Parting is no sweet sorrow, but a painful struggle for a mom who tries to get dressed for work while her preschooler tugs at her skirt or her toddler wails and flails his arms in all his efforts to make her stay. A daily dose of guilt is a bitter pill to swallow, but something career moms are sometimes forced to contend with. Does going to work really have to be an ordeal or are there ways to make your child understand the job you need to do outside your home?
“Mommy, don’t leave!” Head of Contact Center at a telecommunications company, Rachel Cachuela, says daughter Annika, now six, used to question her whenever she’d get ready for work. “When she was in nursery, she used to ask why I had to go to work and leave her,” she recalls. “Sometimes, I think about just being absent from work to be with her, but you know it’s something you have to do.” Cachuela knew her daughter was then still too young to understand why she needed to work, so she just made it a point to come home early to spend more time with Annika.
Emergency consultant Perie Adorable-Wagan, M.D., found herself in a similar predicament when her son, Prince, now three years old, would go through bouts of crying in the mornings. “When Prince was only 18 months old, it was hard for me and Allwin to leave for work. He was always crying, naglulupasay, naghahabol talaga. It broke my heart each time we’d leave him crying and chasing after us. He couldn’t understand why we had to leave him. Sometimes, we would change clothes in the other room, because if he wakes up, he’d start clinging to us and would not allow us to put him down,” she says.
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Redirecting and transitioning Explaining to a child between the ages of one to three years may not be the way to go since he is not yet developmentally capable of understanding the concept of work. Redirecting his attention and transitioning may be your best alternatives, suggests Mayang Sision-Pascual, trainer/facilitator and executive coach/pastoral counselor at Integrative Learning International and Center for Family Ministry; Regeneration, Wellness and Care Foundation in Quezon City. “There is no one fool-proof way in dealing with a child’s separation anxiety. Kids deal with it differently as their temperament dictates; and temperaments could range from fearful to feisty to flexible.
A lot of moms employ redirecting - diverting a child’s attention to a more interesting activity than seeing Mommy leave the house.”
Appeasing Prince by giving him activities he enjoys was something Dr. Adorable-Wagan learned, soon enough, works. “What we did was to direct his attention to other things like turning the TV on and switching to his favorite channel. When that no longer worked, we thought of unwrapping his gifts that were unopened during his second birthday. Our yaya would bring him upstairs to open one gift a day each time my husband and I would leave. When all the gifts were opened, we thought of another strategy. We asked his yaya to bring Prince along with her while she did the grocery. It worked until he was two years and six months old. That was when the crying spells stopped,” she narrates.
Sison-Pascual says another way to deal with your tot’s resistance is by helping him pick up on your work schedule early on. And that takes practice! “Transitioning or ‘practicing’ your child for the morning leave-takings and creating a departure ritual neutralize the anxiety-causing event for the child.” While practice may not make a perfectly tear-free tot, it helps him break in and gradually get accustomed to your routine.
“Moms and kids can make up a communication device - hand signals and non-verbal cues that go with the speaking - that will help children to sense and figure out what will happen next, and to expect it if it’s done with consistency. You can play a particular music that signals you’re about to leave - this will help prepare him.” This aims to get your child used to hearing your voice and seeing your face at certain times of the day, Sison-Pascual explains.
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According to Moira Bunyi, who has a Master’s Degree in Family Life and Child Development and is a preschool instructor at the Terrific Tots program at The Little Gym in Mandaluyong City, even moms who have just given birth and are planning to go back to work after the maternity leave can start practicing with their babies.
“If you know you’re going back to work soon, you could already prepare your child a week or two before going back to work by setting up a routine. Let’s say, you have to leave at 7:45 a.m., and you get up at 6 a.m. If your child is already awake by then, spend breakfast with him and talk to him. Even if he can’t talk just yet, he’d understand by the tone of your voice and by the way you’re dressed, with your bag ready. While eating breakfast, you can say, ‘I’m going to ride the car.’ Give a narration of what’s going to happen leading up to the event that you have to leave for work.” Sison-Pascual adds, “Once you’ve established a routine of leaving and connecting and coming home, especially if you bring home interesting stuff for him, then your toddler would equate your leaving home with something he can anticipate and be happy with when you come home.” Dr. Adorable-Wagan shares that bringing home her son’s favorite pasalubong - white chocolate - is indeed a recipe for success!