Working a stressful nine-to-five doesn’t stop exactly at five. Every so often, we take some work home with us. It’s not necessarily a report that needs to be read or a spread-sheet to be cross-checked. Taking home a mental load can take a massive toll on the other parts of life like family and self-care.
Every parent knows the feeling of kicking himself when again being impatient with the defiant toddlers or getting louder than wanted. When we bring home a part of the mental load from work, it’s easier to get overwhelmed and stressed out when the load piles.
My job requires so much logic, rationale, and a get-things-done mentality; I sometimes have difficulties switching when leaving work. I notice this especially when getting impatient dealing with my toddler. It’s when I am most result-oriented and having the next to-do’s in mind I cannot bear him lazing around.
I am well aware of me being unfair, but sometimes I cannot help it. When we walk out of day-care to the parking lot, I already think of the errands we have to run and what I have to accomplish that day. My kid, whereas, gets fascinated by raindrops on the bicycle rack. He approaches it and can engage himself over 15 minutes in exploring. He gets curious how the waterdrops hanging from the metal bar pop when he touches them with his tiny finger.
Right near his day-care facility is a construction site. He likes to stand at the fence and observe the heavy machinery. Especially the dredger is an endless source of fascination. On the way there, he runs through the puddles with his rubber shoes, smiling with joy.
Obviously, this is a wonderful and heart-warming thing: Watching my little toddler exploring the world around him. He learns by touching and manipulating, and god knows what is happening in his little head by popping water bubbles hanging on the bicycle rack. I only know it is important for his development to learn by playing without aim. It’s a skill most of us adults have unlearned: Playing and discovering without a goal to accomplish other than the pure feeling of wanting.
To be patient and relaxed with my kid, I start the transition to family time a little earlier. To put away some mental load and refuel on energy for the afternoon, I follow a strict end-of-work ritual before leaving. I close my email tab at least half an hour before I leave so I don’t catch any tasks or problems on my way out. Carrying unfinished business is definitely adding to the mental load and stresses me on my way home. When it’s time to leave, I clean my coffee pot, close all open programs, and shut down my laptop. I even pack it in its bag. On my way to day-care, I think of other things than the office to get out of my work-related mindset and be ready for my wayward toddler.
It’s somehow harder in home-office, but the routine is similar. I close the email program, close every other program and store the laptop in a different room. Most times, I schedule some housework like unloading the dishwasher or vacuuming before heading to day-care. When the weather is right, I like to pick him up by bike, so I get some movement in the fresh air as a little bonus. Also, it de-accelerates, being the slowest one in traffic.
Using my strict end-of-work routine, I’m getting better at leaving the pending mental load where it belongs: At the office or in the laptop back stored away. It helps me be more patient and relaxed when spending the afternoon with my toddler. I suppose he also likes it more when we spend some time exploring the area around day-care and watching the dredgers at the construction site.
Previously Published on Medium