to shift gears. Most mammals shake after being activated into fight or flight as a way of returning to calm; humans have lost touch with this intuitive practice. Children intuitively know they need to jump/ shake/ bounce but these essential body based nervous system regulatory tools have been conditioned out of adults. In Bio Energetic shaking you place your feet firmly on the floor and bounce from your knees sending a vibration throughout your body. A more subtle practice that has a similar effect is heel drops. Go on your tiptoes and drop your heels to the floor noticing the vibration that goes through your body.
2. 5 minutes of 4:4 Breathing
Inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4. Balancing out the breath communicates safety to the nervous system. This practice naturally brings awareness and mindfulness but in a way that is a lot more accessible to most people than meditation in that it’s an active practice.
3. Write a “Done List”
Scarcity brings us back to work. Scarcity is the mindset one has when one feels like they are never enough, there is constantly more to do. One way parents can counteract scarcity and bring in more abundance is at the end of the day do the opposite of a “to do” list. Write down a list of things you have accomplished. If a sneaky internal voice comes in saying “ah yeah but you still have this, this and this to do” you can thank it. “Thank you for reminding me. I will attend to that tomorrow”. That voice isn’t bad, it’s trying to protect you, it just isn’t helpful during this transition
4. Control the Environment
If you have trouble with boundaries around checking your work phone/ email during family time stop fighting with yourself and try controlling the environment instead. Some ways you can do this are turning your phone onto focus mode or using a kitchen safe; these are timed safe devices that you can put your phone in for whatever amount of time you choose and you can’t get your phone out until the timer is up.
How Employers can Support Parents Who Work from Home
According to research By Essex University, biological markers for chronic stress are 40% higher in female parents working full-time in comparison to female employees that don’t have children and that the results were the same whether they worked in the office or work from home. As such one way employers can help parents is by offering wellbeing workshops and coaching programmes specifically on parenting. Working parents who are supported benefit business.
According to research by Action for Children Over eighty per cent (82%) of parents admit to struggling with at least one of the warning signs that may indicate parental burnout. Parents who are burnt out don’t benefit anyone so listening to parents and finding out how they can be supported is crucial.
It’s also worth employers being aware that working from home with a sick child is an inherently impossible juggle. It is a full time job looking after a sick child. Employers can help by having realistically low to no expectations for employee productivity when a child is off sick and recognising that this is a stressful time for parents.
Optimising Time with Your Children However you Work
However much a parent works and whatever their working arrangement there is a truth that time always seems stretched with children. One way to address this is to optimise the time you have to deeply meet your children’s needs.
What children need from their parents above all else is to be seen, heard and understood. “Special Time” is a wonderful tool that parents can use to meet those core needs and therefore make family life run more smoothly. All behavioural issues in children (and indeed, in adults) are an attempt to get needs met. “Special Time” meets those needs. It is dedicated, focused, labelled, regularly scheduled one on one time between a parent and their child where the parent (within reason) does what the child wants for 15 minutes. Special time can be transformative for families and it doesn’t require any fancy tricks or tools. The parent is the tool that the child needs.
Emily Hughes is an Empowered Parent Coach, Breathwork Coach, Ex Secondary School teacher and Mum of 2. She coaches parents (with children of all ages) to let go of what's not serving them so they can rise into inner trust and handle any parenting situation with calm sturdy confidence. Emily works 1:1, with co-parents and with groups to help parents get intentional and consciously aware in their parenting. She uses a parent centric body based approach to identify the limiting beliefs, patterns, mindset and conditioning that are keeping parents stuck.