Shifting heads

Do any of you have any advice for me?

I really like my job, and have a big project starting actually any second now, and have been very wrapped up in that for the past week. I'm having some problems separating from Work Moxie into Mom Moxie in the evenings. Last night it felt like it took almost until bedtime to have my head in the game momwise again. And I wake up with my work head on for the last few days, too.

Any tips for pushing the work aside? It's not that I don't want to be with the kids. It's just that I start trying to engage them in conversations about work. Which they don't so much care about, understandably…

44 thoughts on “Shifting heads”

  1. I usually use the commute home from work to transition from SarcastiCarrie to SarcastiMommy. I drive to/from work, so I can’t work on the way. I listen to Hair Nation Sirius XM 23 and channel my inner mall hair. Or, I talk on the cell phone (while driving, I know) to a friend or my sister. I sing to the radio, listen to the news, something.There is another adult in my house, so I can talk about work over dinner and since there are giant machines and explosions at work, the kids don’t mind too much shop talk.

  2. Oh man, I could use some help on this one too. Specifically, turning off work stress so I can be a better mom at home, and able to sleep better at night.

  3. Hmm. Either a physical transition–I would suggest the park, but it’s probably cold there now; maybe turn on the radio and dance around with them for a while?–or mental one, like a game that engages you all? Lately I’ve been waking up El Cranky after an hour of nap and using Crazy Eights/Uno to snap him out of the funk.Hey, what about Twister? That would take care of both!

  4. I have a closing ritual that I do before I leave work. I update my to do list and priorities for the next day, organize my desk, etc. so that I don’t feel like I’m leaving in the middle of something and take all those thoughts home with me. This is *especially* important on Fridays!

  5. I had a coworker who would literally “place” his work worries in a box on the front porch. Once inside, all work thoughts stayed in the box. Of course, men are better at compartmentalizing.

  6. SUCH a great question and I’ll be anxiously checking back to read answers.Interestingly, as the kids get older, I find it HARDER to turn off work than when they were so incredibly emotional and physically overwhelming me with their needs at very young ages (pre 3 years old, I’d say). It used to be that I’d walk into the house and, whether I’d like it or not, I was smack-bang into mommy land because one kid would be climbing my leg the other would need to be fed or whatever… So, I had no choice but to be very present, in the moment with them. Now, I find because they can play with themselves easily and they’re asking me more for playtime and talk time, it’s easier to zone out or to find my mind wandering to work worries. Which is SO frustrating because the reason I leave at a reasonable time is to BE with the kids. So what’s the point of me obsessing about work because I left “early-ish” if I’m not actually going to be present with the boys?! Anyway, no help here, just commiseration.

  7. I have the same problem except that it is school instead of work. Grad school all day with homework/reading/writing/group meetings to look forward to after the kids go to bed. So it’s really tough to be present when I’m kind of on the count down all evening until I can resume work again. Sigh. At least school doesn’t last forever, I guess.

  8. I use lists to help keep things separate- I have to do lists at work and at home. I find that once I write something on my list, I can put it out of my mind more easily, because I’m sure I won’t forget it.I keep the “master” lists electronically, so that I can access them anywhere. Then I write daily or weekly lists on paper so that I can get the satisfaction of physically crossing things off.
    I also have a before I leave the office ritual of updating the list.
    I also find that NPR on my drive to day care helps me switch focus. There is usually something interesting enough to help pull my attention away from work. Maybe you could try podcasts for your commute?

  9. I have a “changing clothes” ritual when I get home from work that helps me transition. After hugging my 3 year old hello, I change into “comfy clothes” — yoga pants, fleece, my official Mama outfit. It helps me make that mental break between working and mother.

  10. Maybe right after you walk in (and change clothes and settle in a few minutes), read each child a book. That might distract you from work enough to get into mom-mode? Maybe too simple but worth a shot.Also, maybe part of the “problem” is that you are really excited about this project and your job and you need an outlet for that. Is there someone from your work (or a friend in a similar field) that you could call to talk “shop” with after the kids go to sleep. If you get any grand ideas from those conversations, you’ll have to write notes down on a piece of paper and put in your purse so you can let it go and not keep it in the front of your head so it consumes your thoughts the next morning, though.

