Change is Never Easy
I started a full time teaching job at the end of August. This was a major transition for both myself and my family. For the last four years, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I always intended to go back to work, with the goal of this fall in mind. But after being hired in mid-August, I did not have much time to prepare any of us for the change.
For my girls, the biggest adjustment has been to full time school.
Every morning, my husband gets them ready to go. He packs breakfast and lunch. The night before they pick out their outfits and I line up their backpacks and shoes to make the morning as quick and easy as possible.
On the first day of school, my husband brought them in at 7AM. This was the first year I was unable to drop off on the first day. The last two years, all four of us went to walk our oldest to her classroom. This year, both girls went in together. My husband has never done drop off before and this year, he had to worry about bringing in lunch boxes and nap mats and everything else the girls needed for a full day.
He took tons of pictures of their first day and filled me in on all the details of their morning. They were off to a great start!
Around 11 AM, I called the school to check on them. The wonderful director assured me that they were both happy and adjusting well, which was very reassuring.
That afternoon, I spent my 45 minute commute so excited to see them. I couldn’t wait to hear all about their day. I wondered what they had for snack and whether they both napped. I was eager to catch up on everything I missed.
I arrived at school around 4:15 and headed downstairs. The director met me and told me the girls both had a good day. She explained that my youngest was still fast asleep and that my oldest was having so much fun playing with her friends that they didn’t even try a nap.
The week before at back to school night, I told the teachers that I was fine with the girls not napping because it made bedtime earlier, which would give me more time to work.
We went in to wake up my youngest. Instead of being happy to see me, she started crying. I asked her to show me her classroom and cubby while I caught up with her teacher. She clung to me and cried the whole time. Meanwhile, my oldest was running around, completely manic.
My stomach sank. We walked to the car, laden with all of their belongings, buckled up and headed home.
In the car, my youngest was still crying, now for a snack, which she had missed during her extra-long nap. My oldest was screaming about how she didn’t nap at all.
The night went downhill from there. They burst into the house, throwing their things everywhere. I scrambled to get dinner ready and throw laundry in, letting them watch an episode of their favorite show so they could calm themselves. When we finally sat down to eat, they were both overtired and cranky.
My youngest decided to chew up all her food and spit it all over the floor while I was changing laundry. I had had this vision in mind that I’d finish cleaning and we could play a game or read some books before bed. Now, I was stuck picking tiny bits of food out of the carpet while trying to clean up dishes from breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I started to regret going back to work. Was every night going to be like this? I couldn’t stop crying—I was exhausted, overwhelmed and feeling guilty for screaming at my baby and making her cry hysterically.
It was one of my single worst nights as a parent.
A day or so later, I read an article about “after-school restraint collapse”—a very normal phenomenon for kids under 12. In the article, Stacy Haynes, a counseling psychologist says, “It’s only natural for kids to release their emotional, mental and physical energy as soon as they hop off the bus. After all, they had to show a lot of self-control during the school day.”
The article explained that some kids had intense tantrums or are overly stubborn, while others withdraw completely.
I turned to my wonderful group of mama friends on Facebook for tips.
The number one piece of advice was provide a snack in the car. The girls are supposed to get a late afternoon snack at school but sometimes it isn’t served until after I pick them up. The last few days, I’ve packed an easy fruit like cut up apples, grapes or raisins. It’s healthy and keeps them from starving before dinner.
Doing some physical activity like running around at a park or taking a walk was also suggested. That’s harder for us right now. They’re too young to be out without adult supervision and I need to get dinner going, but in a few years, that outside time will be key.
Most of my friends turn to screen time. “TV time actually helps. She’s so active and busy that she needs the time to just veg. It helps me make dinner [and] she’s usually in a better place after 20 minutes or so.”
This was common advice. Using a tablet for educational shows or games in the car or allowing for TV or movie time at home helps the kids to relax and unwind over something they don’t really have to think about. They need the downtime after a long day.
I don’t have a tablet, but I found a great podcast called Disney Story Central. There are a few free episodes on Podbean, but I found it worth it to pay $7.99 for a monthly subscription just to access an entire library of Disney stories. As soon as I park the car, I load one up so it’s ready to go as soon as I get the girls in their car seats. They get a snack and the ride home is very quiet. Then when we get to the house, they’re allowed to watch an episode of a show before dinner.
I still face some meltdowns, especially from my oldest when she doesn’t nap, which has made me return to our work on mindfulness. I try to stay patient and offer some alone time in her room or in her quiet corner. She has an echo dot in her room so she can listen to music or do some coloring to calm herself.
For my part, I use my commute to let go of anything I’m holding onto for the day.
I have some fruit as well and put on a podcast that makes me laugh so when I see them, I’m happy and excited, as one of my friends suggested she tries to be at pickup. She also advised me to unplug and really focus on them at home since there isn’t much time between the end of school and bedtime.
Returning to work has been a real shock on many levels. My whole family is learning to adjust in many different ways. I’m so appreciative to my parent friends for their support and suggestions. Already, I have seen such a difference in the girls with just the simple offering of a snack and vegging out time.
When we’re all calm, we’re all happy and actually enjoy our limited evening time together, which is all that really matters.