How Your Relationships With Friends Might Change When You First Become An At-Home Mother: 4 Ways To Prepare Yourself
When you consider making the transition from outside employment to at-home mothering, you automatically focus on how it will impact family members, the budget, and even, perhaps, your own sense of self worth. Those are, after all, the most visible and obvious areas that will be affected.
You also need to prepare yourself for how your relationships with friends and co-workers might change. While you concentrate on providing a haven for your family and meeting their needs, you may not have the time, inclination or even finances to nurture the network of people with whom you once spent a third of each day. You will find, though, that planning and preparing for maintaining current relationships and pursuing new ones while you transition to your new profession will pay dividends.
First consider how your relationships with friends and co-workers might change; then think about steps you can take to prepare yourself for the transition.
CHANGES TO BE AWARE OF:
- People will react in varying ways. You can’t expect unconditional and enthusiastic support when you announce that you are giving up your career or outside employment so that you can be an at-home mother. How people hear and respond to your decision will reflect their own priorities and philosophies. Some of your friends and co-workers will applaud you—and their approval will feel satisfying. Others, who place high value on status or financial success, may question the logic of your choice. Very likely, you will have pegged most of those friends and co-workers in advance, so their reactions may not surprise or dismay you.
- But what if your best friend or a co-worker with whom you’ve been particularly close responds with lukewarm enthusiasm or, even worse, silence? Consider first the emotions that your announcement may have triggered in them. Are they perhaps envious that you have committed to something they wish they could do? Resentful that you have the freedom to make that choice when they cannot? Hurt because they feel abandoned? Sad because they will miss you? Defensive because they assume your choice is a subtle condemnation of theirs? Perhaps they feel angry that you are putting an unfair financial burden on your partner or worried that you may not realize how difficult the transition can be. Their response may have more to do with their own experiences than with your decision. If you are truly baffled, then try to put aside your disappointment long enough to listen to their objections. It may be that they have legitimate concerns, issues that you had not considered, but most likely, you will hear, underneath their words, emotions that they cannot express.
- The transition from the workplace to the hearth will take time. Your workplace is more than just a paycheck; it is a hub of social, emotional, intellectual and, sometimes, even spiritual, interactions. It permeates your conversations while you are away from the job, affords you luxuries, and, perhaps, even defines how you think of yourself. It is a huge chunk of your life. Your new job, at-home mothering, at first, may seem less exciting in comparison. After all, how stimulating can your interactions be when they’re measured in four-word sentences (preschoolers) or addressed to closed bedroom doors (teens)? Eventually, you will find challenge and stimulation in your new profession, but the realization may come slowly. It’s a different pace with unexpected challenges. Some days you will revel in the joys of your at-home mothering profession—and some days you will long to escape. But then, isn’t that how you felt about your outside employment as well?
- Realize that your relationships with former colleagues will change. After you leave your job, even if you continue to consult for the company, you no longer share the same basic interest—the workplace—that provided the foundation for previous relationships. Your connecting points change. The office news that once intrigued you may interest you less, and eventually, as personnel changes, may focus on people who are strangers to you. In addition, former co-workers are unlikely to find your struggles and successes at home fascinating. Your contacts may whittle down to just a few particularly close friends, but these will be the colleagues who are truly friends and who bring you fresh perspectives. As you make friends among at-home mothers, the workplace friendships may take on less importance.
- With a little thought and planning, you can successfully navigate the transition from workplace to home without isolating yourself. The key is to prepare yourself for the changes by being proactive. That means reshaping your life—and your friendships—to mesh with your new life. The following four steps will help you prepare for your new life.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE TRANSITION:
Step 1: Give thought to how you will tell others about your decision. It’s likely that you have talked about your desire to be an at-home mother with some friends, but for many people, the announcement that you are actually following through will come as a shock. How you talk about your decision will shape how others react.
- Be positive. When you talk about your plan, be careful not to put down your job, the workplace or your colleagues. Your goal is not to make them defensive. Sentences like, "I valued what I’ve learned at work and will miss you all, but right now in my life, I need to be an at-home mother," present your decision as a choice that is right for you at the time.
- Be personal. This is not the time for generalizations about your beliefs concerning at-home motherhood. Talk about your own family’s needs. Perhaps your children feel more secure when you are at home or your husband’s schedule requires him to be gone often or you feel that you aren’t doing justice to any part of your life. It doesn’t matter what prompted the decision, the point is that you need to make it clear that this is a personal decision based on your individual family’s needs, not a soapbox issue.
- Be non-judgmental. You cannot possibly know and/or understand the motives that drive others. Your plan comes out of the needs and dynamics of your family. Although your decision may mystify some of your friends, if you show tolerance for the differences among families, they will likely respond in the same way.
