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Miranda: Those pesky little transitions

As most mothers are painfully aware, transitions can be difficult for children — and mamas. I’m not talking about those big transitions like starting school, or moving — I’m talking specifically about those little daily leaps from one activity or focus to the next.

I’m hoping that my dear Studio Mothers community can help me with a particularly sticky transition that crops up in my schedule tree times a week. On the days that I work, my sitter leaves the house at about 4:40. I’m usually working frantically right up until the last possible moment. Then I emerge from my work space and greet my little guys (who I have likely seen at several intervals during the day).

Here’s the thing: Ironically, I almost dread this moment. I’m happy to see my little boys, and they’re happy to see me. We share hugs. But the transition is hard. I’m still in work brain, and I have a hard time switching gears. The boys are hyped up because the sitter is leaving and Mom is taking over. It’s a transition. And the big question looms: What do we do NOW? There is often a full hour or more before I need to start dinner. We usually just spend that time hanging out in the playroom, if we don’t have to get in the car to drive an older sibling somewhere. But that hour always feels awkward. I feel like I should be doing something really cool with the kids during that time. Craft projects are pretty much impossible right now, however, as the older of the two boys is 4.5 and the youngest is 18 months. We can’t yet play a board game or do anything particularly structured. I also often feel anxious about preparing dinner; will my little one “allow” me to cook? Or will he be hanging on my leg, crying for my attention, making me wish we’d just ordered pizza again?

I would really like to develop some kind of ritual for easing back into the mom role. Maybe that means stopping work five minutes earlier and getting myself sorted out and mentally prepared. Maybe it means some kind of “thing” that I do with the boys — something that I can look forward to, and they can look forward to — that will ease the transition. Maybe I need to plan that pre-dinner hour in advance, so that I feel like we’re using the time to the fullest.

One thing is for sure: I need to learn to wrap up any loose ends BEFORE the end of my work day. If I try to sneak back onto my laptop, or check mail/facebook/twitter on my iPhone, I always feel guilty and/or disaster ensues. I don’t WANT to do that. So I’m not going to do that anymore. (Stake in ground. You are all my witnesses.)

Do you have any thoughts about ways to make that time the BEST hour of the day — something I really look forward to — rather than something I feel ambivalent about? I’m hoping that if I turn this hour into what I hope it can be, dinner preparation will be easier too, because the boys will feel like they had my full attention before I start cooking. The whole evening will probably flow more smoothly if I get things off to a good start at 4:40.

Any ideas?

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. We have a little ritual now, when Jack gets home from school, where we snuggle up on the couch with snacks and tea and a stack of books, and read. It’s nice b/c we all get to be physically close, and it’s a nice calming thing to do before the wild storm we call 5:00.

    Granted, you would most likely not be able to do this for an hour, but maybe for a little while, as a little respite before any other more active play…? Just a thought.
    xo

    November 23, 2009
  2. Jen #

    Mary, that’s a lovely little ritual. I was thinking something like that. The other thing I wondered about: Miranda, how are the kids about going for walks? It might be a nice ritual to know that when Mom is done, every day you are all going to go for a walk. My kids love rain or shine walks, and knowing that one is coming is a treat for them (even though we do this sort of thing a lot).

    You could make it into a seasonally based treasure hunt kind of walk (“Let’s see how many colored leaves we can find!”) or just a 20 minute stroll. Could have a nice destination or just be a wander around the neighborhood. I know that for me when things get tough, often the VERY best thing I can do is get us all outdoors, even if just for a little while. Helps with their mindset and mine too. Plus if you’re away from the house, it would by default take care of the temptation to sneak back to work.

    Hope you settle on a good solution for this. I’m sure it’s a frustrating situation!

    November 23, 2009
  3. I was going to suggest exactly what Jen did. Get outside! I know that’s probably easier said that done up in your neck of the woods this time of year, but that’s definitely what works for us, even in the dog days of summer (at which point we usually just jump in the river). I like Jen’s idea of the seasonally based treasure hunt kind of walk. If would be good for you to get out and stretch your legs after working on client work and it would be good for the boys to get out and burn off some energy before dinner.

    I think the biggest thing overall is to change your mindset to resist all temptation that lures you back to your laptop or iPhone (again, easier said than done, I know). So getting outside definitely solves that issue….as long as you leave the phone at home!

