Returning to Work: Fitting in Self-Care

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Going back to work after being a stay-at-home parent is challenging and rewarding. In my first blog Returning to Work: Details and Dreams, I discussed the practical side of going back to work—thinking about your To Do list and then using your values to prioritize your list. In the second blog Returning to Work: Leveraging your Village, I shared some thoughts on how to find resources within your family and community to help tackle your To Do list more effectively. In the third blog Returning to Work: Leveraging Organizational Resources, I look at how to utilize your organizations family-friendly programs and policies to find better work-life balance. This blog focuses on how you are going to fuel yourself for the long haul.

As a working parent we need to juggle many things at once and self-care is often the first thing to go. Ironically, self-care is exactly what you need in order to fuel yourself as you encounter new challenges. Upon returning to work, you may need to rethink how to incorporate self-care into your life. And if you were not taking time for self-care before, you must start now.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is anything that rejuvenates you and gives you energy. Self-care ensures you can continue to work for the long haul; this is a marathon and not a sprint. Think carefully about what uniquely energizes you. For instance, going out with a group of friends may be energizing for one person and draining for another. Pay attention to your own unique responses. Some self-care possibilities include:

  • Spending time with friends
  • Eating healthy mealscareer coach west orange New Jersey
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Napping
  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Yoga
  • Sports

Exercise: Reframing your Motivation

Since exercise is a universal way to refuel and an essential approach to self-care, the rest of this blog is focused on how to incorporate exercise into your life. But please note that this does not replace other forms of self-care, so take a moment to identify other ways to energize and contemplate opportunities to incorporate that into your life as well.

In the newly published book No Sweat by Michelle Segar, PhD, she discusses how our reasons for self-care are often what stands in the way of our ability to commit. For example, with exercise we often say we want to work out to “be healthy” or “lose weight”. However these reasons (or “whys” as Segar calls them) are abstract and long term and may not be effective for getting ourselves off our chair to work out. We need to reframe our reasons for working out as a way to better incorporate it into our life. Take a moment to think about:

  • What is something that will give you immediate gratification?
  • What is going to propel you away from your desk when there are countless things vying for your attention?
  • What is a form of exercise you enjoy doing?

By reframing our “why” for exercise, we may be able to find a way to incorporate it into our lives in a consistent way.

Going Back to Work Can Create Exercise Opportunities

Finding time for exercise is really tough when going back to work. For many, it is just tough. Period. Two examples below show how going back to work can actually support our efforts to fit exercise into our lives.

On-site Gym Challenge

Are you lucky enough to have a gym at work? My husband Gideon took part in a workout challenge at his on-site gym. Now he goes there almost every day. Having the gym on-site has been awesome for him, but it took participating in the challenge to realize that he could make time in his day to go without adversely impacting his work product. The workout challenge at the gym was what propelled him out of his chair initially; now, he is motivated because he noticed how doable going to gym is and how productive and refueled he feels after a workout.

Biking to work

My sister-in-law Joanna built exercise into her new work routine by riding her bike to work everyday. career coach west orange New JerseyShe actually worked out more after she returned to work than she did before! She was propelled out of her chair because this is how she gets to work and she enjoys her commute more than most!

Just Move!

Ok, so not everyone has an on-site gym (or even likes gyms) or has the ability or interest to bike to work. Luckily, there is another solution to fitting exercise into your hectic schedule.

Segar promotes the idea that we just need more movement in our life. If you are a stay-at-home parent going to an office job, you probably will be moving a lot LESS than you used to. How can you build movement into your day? Segar rejects the idea that only certain forms of exercise “count”. She argues we should just move, as often as we can in any way that allows us to sustain our commitment to move. Below are some suggestions:

  • Take the stairs
  • Exercise with a friend (and fulfill another self-care goal –to be social)
  • Develop a community of exercisers and encourage each other to discover hidden ways to move throughout the day
  • Walk to work, to the train, to meetings
  • Use a fitbit or other device to remind yourself to move
  • Buy a Treadmill Desk (yes these do exist and apparently people love them!)
  • Walk your dog (or your neighbor’s dog as a friend of mine does whenever she needs more steps on her fitbit)

Growth Mindset

As I have discussed in prior blogs, positive psychology coaching supports a growth mindset where you take risks, try new things and learn from mistakes. As you attempt to incorporate more self-care and exercise into your life, keep an open mind and try new things—even if they seem unusual. Staying true to your own needs, likes and dislikes will ensure your success going forward. Good luck!

Now I am going to go take a nap.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Wellness Coaching in the West Orange NJ Area (and beyond).


