Of the fathers that I have met with in the past, one of the most regularly occurring themes that I observed was the tug of “work vs. home.” More specifically, many men find it challenging to let go of their work upon returning home. Because of this, I wanted to share some wisdom that has been passed on to me regarding this topic. These are strategies that others have used to make a smooth transition from work to home life. By using these strategies, we can reduce or eliminate the stress that we experience from carrying our work home with us.
One of my counseling professors I have to thank for this tip- do all that you can to separate work from home. She discussed finishing up any work there at the office instead of taking it home. She also recommended not to read work-related emails when at the house or answering work-related calls after hours. I realize that this may not be possible within your profession, but doing all that we can to make a distinction between work and home is ideally what we are aiming for.
The next tip came from one of my trainers during a job orientation- take a shower or bath. He shared that what he found worked for him was to go straight to the shower or bath to “wash away” all the stressors that he built up over the workday. While he was washing, he tried to envision all of his work responsibilities and concerns sliding off of him with the water. By the time that he got out of the shower/bath he was ready to take on home life “fresh.”
Another strategy came from one of my old bosses- rest your cares on the “work tree.” My boss talked about a man that he had worked with that had a tree in his front yard. My boss had been to the man’s house a few times after work, and on their way to the house, he watched the man walk up to the tree and lay his hands on it. My boss, curious about this ritualistic behavior, asked the man why he did this. The man replied, “when I come home I leave all my work thoughts and feelings to rest at the tree. Before I leave for work, I pick them back up where I left them.” This is another powerful example of using a physical symbol of letting go of work for a time.
The next strategy, one that I use often myself, I picked up from a book I read in college, “Psychward- A Year Behind Locked Doors” by Steven B. Seager. In his autobiographical look at work within a psych ward, he stressed the importance of having transition time between work and home. If I remember correctly, his original idea was to go to a coffee shop before going home. This gave him time to process his thoughts and switch his mind over to “home” thoughts. When I started my first job in the mental health field, I would browse through comics at the local shop before returning home. It worked wonders. I have also heard, in a similar spirit, that some people will go out of their way to find a job with some commute time so that they can use the drive home as transition time.
I recognize that you may not have the luxury of downtime before jumping straight into home life. If you live close to work and your wife and kids are literally waiting at the doorway for you to arrive, then you may find some of these tips to be completely useless or discouraging. I get that. We may have to give a little to the family before we are able to take some time for ourselves. However, I would advise that we communicate to our partner our need for transition time at some point, the sooner the better. If mom can hold out a little longer before passing you the baton, that helps. If she can let you pull away while the kids are engaged in some activity, do it. If you tell her that you may need twenty minutes or so after the kids go to bed to clear your head before the two of you discuss the day, I would hope that she can appreciate that. Remember to express that having some transition time (a reasonable amount of time) will not only be of benefit to you but to the family as well.
Thank you for letting me share these tips and strategies with you. I hope that you have found some bit of wisdom that you can incorporate into your toolbelt. Please share any strategies/tips that you have picked up to ease the transition from work to home. We would love to hear them!