  11. Hmmm. I tend to think that knowing a bit about their parents’ work is good for kids. Not that you want to give them an hour-long recitation of everything you’re up to there, but knowing that you’re excited about work and that it’s important to you seems really positive.If the kids need your intense focus (as a couple people mentioned, it may be that your mind is able to drift more because they don’t just now) I think it might be helpful to just give yourself permission to write down work ideas that come to you while you’re with them. That way, you won’t be worried about forgetting the ideas, you’ll have done something to mark them for later, and you can get back to what you want to do with the kids.

  12. I work at home, in the country, and I find that separating my two “lives” is not as easy as it was when I used to take the train to go to work in an office in a major city. I’ve latched on to little rituals like @Anne mentioned – only mine has to do with shoes. When my work shoes (high heels, closed toe) are on, I’m on the job, even though I’m in the same location. Shoes off (usually barefoot), then I’m off the proverbial clock. My 24 mo old son has recently picked up on this distinction. He’ll point to the shoes and say “mama work.”My DH is not a work/home compartmentalizer. I generally am & I try to be. Sometimes I don’t want to hear all of his office drama. But I know that being able to discuss work stuff with me is important to him. In turn, I have also had to learn how to share more about “how my day was. ” In his family growing up they always shared that info, in mine not so much – though both homes were dysfunctional, they were very different flavors of dysfunction. So there have been some expectations we have had to set and work on together around that kind of communication. 😉

  13. Maybe you and the kids could make a game of it somehow. Turn on some music and have a “Happy to be Home” dance party for 5-10 minutes. Make a silly hat that you have to wear while making dinner. I mean, maybe you could actually make a “work head” kind of costume and they could say, uh oh, mom’s got her work head on again.Sue’s comment cracked me up. Sometimes so jealous of men being able to compartmentalize.
    It sounds nice to be that into a project at work, though. Distracting, but also invigorating. Good luck with it!

  14. libbyllama has a great clue here. When I was working in corporate america and would come home I wanted to go into my cave before I became mama again. Since you’re alone you may have to do what I call 15 will buy you 30!Make a ritual of it. On the way to school begin the excitement by asking them what they want to do when you meet up tonight? When you come home race up to the apartment full of excitment, whether you feel that way or not to get the ball rolling. Play with them for 15 minutes. Do anything, play, dance, read, do a game but DO NOT listen to messages or look at emails. Then tell them it’s mom’s time and they can’t talk to you until the timer goes off, they’re old enough to handle that.
    If you’re into it now is the time for a video! This allows you to do what ever winds you down.
    After that, to make the leap from work mama to home mama, ask them about their day. Yes, it’s good for kids to know a bit about your work, but they really don’t care at this age. So ask them questions, questions, questions about their day. This becomes “the walking in the door ritual.”
    You may want to make a bargain with a friend for after the kids go to sleep. Tell her “I need an adult to talk to about my day. How about this, I’ll call you and spill my day for 15 minutes then it’s your turn.” That way you can count on a place to release things.
    May this will help?

  15. i call a friend (your Mom?, new SIL?, close girlfriend?) to help this ‘issue’ i have with balance. just being heard and saying something out loud to a loving/listening human being (that are not my children) works wonders…

  16. I suck at the mommy/work compartmentalization. It doesn’t help that I collaborate on projects with my husband so we often find ourselves discussing said projects at the dinner table. Our 2-yr old son has started saying, “No talking!” during such episodes; this applies to any parental banter that he isn’t involved in. In any case, it’s an in-our-face reminder that he’s only up for another hour whereas we have the rest of the evening to talk shop.Work has been pretty stressful lately and I’ve often found myself drifting in to work thoughts during what’s supposed to be mommy-time. This inevitably makes me feel somewhat guilty but, at the same time, I try to remind myself that I’ve got a lot on my mind these days. When I realize I’m drifting, I throw myself back in to mommy-mode by doing all the fantastic things everyone’s suggested here with my son — reading a book, building a tower, searching for sticks in the backyard, dancing to the Popcorn! song.
    I usually work from home in the evenings too, after my son has gone to bed. It can be a challenge going from mommy — > work –> mommy –>work again. At the same time, I relish the 3 hour break I get to have a meal, play a bit and read some stories.
    I really admire the rituals people have come up with — these are such great ideas. Perhaps I need to get a pair of “mommy’s working” shoes.

