Switching gears—between work and home, between the fast-paced Adult World and a kid’s dawdling pace—is one of the biggest challenges parents face. Some people have an ability to hyper-focus: wherever they are, the rest of the world dis-appears. They go so deep, and are so intent on what they’re doing, that they lose track of time and their surroundings. These people have an especially difficult time switching gears and can get stuck in one role at the expense of the others.
Others switch gears so frequently—bouncing from one thing to the next, to the next—that they fail to be fully present for any one single role. These parents constantly interrupt themselves (by changing tasks so frequently) and are easily derailed by competing priorities.
That’s why you might find yourself losing your temper in the first few minutes after you walk in the door from work, despite your best intentions. Or why you feel frustrated after you’ve busted your tail to clear time to take your kid to the playground and it feels like it’s taking hours for her to pull on her socks and shoes. And why you’re aggravated by the constant interruptions that are part and parcel of parenting. It’s hard to manage the complex juggling act of parenting if you struggle with transitioning among tasks and mind- sets.
Why You Must Master It
When it comes to making smooth transitions, the ultimate goal is to be truly in the present— with your kids, job, spouse, friends, and even with yourself when you’re at the gym or having a quiet moment. When you make a full and complete transition, and are truly “here now,” at work, home, with your kids, friends, or spouse, you can get significantly more qual-ity out of significantly less time.
Without this agility, you could get stuck in a par tic u lar mode and “give me a minute” can turn into an hour . . . and in that time, the opportunity for connection vanishes. Being able to quickly move from one task, or one pace, to another is among the most important skills a parent can develop.
Here’s the Big Idea: Set Your Intention Before You Cross Any Threshold
When you are crossing any threshold— and switching from any one quadrant to another (Provide to Relate, for example, after a long workday)— build in a minimum of ten minutes before you arrive home to shift gears. The most common chal-lenge working parents share with me is, “I walk in the door after a long day and just need a little space before I can handle my kids and the house and all that stuff.” But kids don’t get that you need a little time to clear your head— they’ve been missing you all day!
When walking through your front door, instead of thinking about your workday, or tomorrow’s to-dos, shift your focus. Ask yourself, “When I walk through the door, what is my intention?” Maybe it is to be present for your kids and partner, or to make your family laugh.
The same is true when you leave home and go to work. Getting out the door in the morning can be hectic and stress-ful. Don’t carry that stress into the workday—it will dilute your ability to be present at work, which means you’ll get less done and feel obligated to stay later at the office or get back on the computer after the kids go to bed to compensate.
Keep in mind that when you are transitioning from one mode or quadrant to the next, you need to prepare yourself not only to give something different but also to receive what the people on the other side of that door have to share: their love, their worries, their stories, their needs. Don’t be surprised. Be ready.
Avoid the “just one more thing” Syndrome
Who hasn’t been tempted to do just one more thing before leaving the house or running out of the office? Departures can already be a stressful situation. Don’t make them worse by shoving in another task and leaving no time for a gentle transition. Every time the impulse crosses your mind, trigger your “transition ritual.” It could be as simple as counting to ten or taking four deep breaths. Help yourself transition mindfully instead of in a herky-jerky mad dash.
Like what you are reading? Check out Julie’s piece, A Framework for Letting Go of Working Mom Guilt.
Excerpted from TIME TO PARENT : Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You by Julie Morgenstern. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2018 by Julie Morgenstern. All rights reserved.