Mom is what?! How to prepare your family for your return-to-work

Even if your partner and children are fully supportive of you going back into the (paid) working world, the truth is that not being at your family’s beck and call will be a shock to the family dynamic, says author Jennifer Folsom.
Jennifer Folsom with her 17-year-old twins , Josh and Will, trying to decide who will pick up little brother Anderson from the bus stop
Jennifer Folsom with her 17-year-old twins , Josh and Will, trying to decide who will pick up little brother Anderson from the bus stopCourtesy of Jennifer Folsom.

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By Jennifer Folsom

The following is an excerpt adapted from Jennifer Folsom's new book, "Ringmaster: Work, Life, and Keeping It All Together."

Congratulations, you're going back to work! But have you truly prepared your family?

This often-overlooked topic can easily threaten the success of a parent’s return-to-work. If your family is used to you doing everything—from packing lunches to delivering forgotten violins to school—they will have a rude awakening when you’re working for someone else. Take Sara, a dear friend of mine and mom of three who stayed at home for 15 years raising her family and taking on every community volunteer role possible.

Sara went to nursing school and eventually went back to work in a hospital but hadn’t negotiated a few predictable challenges with her husband. When he missed the inevitable sick kid call (his first ever!) from the elementary school clinic because she was in a lab, things came to a head.

Maybe you have been “encouraged” by your spouse to stop volunteering so much and actually get paid for the work you’re doing. Or perhaps, your kids may be cheerleading you with “GO MOM!” when you head out the door in a power suit for your interview. Even so, the truth is that not being at your family’s beck and call will be a shock to the family dynamic.

And you can’t wait until you are actually working to have these discussions. The outcome may inform your search. For example, if your spouse has frequent travel, you may have to lean more on the Flexibility side of your Work-Life Triangle in crafting your job search. But you need to hash it out now, not when you are a week into your new gig and your husband is on the jetway, boarding a flight to Duluth, and you get the inevitable “your son had an accident on the playground at recess.” Life will throw you curveballs. You can’t always save the day.

The Big Talk

It is time for The Big Talk with your significant other. If you have been running the home for the last few years, those responsibilities have to be divided and conquered. While you are interviewing, you need to accept that things will not be the same as they have been, and start working it out.

Take my advice, nearly two decades into the working mom adventure: Play to your partners’ strengths. My husband is an expert laundry folder and in a household with three boys, I do two loads every day and leave the folding to him after bedtime. And praise substantially! If this method doesn’t work, make a list of everything that needs to be done on a daily basis and find a fair and equitable way to divide household responsibilities. And remember, something’s got to give. One look at my lawn and flower beds full of weeds shows what “gave” in our house this year.

I suggest you hash out the following topics before you even interview for the first time:

The Big Talk, Part 2

It’s time for the kids to get straight on what’s happening. If you’ve been staying home with them, they’re likely used to a built-in playmate, driver-to-friends, picker-upper of all toys and last-minute classroom cupcake manager.

Be frank with them, hand over age-appropriate tasks where strengths and interests lie and let go of ideals of ,perfection. I cringe every time I see the bulging, cramped drawers of my sons’ dressers but they put their own clothes away, which is one less task on my to-do list. But let me warn you: There will come a time when your son forgot his diorama and ask "Mom, could you just bring it to school?" and you’ll have to say, “No tiger, I am on my second day of work, this one is on you.” I am terrible at this. I still feel guilty. I still occasionally tear up about it. But (theoretically, anyway…) it builds responsibility, grit, and accountability; all traits we want to see in our children.