  17. I think I need more hours in a day. Mommy in the morning, (side of wife, too), then Work Mode, then Mommy to take son to swimming class, then Family time for dinner, (love breakfast for dinner! Yay omlettes!), helped son get into pajamas and Dad will put him to bed, and now (after 9pm) I am back at work to catch up on a project. Of course husband and I formed a new company in addition to our full-time careers and Mom/Dad stuff, so that isn’t helping on the balance front… but sure is fun… Advice? Hmmmm… love the “shoes” idea posted above but I’d need several pairs :-)Bella, you hit the nail on the head: since my son doesn’t need me so much physically anymore, and will play independently for a period of time, it is easy to get sucked into a “screen” (iPhone, computer, etc.) instead of being present for him. Thanks, Moxie, for the reminder to work on this.

  18. My job is really demanding – I have difficult clients and I’m working on an enormous project – so it’s impossible for me to get my work done during normal business hours. The thing that helps me from getting distracted is that I table the work thoughts and actions from pick-up to bedtime. After my daughter goes to sleep, I start working (or, as is the case at the moment, start working and at some point decide to read the internet instead). Or, if I think I can get away with not actually working, I will at least wait to think about work after her bedtime. Either way, the fact that I know I can go back to work (literally or figuratively) after bedtime makes it a lot easier for me to focus my attention away from work for three hours.or literally)

  19. Oh, yeah. Especially when work is engaging and exciting and makes me feel competent (most days) and I’m doing a lot of fun and interesting stuff (for me).Transitioning to Mom (and spouse) is a hard one for me. I used to have a very long commute (1 h 20 each way on a good day), and that was just about right for thinking through stuff, and for getting into another mode. My new commute is shorter, but my time-to-transition isn’t. ACK! So I end up needing to dump at my family all the cool stuff and there’s this project and holy COW that new guy reporting to me is going to get shipped back to India in a very small box if he doesn’t correct his attitude and did I tell you about this project I’m…? Uh. Hi. How was your day, love? (wince)
    We’ve worked out that if I have a really ROCKIN day, I need to stick the ear-bud in my ear on the way home and call someone NOT EP before I get home. Let me degass a little first. And then when I get home, I do not leap in even for a few minutes (this would be harder of course for single parents or ones without a parent already at home – we’ve managed that, too) – I go get changed into the home clothes. Having that as a ritual transition helps (I like the box on the porch, but I don’t think I could do that).
    The other things that help. Ritualizing the initial conversation and dinner conversations. We have a few questions we ask around the table as a family ritual, including ‘what was the most challenging thing you succeeded at today?’ and ‘what was your favorite part of the day?’ – those the grownups can participate in, and it doesn’t end up being totally random degassing about whatever is going on, it is an example of ‘what successful looks like for mom’ and ‘things mom enjoys’. It keeps it a bit trimmer than a data download would.
    Luckily, my kids actually like my work stories. Though they do note that they can’t really tell what it is that I do, because it isn’t something, er, real… ep does something, they can go see it being built. Me? Notsomuch. But they like to hear about bad situations I turned around, and how I got someone to cooperate, or how I managed a ticklish communication. It has to be a ‘story’ though, or they check out. (Mainly it is the 8 and almost-12-year-old who like the stories, so the age of the child makes a difference.)
    I also try to remember to take notes on stuff I think of that is important, rather than going off to do it. I haven’t had to do that lately, but there was one project I was on where I kept thinking of things after hours, and needed to capture that. Having a way to capture the thoughts that I could trust (IMPORTANT – must trust the capture method) would let me stop carrying them in my head. Right now, not so much an issue, but it has been in the past.
    And for me, the biggest issue really isn’t the kids (who will pester me until I pay attention) but responding fairly and kindly and lovingly to ep, who doesn’t have the energy at the end of the day to pester me until I listen to him. If I get started on a download/data dump, he gets plowed under pretty fast. Add in that he’s doing a lot of grunt work, the grungy tedious starting-up-the-firm work that isn’t really exciting to talk about? Well, thanks for telling me how you saved the company big bucks today and salvaged someone’s job and reputation, and … I did some laundry and researched accounting firms. Bleah. Plus I have no context for the evening if I don’t listen to him first… which gives me a sense of the kids’ space, too. Taking turns with me last makes it easier on everyone – I may not have enough time before meltdowns or bed to say everything I want to say, but I also will have reconnected the lines between us at a tolerable flow rate, rather than just firehosed everyone with my work stuff.
    Oh, and work friends. Seriously, the work friends make a huge difference to my ability to be normal mom at home. I have a bi-weekly lunch date offsite with my best work bud so we can talk about work (and life, but mainly work). That takes some of the pressure off ep for having to listen and help problem-solve stuff (and off my bud’s wife as well – we trade off the benefit as I’m friends with her also, so she and I talk school-and-work, etc., too). Granted, I only have one good at-work friend right now (at this company – two from previous companies but it is harder to meet up regularly). Still, useful to be able to talk about the successes and the struggles/lessons-learned with someone who doesn’t need a list of the players to reference. Finding someone who is trustworthy for that is not always easy, though. I find about one every 5 years, max, and count myself lucky.
    So, network (lean on others than the kids/spouse), plan ahead, rituals, and structure all help me – even though I’m a seat-of-the-pants person by preference.

