Coping with the Missing Mommy Blues

mom-child.jpgToday, Priya shares strategies for coping with the missing mommy blues:

Until recently, the fact that I worked outside of the home didn't really seem to bother my daughter, but there was a noticeable change in her attitude once she turned two. She now clings to me more when I am around, asks her dad for me when I am not there, and often, if she goes to bed before I get home, is cranky in the morning when she sees me. If I thought I knew mommy guilt before, hearing her cry "Mommy, don't go! Mommy, don't work!" as I was walk out the door elevates my guilt to a whole new level.
As her language skills develop, my daughter has also picked up a host of work-related words and wants to ask lots of questions about working. I take this as a sign that she is struggling to understand why I leave her to do this mysterious thing called work, and I've been working on helping her cope with our daily separation. It's a work in progress, but here are four strategies I've been using to help my daughter cope:

1. Use your words. At this age, verbal skills run the gamut but even toddlers that are not very verbal understand much of what you are saying and the tone of your voice. I always try to tell her honestly when I'll be back. When she has a tantrum, I try to honestly address what I think she is feeling. It was heart breaking the first time I said, I think you are angry because you haven't seen me in a long time, but I view moments like this as an opportunity help equip her with the skill of expressing her feelings.

2. Create a positive association to work. In working on this post, I spoke to a number of moms and found a common theme: that we all want our children to appreciate the importance of work, but that when kids are little, it's hard to convey what work provides, both in terms of financial security and personal satisfaction. One mom told me that her children's Montessori school makes a point to refer to their daily activities as "work" while another gave her daughter a toy laptop to "work" on whenever the mom had to work from home. Another mom friend stumbled upon a teachable moment, which I'll share with you in her words:

"A few months ago, Quinn decided that she didn't want us, and especially me, to go to work. She was in a terrible mood when I dropped her off at day care (read: someone would peel her from my leg as she kicked and screamed and I backed out of the room trying to avoid eye contact with anyone). I tried to explain that money from work provided us a house, food, clothing, toys, etc. She would parrot this back to me through tears but it didn't really seem to make sense to her or help all that much...until one magical day! While riding in the car, Quinn asked me for M&Ms. I told her I didn't have any at which point she asked that we drive to the store. I told her I didn't have any money with me and that's when it all seemed to click for her. She then asked that I go to work and 'get some money' so I could buy her M&Ms. Ever since then, she seems to understand the correlation between the things she wants and the time spent away from us to work. Apparently the M&Ms are just as satisfying as having mom and dad around!"

3. Remember that children need transition time too. I have witten before about how I try and allow myself some transition time before I get home, so it probably shouldn't have surprised me that the moms I spoke to emphasized the importance of giving kids time to transition too. When I get home, I try to avoid the urge to jump straight into the evening routine of changing out of work clothes and tending to dinner/bathtime/bedtime and instead take a few minutes to read a book or play a puzzle. Five minutes spent reconnecting can make the difference between a smooth evening and one filled with tantrums.

4. Take the tantrums in stride. Speaking of tantrums, they will happen no matter how good you are at everything else. I have found it is best to not make a big deal out of them and not beat myself up too bad when my daughter is venting. If she needs to let off some steam, I give her a few minutes and then we try again.

Do you have coping strategies that have worked well for you and your kids? Feel free to share them in the comments below!