"Why can’t you stay home?"
Every mom who holds down a job is bound to hear these words at one time or another. By age 5, kids are aware that not all parents work, says Cynthia Garcia Coll, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, education, and pediatrics at Brown University. "They start to compare their family with others, and to question the discrepancies."
Ways to help kids understand:
Be positive. Express satisfaction in your role as a parent and at work ("I love you, and I also like my job"). Talk about what you enjoy most about your work, and assure your child that you still think about him during the day. He’ll learn to respect what you do professionally, but also feel secure in his importance to you. Explain that your job enables you to buy food, clothes, and toys. Experts caution against saying that you need to work, however — kids may think it’s their fault that you’re working, or may worry about whether you have enough money.
Talk about differences. School-age kids can learn to appreciate that families make decisions based on what works best for individual situations, says Garcia Coll. A simple way to get the point across: Explain that just as some families have pets and others don’t, families make a variety of choices about jobs.
Ask for input. If your child is unhappy that work takes you away from her, ask her to help come up with some solutions. "This gives her control, and lets her know that her opinions matter," says Judith Bunge, Ph.D., director of the A. Sophie Rogers Laboratory School at Ohio State University.
Julia Willard, a Westwood, MA, mom and an account supervisor at an advertising agency, let her son, 10-year-old Joshua, take the lead. "He suggested that one night a week we go out to eat, rent a video, then watch it together," she says. "After the first week, my job was easier for him to accept. He knows every Monday is our special ‘date.’"