    I love the cuddle up and read ritual too, but that only seems to work for us right before bedtime.

    November 23, 2009
  4. i like both suggestions, but lean toward the get outside, weather permitting. getting a breath of literal fresh air will help clear YOUR head as well as the boys’. and we all could use more vitamin d these days.

    having lived in your neck of the woods most of my life, knowing the secret of layers is key to success in the dank and cold. but you probably knew that. so kelly, if you’re ever visiting outside your beloved fla, to see miranda or mary…a good wooly hat and gloves, sweater, possibly long johns, wooly socks, good boots, jeans and a hefty jacket are essential from october possibly into may.

    and the potential for color is phenomenal. ;)

    and i know of an amazing playground in the area my boys loved when they were little. miranda, you know the one i mean, and it’s a good op for mother convos, too. or you could just hang out in your fabulous yard!

    November 23, 2009
  5. I LOVE the outside idea — and I will certainly use that in other seasons. Right now, however, sunset is literally 4:15. (Look up Boston sunset data if you think I’m exaggerating.) I just don’t see me bundling up two little kids at 4:40 to go out into the 40-degree total dark, especially as we live on a winding road with no sidewalks and no streetlights. Although we could certainly hang out in our yard, if it isn’t too cold.

    November 23, 2009
  6. Mary, I think you’re onto something with the food idea. So many of our memorable rituals center on food, don’t they? (For better or for worse!) I do think that we could start having a regular “tea time” right at 4:40. Aidan loves tea (decaf with lots of milk and a heaping teaspoon of sugar). Definitely appeals to the Brit in me. We could do tea and a little snack and then snuggle on the couch for a few books. Liam has just started enjoying books too — and actually demands them on occasion. So maybe tea time and reading together would be a nice segue into a bit of playtime before cooking.

    I like this! Am going to try today (happens to be a work day for me on account of Thursday holiday).

    Any other brilliant ideas out there??

    November 23, 2009
  7. ah yes, i did overlook that little detail…darkness! although it will be fun for sledding….we loved ‘night sledding’ in my yard when i was a kid.

    November 23, 2009
  8. Brittany Vandeputte #

    I was going to suggest what Jen suggested, too!

    But in truth, by the time 4pm rolls around, I’m too pooped to go for a walk, and by the time I get the boys out the door, I’m more exhausted still.

    The 4-6pm window is the worst of my day too. The boys are up from their afternoon nap, starving, missing daddy, and with energy to burn. What we usually do is have a snack and then I put on a Wiggles video and dance around the living room with them. It’s pretty low key, but it cheers us all up.

    November 23, 2009
  9. I really like both the suggestions of a walk outdoors, and dancing in! We love to dance around the kitchen, too, and it is certainly a great way for us to get some of the excess energy out, especially during these long fall and winter days. :)

    November 23, 2009
  10. i think snacks are always a good transition … hungry never means happy … so snacks have to be a good idea!! and the books sounds great too ….

    when my twins were toddley they were always hard between the afternoon nap and dinnertime … which of course, was when i needed to cook …. i hit upon the notion of setting something up for them during their nap …. like, i’d set up the fisher price barn under the dining room table … or put all their play dishes in the real sink to wash…. or spill some cheerios on the floor with their little brooms right next to it …. or set up the wooden train tracks on the family room coffee table …. or make a trail of rescue heroes down the steps ….. just anything that was a bit different….. favorite toys in different spots … rescue heroes in the sink! we did lots of sink stuff …. playdough was another big one….. for a couple of minutes of set up, i could buy myself quite a bit of time with playing … and it eased the crabby transition if i could tell them i had a surprise downstairs …. i’m not sure how you could adapt this since you’ll be in the office, but i’m sure you could figure it out based on how your house is set up …. and really then, what you are training them to do, is creative happy play as soon as they see you … for me, during nap time i was frequently doing chores, so when they woke up i was still tired! i frequently ended up reading magazines whereever they were playing … i can’t begin to tell you how many time magazines I read under the dining room table .. it’s a fort, all the stuffed animals are there, rescue heroes underneath (recurring rescue hero theme!), duplo is so much more fun under the table! … so there you go … directed play says i …

    November 23, 2009
  11. i LOVE mary’s .. i just saw that … we used to dance a ton … i did exercise videos too …. now that’s a funny thing to do with little kids …

    November 23, 2009
  12. Crock pot meals can be setup in the AM taking stress off the dinner rush.