  20. Haven’t read any other answers yet, so forgive me if I repeat…Is there someone (an adult) who you can talk to after work, maybe on your way home, who can act as your mental sponge? I don’t know, but maybe you could “dowload” some of your brain before you saw your kids. Easier said than done, perhaps, especially as a single mom.
    That said, this is one of the big reasons I decided to become a SAHM. I know that doesn’t help, but it was hard for me, too. And even then, DH has a very intense work life and we end up talking about his job a lot at the dinner table, that is, until our daughter reminds us that it’s not really that fun or fair….
    Going back to read your comments now.

  21. I don’t particularly like work talk. I manage documents – not really anything exciting to talk about. Sometimes I have school stuff I need to process but I have school friends that really get that stuff so I don’t bring much of that home either. Is it work so much, or just switching from adult talk to kid talk, really? I’d think, being a single mom, it would be harder to go from being in the company of just adults during that day, to being in the company of just kids at night. And add in the excitement of the new project and it’s sort of reasonable that it’s difficult to turn that off the moment you walk in the door.

  22. For me, I use the commute home time to disengage with work (usually). I either put in my ear piece and call some friends or I listen to music or talk radio. If I’m on the phone, I find that I can either talk about work to get that release or I can talk about home life to shift myself. Sometimes I need both, and luckily my 30 minute commute is enough (usually).I used to get (and probably still need) time to go upstairs, change clothes into “home” clothes and take a few deep breaths. That would always help with the transition.
    But like @Bella said, my kids are at that stage where when I walk through the door, it’s Mommy Mommy Mommy and Wah Wah Wah. And the hour to two hours before bed are simply filled with kid stuff with no chance for much else. I don’t almost never open my computer until after the kids are asleep. Also, after they are asleep, I am able to talk with my hubby about work stuff. We do discuss some things at the dinner table, but inevitably one of the kids needs our attention so it’s easier to wait until after they are asleep. I agree with what others have suggested about calling a friend after the kids are asleep.
    My husband does not compartmentalize work vs home. His computer is always open at the kitchen counter. And I want to throw that effing crackberry out the window! But he’s such a great dad and husband otherwise, it’s hard to complain (too much). 🙂

  23. I also have the transition period of changing out of work clothes when I come home. DS doesn’t watch TV during the day, so he comes into my bedroom with me and gets to watch some TV while I change and then we cuddle on the bed and watch TV together until DH has made dinner. I get to be physically present with my son – but I usually have half an hour of quiet, mental wandering time, for me. Unless, of course, I decide to tune in and watch Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and the Tomblieboos have another fine adventure in the night garden. I do that sometimes too.

