Mandi and Jamie found themselves in situations where they would have to go back to work after being at home to mother their little ones. They wrote blogposts (Mandi's here, Jamie's here) sharing coping strategies to share what had worked for them when they found it hard to be away from their babies.
As I read them I realized that I have something to share in this regard myself, only now with older children. Some of those coping strategies have evolved to enable me to stay sane during the preschool all the way through the elementary years. And as I thought about it, it made sense that these coping strategies would evolve because the needs of my children and my own needs have matured as my children grew older and our family grew in size.
In addition to helping me cope, some of these strategies actually helped me to stay engaged with my children, their schoolwork, their social activities and the parents at the school. I work hard to stay involved at our parish school: I have been on the Parent-Teacher-Organization Board, I have volunteered at just about anything where volunteers were needed, and I am currently on the School Board. Our family is visible at many church and school events -- and that is intentional. I do it to stay engaged, but it helps me to see the fruits of my labor of working outside the home.
Here are 10 Coping Strategies for a WOTHM of children in pre-school through elementary (usually 5th grade) that I have found useful.
1. School Pictures -- get them taken and buy at least a sheet of wallets so you can take them to work and show them off. It's best to do it every year so you have updates. The children change so quickly in a year, it's important to have a current picture of them with you. Yes, I'm THAT mom -- the one who brings pictures of her kids around to show everyone at work, whether they care or not. It helps me to share my family with the people at work because it helps me to have that connect to my children during work hours.
2. Field Trips -- Find out as far in advance as possible about the "big" field trips and try to make sure you can make one of them. You won't be able to make everything, and as disappointing as it is to miss, sometimes getting in the one really cool one makes up for it. It's always fun if you can manage to arrange a PTO day so you can be off work to attend something like an apple orchard with your preschooler, or a special spring trip with one of your elementary age children, sometimes it can make all the difference in how you're feeling about your role as a WOTHM.
3. School Work -- Stay on top of their grades (once they start earning letter grades). Most schools have online systems now where parents can log in at any time and see the grades recorded for their students. The fact that I congratulate my 3rd grader after I see she got a 100% on a D.O.L. quiz sometimes makes all the difference to her. She's thrilled that I know what she did recently. For the preschoolers and Kindergartners, cherish those handmade crafts that come home! I try to rotate every few months what I have on display at work. For 1st and 2nd graders, try to spend some time having them read to you every night. Staying connected to their school work goes a long way in alleviating some of the guilt and pressure felt from working outside the home full-time. And it does not go unnoticed by your littles that you know what's going on with them.
4. Special Opportunities -- Stop in and have lunch with your child periodically. It's not always possible, but I try at least once a school year to surprise my children by dropping in while they are at lunch. I can sit down and talk to them about their day and lots of times, their friends tell you all about their days, too. :) In the lower elementary grades, the teachers are often quite open to having an adult reader visit the class to read a story. I have done this sporadically, too. Being present on school grounds during the day provides a connection for your children, too.
5. Ask About Their Day -- Allow the kids ample time to tell you all about their day. Sometimes, it is difficult at the end of a long day at work to wait as your child recounts every last little detail about their day (for example, my Helen likes to start with entering the classroom and doing her "morning work," bathroom breaks, recess, and everything all the way to coming out to be picked up by her daddy). But, let them tell you everything anyway. They want to share the time they are away from you -- they believe you miss them just as much as they miss you (and of course, they are right!!) You can often get invaluable information this way, too. For example, I learn who my children sit with at lunch, what they do at recess as well as what they did in religion class that day.
6. Share Your Day -- Tell your children about your day. I often start by telling my children that I missed them, but then I let them know what kept me busy all day. I try to let them in on what I ate for lunch and whether I took a break to walk the stairs. I try to relate the things I do to the things they do. Lunch time is my break time. I go to meetings where I have to sit, be quiet and listen/learn, just like they have to sit, be quiet and listen/learn their subjects in school.
7. Cherish the Time You Have -- Make the most of the evening. The kids are at school all day, you are at work all day, you both get home and have some time together in the evenings. We have dinner together. On the nights we don't have extra activities, if homework is done, we'll play a game (just the other night, my girls and I played Scrabble before bedtime). Keep the TV off. The rule in our house during the school year is there is no TV in the evenings on school nights. It's amazing the difference it makes. We play games, or we read or we just hang out and I braid my girls' hair after their showers.
8. Parents of Kids in Your Kids' Classes, Get To Know Them! -- Knowing the parents helps you to know the kids, somewhat. For younger elementary kids, this can provide outlets for play dates or other social gatherings. As the kids get older, arranging rides to events (especially helpful for parents of large families!) or finding some compatible and positive friend time becomes easier by working with the parents you know. You probably won't know all the parents to the same degree, but being involved and learning what makes the parents tick can help you help your child build positive relationships at school. This is more of a "get involved" strategy than coping, but you never know! I have been surprised more than once at how I've clicked with a mom of one of my kids' friends. I truly believe I've made some lifelong friends in some of the parents of my children's classmates.
9. Get Involved! -- Find out what you can do to be involved...and commit to being involved. It's so easy as a WOTHM to make the excuse that you're just too busy to volunteer for this or that. I don't volunteer for everything, but I step in where I can. At first I didn't realize what a difference intentionally getting involved and volunteering while maintaining my hectic schedule would make to the way I felt about my vocation. Many people I encounter tell me they have no idea how I have time to do the extra that I do. Honestly, sometimes I wonder myself. But just like anything else (exercise, studying) if I put it on the calendar, I get there. Classroom parties are a joint effort between my husband and me. And at this point only one time have we completely flopped on that. I am on the school board, and when our church has events, I offer to help in many different ways. I've baked 3 dozen cookies to help with a reception after our parish's Mass and procession on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I've signed up for and provided meals to post-partum mothers, grieving families, or any other family in crisis. I've coordinated our parish's Humanae Vitae Mass two years in a row. Being involved in this way ensures I know many people in our parish and many parents of children in our school. Doing these things helps me to avoid resentment at my role as a WOTHM.
10. Pray -- Pray with your families at meal times and bed times. Teach your children to pray. Allow them to "God bless" anyone they want. Encourage them to lay their days and nights at the feet of Jesus. Pray on your own. Join prayer circles so that you are aware when a need arises for extra prayer. Pray the Rosary, if that helps. Having a person and/or an intention adds purpose to your prayer and engaging in purposeful prayer brings peace.
These things have helped me to get through my first 11.5 years of being a WOTHM. I have to trust they will help me through the next 20 years.
What are some ways that you carry out your role as a WOTHM faithfully and joyfully?