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End of the Work Day "Transition Blues"

QUESTION: We have a highly spirited 14-month-old son who tends to be more cooperative with me than with his mother. As soon as I walk in the door after work, my wife needs to vent her frustrations; however, I don't want to hear negativity about our son after missing him all day! This is beginning to cause problems in our marriage. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: Parenthood requires changes in your relationship. Your wife's request for venting is an appropriate one. She is a new mother, and like you, she has many things to learn. Her ability to meet and deal with frustrations partly depends on the soothing she gets from you.

Simultaneously, you are experiencing heightened tension when the family reunites at the end of the day. I call this "transition blues." Be aware that families undergo separation and reunification on a daily basis. It is not unusual for spouses and children to struggle with conflicting emotions that collide upon impact, especially when your family is young. Now is the time to set the foundation for successfully meeting these needs, rather than ignoring them.

First, it is critical that you experience the role of being the full-time caretaker for your son at some point. If your wife would like to get away for a day or weekend with a girlfriend, you will have a small taste of what her day is like as "Mom." It is sometimes difficult for parents who do not stay home with their children for extended periods of time to truly understand the intensity of the minute by minute, daily caretaking experience. It is all too easy for Dad to become the fun guy, while Mom becomes the drudge.

Talk with your wife about reversing your roles. It is healthy for your son to play with Mom and experience Dad as the one who nurtures him throughout the day -- diapering, feeding and setting limits so that he does not pull bookshelves down on his head or eat poisonous plants in the garden. This will allow you greater empathy with your wife about the frustrations she experiences and will allow her to feel that mothers can be interesting, too!

Consider the contradictory needs that accumulate over the course of a day. For example, many mothers (or fathers) who stay home to care for children may be desperate for adult interaction and connection. Their needs for interactive sharing -- especially about the frustrations of their day -- reaches a peak at the very minute their partner walks in the door. This partner, however, longs to relax and wind down.

Your expectations are directed toward the excitement of greeting your son and your wife. You want to hear all of the wonderful things you have missed. Your wife, however, is tired from a long day of riveted attention and care on a very active toddler. She is emotionally exhausted and wants to unload her frustrations on you, the only other parent of this wondrous child.

Meanwhile your spirited little boy is no doubt literally buzzing with anticipation of being greeted and swung high into the air by this exciting father figure who magically reappears each evening. And, of course, all of you are hungry, too! No wonder this period of the day has often been called the "witching hour."

Consider implementing a strategy that will ease your "transition blues." Develop a family plan to address needs throughout the evening. But reduce emotional tension by agreeing to make reuniting the goal of the first half hour together. This means hugs and an initial activity between a young child and the parent who has been away all day. Reading a story or playing a short game can suffice.

Dinner is a good time to reconnect with the family. You can connect as adults after dinner, while children are encouraged to play for 20 minutes independently. Or you may want to wait until after bedtime to share the frustrations and triumphs of your day in greater detail.

Your wife will be able to wait for comfort if she can look forward to your empathetic listening at the end of the day. You can also greatly reduce the tension of the first contact at home if you connect earlier by phone. Allow her to share her difficulties and ask her to call you when something good happens, too! This will help you maintain connection that includes both venting and teamwork.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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