When work regularly takes us away from home for periods of time, be it days, weeks or months at a time; the most emotionally stressful periods are generally when we are getting ready to leave or on the way home.
The emotional roller coaster of life can result in departures and arrivals that can be exciting and fun or they can be depressing, sad or bring about feelings of loneliness, anger or even fear. Unfortunately, these emotional periods can easily escalate, and over a prolonged period, situations like this can result in a build-up of stress and too frequently, conflict.
The transition from work to home life often begins long before the journey home. Your family may be over-joyed and looking forward to seeing you and may have made plans for your time off. You, on the other hand, may be keen to get home but you are exhausted and just want to sleep. This situation can easily result in your family feeling disappointed and let down while you are left frustrated and overwhelmed, with an overbearing sense of guilt at not being mentally there for them.
Unfortunately, the hours at home have a habit of whizzing by – and before you know it, it’s nearly time to go again. Typically, you may not feel suitably rested. You’re not ready for another stint away; and all too often you haven’t had enough time at home to fit everything in that you planned to do. Combine this with your family or your partner’s emotional state and it is easy to understand why leaving can be stressful. Your partner or your family may be dreading the thought of you going again. They may also feel robbed of time and overwhelmed at the thought of dealing with a multitude of challenges on the home front yet again.
To further complicate matters, add some young children to the mix! If you have kids, they may also feel similar emotions but likely won’t fully understand the situation and probably can’t express their true feelings; this can result in some ‘attention seeking’ behaviour that further complicates the situation.
Working away for days or weeks on end isn’t for everyone. It certainly comes with a special set of challenges to family and relationships, but fortunately, like most things in life, ‘there is always a way’ if you want to make this situation work.
All good relationships require effort and for remote workers, this is more important than it is for the 9-5 office worker. There are everyday strategies that can be implemented to help smooth the emotional transition between leaving home and returning from stretches of working away that can help to ensure the likelihood of a more positive long-term outcome for everyone impacted.
How to keep it together
One of the keys to having long, loving, fulfilling and successful relationships will always hinge on the understanding and communication skills of all parties. This is even more important in situations where partners are regularly living and working away from each other. There are other critical factors such as joint goals, shared values and a shared vision of the future that I would argue are more important, but no one element can be considered in isolation. (I’ll outline these in future articles.)
In order to ease the transition phase for remote workers, forward planning and good communication will make a tremendous difference in any relationship.
Regardless as to whether you are the partner working away or the one keeping everything running at home, if you share with your partner what life is like for you; share your emotions freely and make a genuine effort to imagine what your partner is experiencing, this will help strengthen your bond.
If you know how each other is feeling and what each other’s expectations are, then you can work together to create a transition plan that benefits everyone.
When coming off a long shift as a remote worker, sleep or rest may be at the top of your list during your transition home… and this is understandable, but spare a thought for your partner who may also be seeking time off away from the chores and perhaps the kids as well!
It’s never going to end well if you have plans to crawl into bed as soon as you step in the door if your partner plan is to pass you the kids as soon as you step through the front door.
It is these simple things that help to maintain a couple’s connection. Ask yourself, ‘Am I living to work or working to live?’. If the answer is ‘working to live,’ then the short times you have at home should be the most precious. Don’t waste them.
Before you begin your journey home, I suggest discussing what you would like to achieve while you are both at home and try to plan some time and some activities together in the short time you have. For example, why not schedule a ‘date night’ where you go out for romantic dinner or go to the movies together – or simply do something special at home.
Unless our expectations are communicated with each other clearly, it leaves the door open for disappointment, confusion and conflict. Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to the process of transitioning from work to home, and vice versa in order for it to work effectively. If you work together as a family to ease the transition, everyone will find it a more positive experience.
Speak to each other and the kids about your thoughts and feelings. Share openly and honestly. The more we are open and honest we are with how we feel, the easier it is to navigate the transition when leaving and returning home.
If you are new to the remote worker lifestyle then it can take a bit of time for everyone to adjust. The transitions when leaving and coming during this time can be particularly hard. We all adjust to new schedules and lifestyle in different ways; so to make it easier in the early days, allow a bit of slack for everyone to settle in and adjust in their own time.
Go easy on the kids if they do act out and communicate with them on their level about how they are feeling. Kids especially will settle into the new lifestyle at their own pace. To some kids it may simply be ‘water off a duck’s back’ while others may find the lifestyle, and in particular the transition period, harder to adjust to.
If you have been living the remote worker lifestyle for a while and the transitions are still not getting easier, then it might be time to re-adjust your routine and your mindset. Get help with some new strategies to make the process easier. It is never too late to change or break a habit.
It may not be a perfect transition every time. There will always be periods of stress and adjustment for everyone, especially if you have been away for an extended period, but if everyone has worked towards effectively communicating with each other, the transitions will become much easier each time you go through them.
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