- Be honest about your fears. You don’t have to bare your soul, but your colleagues will tone down their reactions if you are realistic about your decision. You will miss them and the job (even if you sometimes hated the job!)…you know that at-home mothering will be a challenge…you worry about how you’ll survive on one income…you hope you’ve prepared for all the pitfalls…you expect to have good days and bad days…. Acknowledge that you don’t have a perfect answer, you just have the answer that is right for your family at this time.
- Be direct in asking for support. The first reaction you will hear from your friends and colleagues will refer to the ways your decision affects them: Who will go to lunch with me? Who will do your job? Who will take weekend trips with me? Who will listen when my partner drives me crazy? After they’ve had time to adjust, ask your colleagues and friends for their support. This may differ from person to person and from tasks as simple as phoning one another occasionally to things as complex as letting you continue to participate in professional functions.
Step 2: Develop a network of support prior to leaving your job. Your co-workers have limited time each day to support you once you leave the workplace. After all, you will be most available while they are working and unavailable. Before you quit your job, you should start developing a network of acquaintances among at-home mothers. Childcare co-ops, mothers’ study groups, play groups, and school volunteer corps are excellent places to meet others. The benefit is that these mothers often have practical advice borne out of their experiences, and they love to share their expertise. They can, perhaps, help you identify some areas of potential conflict before you take the step from the workplace. They can also provide you with an adult to talk to when you’re desperate to hear a whole (and logical) sentence!
Consider that previously you defined yourself through your job. This change in profession may require you to think of new ways to define yourself. Although you may take pride in being an at-home mother (I certainly did!), you will quickly recognize that, for many professionals, those words don’t carry the weight they should. Because people juggle many roles in addition to being parents, your single focus sounds easy to them. To define yourself by all the tasks—nurse, chauffeur, housekeeper, nanny, etc., sounds contrived. You may prefer to expand on your role: Currently I am an at-home mother, which I find a satisfying profession, and I continue to study (read, keep current in, pursue) in ….
Step 3: Structure your at-home profession so that you continue to pursue personal and professional growth. Without a doubt, this is the most difficult step for most women. It’s easy to get so caught up in meeting the needs of the family, that you become the martyr sacrificing personal growth in the interests of your mission. To take care of your family effectively, you must take care of yourself. The easiest way to guarantee that you continue to grow personally and professionally is to plan it before you step over the threshold into your at-home mothering career.
Take time to assess your interests and skills. Your job may give you some ideas, but it may also point you in other directions. If you are currently taking classes, participating in a book discussion group or pursuing another interest, decide now that you will continue even during your at-home mothering profession. Don’t allow yourself to drop out for a month or two—chances are you will never go back! Whether you have to trade childcare with a friend, scrimp to pay a sitter, or trade off babysitting with your partner, schedule time just for you.
You may also want to look for activities you can be involved in with your children. Churches sponsor women’s groups with simultaneous activities for children; libraries have programs for all ages; community colleges offer classes for all levels; and health clubs, private and public, schedule fitness programs. On a professional level, you may subscribe to a journal (or borrow it from a colleague), attend an occasional conference (even as a volunteer, if money is tight), correspond with a distant colleague, or sign up for seminars.
Step 4: Be proactive in maintaining old relationships and developing new ones. When you switch from an outside career to at-home mothering, those people who knew you in your career field are often so unsure of how to interact with you that they abandon the relationship. What if you are too busy to meet for lunch, they ask themselves, or so "brain dead" that you can’t carry on a conversation, or so unhappy that you whine, or so happy that you’re smug? If you value the relationship, take the responsibility for keeping it going. Since you know their schedules—when they normally take lunch and for how long, their work hours, their slow times—you can suggest get-togethers that mesh with their lives. Little things such as mailing them a card or bringing lunch to the workplace during hectic times, or dropping off cookies can let your colleagues know that you still value them.
If you depend only on former co-workers for your relationships, though, you will often be lonely. At-home mothering is one of the rare professions where you start in isolation. When you take outside employment, you are welcomed into a workplace. Co-workers stop by to introduce themselves, invite you to lunch, and generally extend, if not friendship, camaraderie to you. You make connections naturally. In your at-home mothering profession, none of your colleagues is likely to even notice that you’ve started. Again, it’s up to you to pursue a relationship. You will have to identify where other mothers can be found (the swimming pool, library, playground, preschool, etc.), introduce yourself and extend invitations. One of the best friendships I developed when my daughter was small came about because a mother who had recently moved into the neighborhood camped out at the park daily until she found a playmate for her daughter. As you identify a few other at-home mothers, you will gradually expand your network of colleagues in this profession just the way you did in your other career field.
Venturing into at-home mothering can be an exciting and fulfilling change, but like all change, it brings a certain unease. It is not unlike any other job change—it strains your relationships with former colleagues and introduces you to new. The exhilaration of tackling new tasks and learning new skills is tempered by the loneliness of a new workplace. This transition time can be painful, but with a little forethought and preparation, you can ease into your new profession with hearty enthusiasm.