Returning to Work: Leveraging Organizational Resources


In the first blog of this series, Returning to Work: Details and Dreams, we focused on identifying our responsibilities and prioritizing them according to our values. In Blog #2 of this series Returning to Work: Leveraging Your Village, we focused on how to get the things done on your list after going back to work. In this blog, we will focus on how to utilize your employer’s work-life programs and policies and how to communicate with your manager to figure out work arrangements that foster work-life success.

Taking advantage of corporate programs can be hugely helpful and worth exploring. In addition, companies may also have work-life policies to consider, including work from home options, part-time arrangements and other flexible work options. In many ways, however, the best way to find work-life balance at work is to have a supportive manager who respects your autonomy and lets you get your work done in the way that best utilizes your strengths and family responsibilities. Developing a healthy relationship with your manager is one of the best ways to achieve work-life balance and job satisfaction.

If you are a freelancer or self-employed?

This blog can also apply to you as it can provide you with a template for evaluating how to organize your time. How do you work best? How many hours should you work? Please use this lens as you read through the rest of the blog.

Work-life Programs

The good news is that many companies offer work-life programs—especially the larger companies. Often organizations partner with vendors like LifeCare, Harris Rothenberg International and Bright Horizons Family Solutions (to name a few) to provide a variety of family friendly services. If you have not done so already, familiarize yourself with your company’s family–friendly benefits. Programs can include (but are not limited to):

  • Childcare – full-time and back-up
    • Companies can provide on-site full-time care or partner with full-time childcare facilities located near the office.
    • Back-up childcare is helpful for the occasional school holiday or when your nanny calls in sick and can be located on-site or at off-site affiliates
  • Eldercare assistance
  • On-site Gym
  • On-site Wellness programs: nurses and doctors on-site, health screenings, flu shots
  • Concierge services –these services can make life a little bit easier—e.g. on-site dry cleaning
  • Homework help for your kids: homework help via the internet or by phone
  • College Coaching: Assistance with the college search and application process
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): counseling services that are free and convenient
  • On-site Lactation programs
  • Mentoring programs and Parenting Groups—learn from other working parents

Work-life Policies

In addition to work-life programs, there are work-life policies to consider. Parental leave is a popular one in the news today with companies like Netflix announcing very generous policies. (Of course having a policy does not necessarily mean people feel safe to take it advantage of it—but that is for a separate blog.) Since you are returning to work, parental leave policies probably don’t apply to you so let’s focus on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWAs). FWAs are hugely helpful because standard work hours are not always ideal for real life. FWAs include:

  • Part-time arrangements – involves working less than full-time so it is accompanied by a pay reduction
  • FlexTime arrangements: flexibility with when you work
    • Compressed work-week: nurses often work longer hours a day for fewer days a week.
    • Irregular hours: working different hours -– often seen in retail where evening and weekend hours are often the most wanted timesimages-5
  • FlexPlace: Working from home or from a satellite location
  • Job Sharing: Creating a full-time schedule for one position with two employees

These arrangements can be negotiated during the job offer process, but they can also be arranged as needed. Sometimes it takes working a bit to realize you need an FWA and sometimes it takes being in the job to see whether an FWA is conducive to your job. You may even find that working an FWA is actually preferable for your job situation. For instance, if you work with clients in a different time zone.

Informal Work-life Options

Informal work-life options are an ideal solution to work-life issues. Things change constantly—a child gets sick, after school activities change, work is busy, work is not busy. It is great for all involved when you can work out arrangements with your manager on an as needed basis. Sometimes a particular project lends itself to telecommuting while a different project requires working late. How can you communicate with your boss to make things work for you?

Which Work-Life Resource Do You Need?

First you should ask, what do you want?

  • Are there days you need to be home earlier due to carpools?
  • Are there days you want to be home to volunteer?
  • Do you want to go in later some mornings so you can bring your kids to school?
  • Do you want to be home by 5:00 so you can help your kids with homework?
  • Do you need one day off a week to tackle your errands, self-care, etc.?
  • Do you need a day off a month to take an elderly parent to a medical treatment?

Now evaluate ways to meet the needs that you identify. Do you need to work from home some days? Do you need a part-time schedule? Do you want flexible hours (a full-time schedule but with modified work times)?

Communicating with Your Manager

The key to success with negotiating with your manager is to make it a conversation—not a negotiation. Come with a suggestion, but be open to modifying it. As a positive psychology coach, these are some things I recommend thinking about before your meeting:

  • What are your strengths? Are those leveraged in your modified job responsibilities?
  • Can you fill a need with your job change? For instance, can you volunteer to work late one day a week so you can work with West coast time zone and then come in late a different day?

