The ten minute drive home from work is both the best and worst ten minutes of my day. I am fortunate that my husband and kids pick me up from work most days of the week and we all drive home together. As much as I love my job, I cannot wait to see my children at the end of the day. As our car pulls up, I wave excitedly at them and see their beautiful faces smiling back at me, their necks craning eagerly to see me. Best part of my day. Then, I get into the car and the next ten minutes are a symphony of complaints and cries. Worst part of my day. I try to get my preschooler to tell me some tidbit of his day, but typically he responds with whining about what he wants to eat or what toy he wants me to buy for him and how upset he is that he isn’t eating said food or playing with aforementioned toy at that very instant. Meanwhile my toddler weeps that she is rear-facing (she’s under two!) and cannot see me as well as her brother. Sensing his mood, she surmises that she should also be upset. Then they argue over a few rogue goldfish snacks they found wedged between the car seats. Toys get flung around and we yell from the front seat some parental guidance about car safety that sounds like Greek to my children. I hear the echoes of my own childhood in each phrase (“do you want me to get in an accident?!”). By the time we pull into our garage, we are sometimes so exasperated that any fantasies I had about our evening plans are replaced with dreams of going straight to bed.
Hours from bedtime though, my children need entertaining, which this time of year typically means playing outside. So we all burn off the energy we worked up during the car ride by running, biking, and climbing. After playing together, things seem to calm down and we are all happy again. A few blissful moments before we begin to battle over eating dinner.
I know that we are not alone in the after-work/after-school witching hours. As a working mom though, these few hours between work and bedtime are the only time I have with my kids during the week, so it frustrates me when this time is spent negatively. Whenever we are in such a rut, I brainstorm strategies to make our time together special. Special is one of my preschooler’s favorite words, so any mundane task or food can be elevated by describing it as special. Such as, “I have a special snack for you,” elevates “here’s this thing I bought that you haven’t tried before and I hope you eat.” Or “we can’t go there but we are going to another special place” improves the reality of “your favorite place is closed so let’s try the next best option.” So there are lots of “special” moments incorporated into our rides home. Sometimes it works, sometimes we continue to battle.
Each time though I find myself frustrated by the backseat yelling, crying, or fighting, I try to remember that this is their way of venting. If I were driving home with only my husband, or a coworker, I would use that time to air my grievances. It’s my version of therapy. Ten minutes later and I feel unburdened by the stresses of my work day and ready to tackle my home life. Similarly, my children have long days at daycare/preschool; sometimes their days are even longer than mine. So why should I begrudge their time to complain about it? Although they don’t give me tangible complaints, like boy mom, school was hard today, or guess what so-and-so said today, they give me their troubles in an age-appropriate expression. They let it out with a scream, a tantrum, a cry. Then as I sit there, wishing I could complete a sentence to my husband without a shrieking toddler or having my seat back kicked with the wrath of four-year-old feet, I remember that they are also trying to tell me about their daily worries and that by the time we get home we will all happily play together.
Now we play a game that my preschooler himself initiated. We take turns naming the best part and worst part of our day. Typically his best part involves some demand of his that I gave into and his worst part is something that he would like to apologize for but hasn’t yet. Then I counter with my best part being whatever said thing he has actually apologized for and my worst part is whatever we had just been yelling about, for which we have now repented. The game turns into an orchestrated way of verbalizing our frustrations, apologizing for hurting each other, and modeling how we wish things were better. So while the worst part of my day may be hearing my children greet me with high octave cries of their daily struggles, my best part is that I am raising children who created a way to make that worst part better for us all.