Tips For Going Back to the Office After Spending Months Home With Your Kids

mother, father and kids on the way to work

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it was announced that both school and work-related life would be moving to the homefront, parents across the U.S. did a collective jaw drop. Some parents had to juggle their work and family life with everyone at home while others ended up losing their jobs or putting their employment on hold indefinitely.

After spending a year (or more) working from home with their kids around, many parents are preparing for a return to in-person work. This means not only having to wear real pants for the first time in a while, but it also marks the beginning of a transition from the familiar home routine back into the "real world."

Some individuals became parents for the first time during the pandemic. Going through a pregnancy and having a baby during COVID is a unique experience, one that comes with heightened anxieties or even a greater sense of isolation. However, you are not alone. There are many groups and resources for parents who have similar experiences.

How You Might Be Feeling

Heading back to in-person work is bound to be emotionally complex. “Many parents are going to feel a wide array of emotions—joy for the quiet work environment, overwhelmed with the transition, grief about the time away from home—and many of those feelings will co-exist,” says Kelly Bos, MSW, RSW, Talk Therapy Pod co-host, social worker, and psychotherapist.

Bos explains how conflicting some of these emotions can be. For example, parents could feel elated about having some time to themselves, but at the same time, fearful about being less available to their kids. They could feel a sense of excitement to see work colleagues in person while simultaneously mourning the loss of the lunchtime chats with their kids. 

Karla Brennen, a mother of three, said that she and her kids were working and doing their homeschool work from makeshift office spaces in the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. Brennen was making lunches, hosting Zoom calls, and managing interruptions, all of which extended her workday. "Working from home wasn’t less work, it was more," she says.

No matter how they are feeling, Bos reminds parents to be good to themselves: "It's also important to acknowledge our feelings without judgment and be mindful that this will be a time of adapting but that eventually, life will go back to feeling more routine."

Despite the juggle and occasional worry about the boys, Brennen is grateful to be working in person again. "I really never realized how much I loved being with people. Getting up and going to work, although hectic, really motivates me," she says.

Preparing Yourself Mentally

It is important to keep your expectations in check—remember, this transition might be bumpy! Lisa Howe, MSW, is a parenting coach and the owner of Becoming Peaceful, an online resource and coaching service for parents.

Howe has been reminding her clients to be mindful of their expectations as they head into this new post-pandemic normal, noting they may require more flexibility, compassion, and patience than they might expect. 

Now that Brennen and her husband are back to work in person, she—like many parents—leaves the house each morning with a million questions running through her mind: Did the dog get fed? Are the boys spending too much time on their screens?

The transition won't just be a challenge for the parents, either. Your kids might not remember what it was like before you were home all of the time. They may have difficulties coming to terms with what it looks like when that isn't the case.

“None of us have ever re-entered life after a pandemic before, whether you are 4 or 40," Howe says. “Expect it to feel uncomfortable and weird. Expect tears and meltdowns. Expect separation anxiety. If we expect our children to react as they did before when we went to work, we are setting everyone up to struggle.”

Bos suggests talking about upcoming changes, including potential challenges and upsides, with the kids. Getting them involved in the process by asking them for their ideas on how to make the transition easier is also helpful.

Practical Organization Tips

Heading back to in-person work may present obstacles that used to be second nature, but now feel foreign, such as scheduling a carpool for your kids or packing your work bag the night before.

Choosing a few areas to organize ahead of time can help make the transition back to the outside world feel more doable. One area that benefits from some forethought is meal planning.

Some parents find creating a meal plan for the week helps to simplify things. "By meal planning, we know what we are eating every day which saves time, stress, and money," Brennen says.

Buying pre-cut vegetables or canned sauces, meal-prepping on Sundays, and stocking up the freezer can all be time-saving moves. There are some great meal planning apps out there you can try, as well.

Getting back into the swing of the morning routine may also take some effort. If you're feeling up to it, you could try a few practice runs to get you and your kids accustomed to the new routines. This could include getting up and dressed, having breakfast, and doing a pretend school or daycare drop-off.

Staying Connected to the Kids

After months of round-the-clock time with your kids, you might be wondering how to maintain your connection to them when you're not with them. Howe suggests adding little notes to their lunch boxes or spending a few minutes together before the day begins.

If your children are staying home with a caregiver, Howe suggests engaging in some one-on-one play-time or snuggles before you leave. These few moments could be a nice way to connect, putting you, as well as them, at ease.

If you're en route doing the morning drop-off circuit, some car-singing might be a nice way to unite. Try giving the kids a big, grounding hug or some kind words of encouragement. A quick "I love you" before you go your separate ways for the day is always reassuring.

Brennen says she and her sons stay in touch throughout her workday using messenger and Facetime. "Sometimes they reach out to get permission to do some gaming and other times it's to tattle on each other or to send a cute photo of the cat," she says.

No matter what this transition brings, the whole family will eventually settle into a new rhythm. Before you know it, the new normal will just be normal.

Tips for Staying Connected

  • Ask them for ideas on how to make changes easier
  • Encourage regular check-ins throughout the day
  • Schedule quality family time together
  • Offer a safe space to chat
  • Honor their experiences (by listening and validating)

A Word from Verywell

There are many ups and downs that come with parenthood. Because of COVID-19, parents have more balls to juggle than ever before. But, you don't have to catch them all.

Instead of expecting life to be exactly like it was pre-pandemic, prepare yourself for the potential challenges. Stay in communication with the kids and remember that there will be bumps along the way.

Take your time and go easy on yourself as you head back to in-person work-life. Reach out to other parents who are going back to the office, too. And remember that even though you may feel overwhelmed or stressed sometimes, you are not alone.

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