I love exploring creative solutions to work-life dilemmas and I am pleasantly surprised by how often there are win/win situations. For instance, a client of mine was hoping to work fewer than 5 days a week, but she was not sure how to ask. After talking with her, we realized that her boss was in a difficult situation trying to give another employee more hours. By volunteering one of her days to her boss, her boss was ecstatic since she was able to give those hours to an employee who needed them. It was a win/win.  My client was able to keep a job she loved and have improved work-life balance and her boss was grateful to have a work dilemma resolved.

Take some time now to evaluate your needs and your employer’s work options. Keep an open mind and be willing to experiment.  Going back to work can be challenging, but there are resources out there to explore.  Creativity and communication are keys leveraging organizational resources to enhance your work-life balance.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Career Coaching.


Returning to Work: Leveraging Your Village


When returning to work after being a Stay at Home Parent, the list of To-Dos can be mind-boggling. In the first blog of this series Returning to work: Details and Dreams, I reviewed how to create a list that lays out all of your responsibilities and then prioritize them based on your values. Now, with this list in hand, we need to figure out how to get it done. In the end, we cannot do it all alone—especially if we are going back to work. We also need to identify and leverage our resources. Luckily, there are many resources available; you just need to take the time to identify them.

Child labor (aka: chores)

Resources come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of the many benefits of returning to work is giving your child the gift of independence. Depending on the age of your children, you may be able to have them help out around the house more. Taking the time to identify age appropriate chores is the first step in this process. When figuring out chores for your children to do, think about the following:

  • Which chores do you no longer have time for?
  • What are good skills for your kids to develop?
  • What chores do you really dislike? (Shhh….A secret benefit of going back to work is to outsource the tasks you never really liked in the first place.)
  • What special skills do your children have that you can leverage?

A wonderful resource for identifying age appropriate chores is in one of my favorite parenting books: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. She devotes an entire chapter to children and chores. It is definitely worth a read.

Once you have identified the chores you would like your children to do, you need to make sure they know how to do them. Things that seem obvious are not always obvious to our kids. Show them how to get the bowl and pour the cereal, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch or Mac and Cheese for dinner if they are old enough to use the stove. If your child has not had these responsibilities before, you need to take the time to teach your children.

Kids are often excited for parents returning to work. Share the excitement and let them know it is a team effort. But remember change takes time and going back to work involves a learning curve for everyone. In Positive Psychology coaching we promote a Growth Mindset — where taking risks and making mistakes are part of the learning process and effort is rewarded. Keep this in mind as you teach your children new skills. While you may want everything to be done as well as you do it, a more effective expectation would be to expect mistakes and imperfection, particularly in the beginning.

Carpools and playdates.. oh my!

So your kids can’t drive yet, this is a problem. How are they going to get to their sports/dance/chess/karate lessons or practices? Our kids are so busy after school that if you are working past 3:00, you need to think about how your children are going to get to their after-school activities. This is where your community can come in handy. Below are ideas for you to consider around your neighborhood, which involve local friends, neighbors, nannies, schools and companies.

  • Are you working part time? Perhaps you can set up a carpool schedule where you can drive on the days you are not working and another parent can drive when you are working.
  • Are there after-school activities at your child’s school to buy you a little extra time? Can you sign up for that and then pick the kids up a little later after these activities end?
  • Can a friend drive your child during the week and then you can drive to games on the weekend or provide sleepovers over the weekend?
  • Can you employ a nanny/helper for the afternoon to provide homework help, make dinner and drive carpools? It may be difficult to hire someone just for the afternoons, but a nanny share could help with this problem. My friend created a nanny share with her neighbor. Her neighbor needed a nanny for the afternoons and my friend needed her for the mornings. A perfect arrangement for everyone.
  • Contact your local college’s career office to hire college students (who can drive) to babysit.images-3
  • Is there a driving company in your community? We have a wonderful service called Vantastic in our neighborhood. Local dads established this service to drive children in our community to school, after-school activities and to camp in the summer. This service is a huge help for working parents!

Shake things up!—Review roles and responsibilities with your spouse

If you are married, another great resource can be your spouse. Returning to work allows for an adjustment in parenting roles within a couple. It is a great opportunity to revisit roles and consider sharing certain responsibilities. For the non-stay at home spouse, this offers an incredible opportunity to interact with the kids in a different way and for parents to revise their game plan. Shaking things up can be a powerful way to reinvigorate a marriage and a home. So be creative and work together to think outside the box and question assumptions. Some possible areas to shake up are:

  • Change up who handles the morning routine.
  • Can either of you work from home on certain days to help with carpools?
  • Are there ways either parent can help with school volunteering?
  • Does the same parent bring the kids to the doctor? Does it have to be that way? Would sharing that role be helpful?