  24. I’ve been going back and forth with this. Because my work is pretty irregular consulting-type work, I go from being very busy to basically being a SAHM, then back to busy again, a couple times a year.I spent about four months this summer/fall working on a major project, 50+ hours per week, and would transition from work, to mom, to work again after bed – and it was hard! I did some of what others have mentioned – changed clothes, intentionally engaged the little one for the next 10 minutes or so, etc. By the end we had figured out what worked pretty well for us all.
    And now I’m home all day again, and I’m finding I still need/struggle with transition time, just in a different way. When I’m home all day with a toddler, I am desperate for adult interaction by the time hubby gets home from work. But hubby needs his own transition time, and then we need to manage the little one’s transition to having daddy home, and then its dinner, bath, bed, and by the end of it all, I’ve been ON with the toddler for 12+ hours straight with very little adult conversation. When I do finally get time to settle down with hubby, I’m crabby and tired (did I mention being 6 months pregnant?) and not much of a conversationalist. So right now I’m finding the constant momhood thing harder than making the transition between work & momhood, when at least I got to exercise different parts of my brain on a daily basis! And just about the time we settle back into a more comfortable routine, another project will be gearing up for work and we’ll need to change it all again. Sigh.

  25. I also have a long commute (90min +), and part of that includes picking up my DH. We discuss work stuff on the drive home. My work is currently busy, but not challenging, so it’s pretty easy for me to leave it behind.I have a note to myself on my monitor that reads, “Wherever you are physically present, be mentally present.” This is also for the other end of it, when I’m at work but thinking about my kids.
    Once we pick up both kiddos and enter the house, I am definitely ON. The 7-month-old wants to nurse immediately, no matter when she last ate, and the 3 y.o. wants a snack, help with his shoes, go potty, tell me about his day, etc., etc.
    I did start the tradition of going around the table at dinner and talking about the best part of our day. The preschooler *loves* this. And usually, the best part of my day is right then!
    P.S. Changing out of work clothes into workout clothes or pjs is a must for me.

  26. @caramama: Neither does my husband! I don’t know how many times he’s searched for an internet cafe while we’re on vacation just so that he can check his email! And every night, as soon as he gets home (from work!) he opens up the laptop to check…(wait for it!)…email! It also seems as if he has to check it every half hour WHILE HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE SPENDING TIME WITH THE KIDS.But I don’t have much trouble separating now since my kids are very young (4mo and almost 3 yrs) and my job is not terribly demanding. Sorry, Moxie!

  27. Maybe combine the song and clothing change a la Mr Rogers?I’d create a specific place to put your “work life”. I’m not sure what your work tools are, but I’m imagining a box where you keep your favorite college sweatshirt while you’re at work and your laptop and filofax (have I dated myself calling it that?) while you’re at home. One of the boys could get out your cozy sweatshirt when you get home and help you with the transition.
    You haven’t gotten much feedback about mornings. Can’t do much about where your mind is when you wake up, I guess, but could you have some home-type task that you generally perform first thing? Something that requires a little thought? (Like, I don’t know, planning dinner or shopping for Christmas gifts or …?) If you decide the night before what your first-thing-in-the-morning task is going to be, maybe you can circumvent the work-think. And again maybe the clothes — stay in your pjs until it’s time to dress and head for the office? Don’t know if that’s feasible.
    And don’t forget to appreciate that you’re having this problem. Having a job that you want to think about outside of work IS a blessing, even if it creates some complication, too.

  28. I have to agree with the play a game method. My mom had a very stressful job and it would weigh on her a lot. She’d use our commute home to talk TO me about her day and when I was young it really sucked. But when we got home she was 100% mom.The thing I remember most and loved the most was that she was always up for Connect 4 or UNO or go fish or whatever and she’d often suggest playing a game — now I suspect because she knew it would help her stop obessesing about work.
    I think a huge gift you can give your kids is givnig them 100% of your attention at least 20% of the time in the evening. Better that than 50% of your attention 100% of the time. Kids notice that distracted eye and it doesn’t feel good. I think they learn to stop opening up to you later in life.
    My mom was a single mom so she had to do a lot but when she took a break it was you-and-me time that was genuine and heartfelt.
    I am really lucky that I can leave my job at work. It’s a real blessing.

  29. I find this post and comments really reassuring. I have a 6mo and have just recently been back to work part-time (also working on a thesis, but no actual time for it yet). We don’t have childcare yet, so I feel like there’s no real rest time for hubby or me. But as you were saying, AnotherAmy, when I was just home 15 hours a day with baby, it was a lot tougher transition in the evening. I feel like my day is so much more energizing and interesting when I’ve been away a bit. Having issues (well, guilt) with this as I feel like mama with baby is supposed to always hate being away, but it has been good. I’m so impressed that so many moms here have jobs they like and a family life. It feels like a little light at the end of this tunnel of overwhelmedness.