    I would start to wind down work 10-15 minutes earlier to give yourself transition time; maybe take a few minutes with eveything turned off, just breathing or meditating or stretching or whatever.

    Then follow their lead for the hour. They sound excited to see you, so capitalize on that by making the time fun and interesting to them. If they are wound up, try going outside to play together. Offer it as a reading time together if they aren’t too energetic. See what THEY want and embrace it. Leave your iphone or anything else far, far away and give them your undivided attention. Make that the special Mama and Kiddos hour. Maybe you could even find fun recipes (we have a cooking with kids recipe book) so they can feel as if they still have your attention when it’s dinner time.

    We also give heads up, too….”Ten minutes until we make dinner….okay, only 5 minutes left now.” This helps a lot too.

    Good luck!

    November 23, 2009
  13. i like the dancing, too…when madonna’s ray of light came out, the boys and i danced our butts off in the kitchen to it as i made dinner….only way i could get it done then.

    just don’t tell my cool friends that i have that cd, please….

    November 23, 2009
  14. I used to do yoga with Jack when he was younger – that might be something interesting to try, too. I’m not sure how that would go with Liam (if he’s old enough, yet, I mean) but it’s a nice alternative to extremely energetic, or plugged-in kind of play. Quiet and restful and still, without being asleep – that kind of experience is good for kids, I think.

    November 24, 2009
  15. Good idea to wrap up your work a little earlier so you’re not still attached to it when you really want to be reattaching to the kids. I think the key to making the time a good time is to make sure your mind is not elsewhere. I wouldn’t get too formal with how you’re going to spend the time…that puts pressure on all of you to enjoy it. Just be *there*…and honestly, that can happen with the three of you snuggled on the couch watching a video together. Good way to mellow out, get some body contact, chit chat in an easy way. (Walks and books of course are good ideas too.) You might want to set the timer for when you are going to start on dinner, so you’re all aware of the deadline and you don’t jump the gun either. Your tea time sounds nice, too, as it’s not too formal, but it does give a transitional ritual. For me it has always been turning off the work brain and wanting to be *with* the kids. I don’t think the activity matters as much as flipping that switch (which is probably more of a dimmer than a switch).

    November 24, 2009
  16. c is one month older than liam i think….she enjoys trying the yoga with me, when she’s not trying to knock me over. s thrived from yoga practice when he was little (gross motor sensory integration feed for his aspergers), k enjoyed it immensely when he was little.

    November 24, 2009
  17. Everyone had my ideas but maybe doing some kind of easy drawing in the journal with crayons? I can’t remember how old your youngest is (mine still tries to put them in her mouth). Sit on the couch and either read and or draw in a sketchbook. My daughter does this for an hour sometimes without stopping and she is 4. They can keep going after you get going on dinner. There are also the larger crayola paper pads that we sometimes use on the floor with crayons. Good easy fun.

    November 24, 2009
  18. Ha, I just wrote a post about easing transitions for my 6 year old, and then got your pingback to my post, came here, and saw this. I know I’m late, but my suggestions would be to have the babysitter give your kids a 5 minute warning, maybe do something to help them prepare for you, and then just come in and plan on sitting on the couch (or wherever) relaxing with them. With my kids, the best connection times are when I don’t have anything planned to do, but I’m just planning on being with them. The kids provide the rest–they always know what they need to do!

    December 9, 2009
  19. Juliet Bell #

    I think the key is to do something that serves you as well as the boys. You need a transition form work to home – a wind down mindless time, the boys just need your presence and a feeling of being together. My choice is akin to Mary’s idea. Put music on nice and loud and dance. Get out the rattles, tamboreens, play, cavort, and most of all move the bodies free from mental strain. This is like taking a walk to feed the soul. Really you will be restoring your batteries, not draining them by responding to whiny needs from boys who sense you are not with them 100%. If you make this a fun ritual, the boys will look forward to it, and after dance time, they should let you cook – be aggreeable to quieter things like drawing a the table while you do what has to be done. Dance until you can’t dance any more – this is transporting. Just a thought.

    December 12, 2009

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