By working together to re-think parenting roles, both parents have an opportunity to grow and stretch in different ways and to better appreciate each other’s prior responsibilities.

You are not alone in your journey back to work. You have many resources available within your own family and community. Look around to see what is available and then find a way to piece these resources together to make your transition back to work more manageable. Know that these challenges truly can provide opportunities to grow and learn as a family.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Life Coaching.


Returning to Work: Details and Dreams

To do lists word on reminder notepad

Returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent can be overwhelming. Whether you are returning full-time, part-time, with a commute or from home, there are steps you will need to take to make the transition as smooth as possible. This blog is part of a four part series. First, in Details and Dreams, you will need to get a clear picture of what you need to focus on to make your transition as smooth as possible. You will think about what you need to do and how to prioritize these responsibilities. Future blogs will focus on how to handle these responsibilities in a way that keeps you sane and employed and maintains your priorities as a parent.

The next blog, Leveraging Your Village, focuses on how to manage some of your family responsibilities. We will look at how to identify and utilize your family and neighborhood resources to make your transition a success. The third blog will discuss Prioritizing Self-Care and how to find time to take care of yourself when time is more limited. The fourth blog focuses on your Leveraging Organizational Resources by investigating organizational work-life programs and policies as well as information arrangements with your manager.

Begin with a brain dump:

When I coach people returning to work, the first thing I ask my clients to do is to begin with a “brain dump”. This is where I ask my client to write down EVERYTHING they do every day. I recommend you begin this way as well. Below is a short list to remind you of some details, but you need to make your list specific to your life:

  • Food shopping
  • Walking the dog
  • Homework help
  • Carpools
  • Laundry
  • Exercise
  • Making Meals
  • Scheduling activities
  • Doctors and dentist appointments
  • Checking in with elderly parents
  • Self-care (reading, talking to friends, relaxing with a cup of coffee or tea)

To help you create a complete list:

  • Look through your past to-do lists
  • Glance through your calendar to remind yourself of the dozens of things you do in a day.
  • Ask your friends to tell you about their to-do lists as a reminder of things you might not be thinking of.
  • Input your children’s school calendars into your calendar as a way to get a more complete picture of the year.

The more complete your list the more clear you will be on your potential challenges.

Does looking at this list cause you to hyperventilate? Don’t worry. First, congratulate yourself on all you do! Wow, it is really amazing to see it all in one place. Stay-at-home parents often don’t get enough credit for all they do, so now is the time to see how capable you have been. Recognize that these same skills that allowed you to handle your incredible to do list will allow you to transition back to work. Positive psychology coaches focus on people’s strengths and how these strengths can be applied to new challenges. So consider how you have managed to handle this To-Do list in the past and how some of those strengths can be utilized to tackle your To Do list in preparing to transition back to work.

Identify priorities and values:

Now let’s dig a little deeper. You may want to grab a journal or notebook for the following activity. In positive psychology coaching, we want our clients to lead meaningful lives that are aligned with their core values. In order to tackle your list you need to reflect on what you care about most:

  • What are aspects of being a parent you truly enjoy?
  • What are things you are most proud of?
  • What are your priorities?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Planning a business dayNow look at your list with these things in mind. What is it that you don’t want to give up when going back to work? Is participating in your child’s school a priority? Is visiting your parents important to you? Do you want to read to your children every night? Help with their homework? Exercise? Read? Make healthy meals? Conversely there may be things that you are happy to let go of, like laundry or carpools or food shopping. Going back to work can give you the gift of outsourcing undesirable aspects of managing a home (one of the secret benefits of going back to work!).

In order to figure out how to handle your responsibilities, you need to determine your unique priorities. With a sense of your priorities, you can determine how to handle the other responsibilities. For instance, homework help may not make your priority list. No problem, suggestions on how to outsource that are in Blog #4. However, you want to continue to exercise and you cannot outsource that, we will address exercise in Blog #3 on Self Care. The next 3 blogs focus on how you can manage the list you created. These blogs include ideas on ways to think differently about how to ensure your items get done in a way that accommodates your new schedule, values and priorities. The transition of going back to work is a unique opportunity to really think about your life and what is important to you. It is a time to think outside the box, throw out old assumptions and take advantage of resources that are available to help you. Self-reflection, talking with friends and coworkers and possibly meeting with a life coach are all ways to make your transition as successful as possible.

Click here for more information on the benefits of Career Coaching.