Stay positive. In general, experts say it's best to keep your comments about work on the sunnier side. "Being upbeat about your job can help your kids feel more supportive of your working," says Dr. Long. Petersen makes a point of checking all her work stress at the door when she gets home. "I've sat in the car for 15 minutes simply to decompress so I didn't take my anxiety out on Charlotte," she admits. That said, if your day has been a disaster, a certain level of candor about how you feel is not only acceptable but also educational. "Share something simple such as, 'Mommy's a little grumpy today. I had an exciting project that didn't work out,' " says Dr. Long. Then try to relate the situation to something your kids can understand. Say, "You know when you're at the playground and you really want to use the swing but someone jumps on right before you do? You know how that's really frustrating? Well, that's how Mommy's feeling today.' "
Involve Dad. "One way to help women answer the hard questions about work is to bring their husbands into the mix," says Spiegel. "It's a joint decision to have either or both parents work, so it should be treated as a family discussion." I counted on my husband, Wes, to help answer the endless queries Avery had after I returned to work from maternity leave last year. Given the sleep-deprived, hormone-jacked state I was in, I'm not sure I could have even offered clear explanations to her musings about when I had to go or why I dragged around so many bags (darn breast pump!). Thanks to Wes's support, I learned that when you present a united front and share the responsibility, tough conversations are only half as difficult and twice as effective. Which led me to my own milestone: the realization that talking to your children about work, like virtually all aspects of being a parent, requires time, energy, patience, and persistence. These techniques have not only helped me become better equipped to respond to Avery's queries about my job, but they've also made her feel more comfortable with the idea of my working for a living -- maybe a little too comfortable. This morning when I told her she couldn't wear her princess costume to preschool, she said, "It's time for YOU to go to work!"
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Parents magazine.