  30. @millay- there are lot of us working moms out here who actually LIKE being working moms. You’d never know it to read about the “mommy wars” and other such nonsense in the media, though.My take is that there are a lot of different types of good mothers out there. It is OK to be the type that enjoys (needs?) her own non-child related work. It is OK to be the type that enjoys (needs?) to be home with her kids all day. Just don’t try to turn yourself into a type of mother that doesn’t really work for you.
    I’ve thought a lot about why I’m a happy WOHM. I wrote up my musings in a (long) post at one point, and I’ll be crass and link to that post: http://wandsci.blogspot.com/2009/06/happy.html
    Anyway- let go of the guilt and just figure out what works for you and your family. (Also- I think its totally normal to feel overwhelmed by it all at 6 months out. It takes a while to adjust to motherhood, which, no matter whether you work outside the home or not, is intense.)

  31. @Cloud (aka soul sister) – That is a great post! I, too, am a happy WOHM and I also have everything that you have on that list. I don’t think I could have written up a better list of why I am a happy WOHM than that.

  32. @Cloud, thank you–well said. @millay, one of the hardest things for me to deal with is the idea that I am supposed to wish I could stay home. Like Cloud, I’m a happy WOHM and have been since Mouse was 6 months old. I get the impression that many happy SAHMs feel that one of the hardest things is that they feel like they’re supposed to miss working. I think we should all just say “to hell with supposed to” and be happy if we’re happy. 😉

  33. Do you need an adult outlet. Someone that will be willing to listen to you vent about work to get it out of your head? Coffee date? Daily phone call rant/vent?

  34. To play devil’s advocate: if you are in a period of complete engagement with work–and liking it–maybe this is actually a great thing for them to see sometimes? Maybe you could try letting go of the guilt about it, while continuing to be as (gently) mindful as you are about where your head is at.What a blessing to enjoy your work! Surely, there will be slower times, or times when it’s less than enjoyable, and then coming home to your kids and being fully present with them is the solace.

  35. My husband and I work at home, and the almost-3-yo goes to daycare. I do drop offs and my husband does pickups. I use the time between when he leaves and they both get back for my transition – my commute to the kitchen as it were – as I get dinner ready, etc. We try to have the rule that work stops for the night when our son gets home, but often we both go back to our computers after he’s in bed.Moxie, to tell you the truth something that has really helped me the last few weeks is CANDLETIME! I have been doing it every night, and it really does help me make the mental transition.

  36. Maybe it’s OK for the kids to see Mommy excited and jazzed about work.My mother was a nurse and, for a while, worked in the ER. Dinner time was a great opportunity to hear stories (without names or incriminating details – although it was long before HIPPA). She loved her work and really cared about the patients. I love what I do for work, even though it’s not the most lucrative profession (architecture). I think that I learned to value that from her.
    I don’t know if there is a way to share your work with your kids in an age-appropriate way. My two squirts are only 8 months old, so blocks work great for now. I don’t have much perspective on what older kids need. We do live a short distance from an appliance store, so I expect many cardboard forts in years to come. My wife has heard way too much about architecture over the years, so I expect I’ll bore the little ones as they get older, too.
    I also find that when I take on a new project, or get a bump in responsibility, I tend to be consumed by it for a few weeks. I’ve even dreamed glowing lines when I started my current job and had to learn the new CAD program. As I get used to the project I tend to gain more balance with the rest of my life.
    I’ve also learned, over many years, to get much better at stopping work when I get home and focusing on my family. Then picking it up later when everyone else is in bed. That part has been a slow process.

  37. We watched some football on TV too. (Yes, Ohio State beat Penn State in a big game!) We dined at home, too. On Sunday, my wife and I went to Mass in Miramar Beach FL, and there, a couple of “small things” registered on my “happiness meter.” Behind the choir were a couple of music stands in the aisle. Sitting at the frontmost stand in a wheel chair was a lady who had to be less than 5 ft.

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