1. Do you find yourself thinking about problems at work when Johnnie is complaining about his math teacher?
2. Are you worried about missing the train while Liz is dabbling at her food?
3. Are you checking your phone to see if the client got your message while playing monopoly with Tim and Jen?
4. Do you take the kids to McDonalds for supper and spend your time there checking emails?
5. Do you often miss your child’s bids for attention through crying, smiling or throwing things because you are absorbed in a You Tube video?
6. Is every minute of Mark and Lilly’s time filled with a conveyor belt of activities?
7. Are you on top of every aspect of Bruce and Will’s school and play life?
8. Do you complete homework for school aged kids or write papers for your high school or college aged child?
9. Do you rely on experts or friends to tell you how to parent your children?
10. Is parenting feeling more and more like another job, rather than a fun time to download and just focus on getting to know and enjoy your kids?
Quality Trumps Quantity any Time
Whether you are a working parent or a stay at home one, it is not enough to be physically with your children. The key to the relationship is the quality of the connection. You need to be physically present and open to experience family members. A distracted parent does not add to a child’s sense of self. It is the quality of time you spend with Lilly or Howard that affects his development, not the amount of time you spend with your son or daughter.
Counsellors can spend 15 to 30 minutes a week of being fully there with Ellie or Sid and teachers and parents begin to notice positive changes in their behaviour. Teachers who are there with kids, together exploring an idea or a problem, help the intellectual as well as social development of their students. Teachers who feed information in a disconnected manner create a culture of boredom and disconnection leading to disinterest, distraction and depression. When that kind of tediousness and detachment occurs at home, alcohol or drug use, eating disorders poor grades and acting out behaviours increase. It is not enough to get good grades and be an athlete, kids need to feel their parents’ presence whether Jay or Joe are successful or not. Sometimes problems are the only way to get parents scared enough to sit and talk with children. Squeaky wheels often do get the oil.
Secret to Quality Family Time
You don’t have to be trained as a counsellor or teacher to accomplish the same thing, you simply have to decide, in advance, how much time you reasonable have to assist with homework, play a game or have a meal together. Then be fully there for the time allotted: turn off cell phones, think about what is happening in that moment; if you are preoccupied with what happened earlier in the day, share that fact with your child. That alone increases your presence.
You Can’t Do It All
Avoid overextending and trying to do everything. Because you are human with limited time and resources, you need to decide how much time you have to spend with your child. Distracted time does not count. Spend less time but be fully there and have fun focusing on that moment. Avoid worrying about the future. This is “being present” time. Planning future strategies for improvement require thinking or discussing time, alone, or with your spouse. Perhaps when you are on the train, you can relax and do that problem solving. Don’t do it on Johnnie’s time. Every move you make will not destroy your child. Be human, let him know it is OK to make mistakes and you feel sad, that you cannot be there more often, but want him to share how that is for him and what, if anything, could make it feel better. Humans are pack animals who need to be together. Let Jake and Jenny feel your warm humanness during the time you have committed to be with them.
Be Fully There
Better to spend fifteen minutes fully there listening to Johnnie’s day or helping Sara with her homework, but let her feel you. Kids are very tuned in to when you leave them and go up to your head thinking. When driving, my husband often looks over at me and asks what I am thinking about and, invariably, I am deeply engaged in thinking about something unrelated to the car ride. He senses when I leave even though I am still physically in the car. Your kids sense it also but do not have the skills my husband has developed to let me know. Often, they feel the disconnect but think it is because they are not loveable, uninteresting, unworthy of attention or even bad. It affects their self-image. If you are making sandwiches for lunch, do it together, but be there completely, talking with him, sensing yourself and your child. Leave work for work and when at home be fully at home.
Accounting for All Possibilities
If you feel so guilty about being a working parent: you are so focused on your child’s admission to a particular college or you fear any unstructured time in your child’s life; you may be erring on the other side. Jan or Jack may lack the alone time they need to sense what is going on inside them and to learn what really gives them pleasure. During alone time with ourselves, we learn who we are, what we like and alternate ways of solving problems, no matter how small. If you are solving all of Jan and Jack’s problems, you are depriving them of a very important life skill.
Answers to Quiz:
Questions 1 – 5. Yes responses: You probably know by now that if you answered yes to questions 1 through 5, you need to focus on being more present in the time you allot to be with your children. Avoid being too busy to be fully with your kids. Less time but more focused time works. Overextended, competitive and guilt inspired busy time corrupts. Be discriminating about how you use family time. It will pay dividends. Print off the above discussion and practice it a little bit at a time. You will be amazed with the changes you’ll see in your family. Do share them with us in the comments area below. If you answered, “No,” congratulations, you’ve got it. Do share it with us. You are wise role models.
Questions 6 – 9. Yes responses indicate a tendency to helicoptering over your kids. Remember resilience is nurtured when children are given the support and structure they need to develop competency in responding to life’s challenges. If you don’t allow them the chance to experience setbacks and disappointments, you are depriving them of the opportunity to stretch their internal muscles and feel the delight of personal accomplishment. This is how self confidence develops. Allow them unstructured alone time. They will learn a lot. Don’t always listen to the experts, trust your own gut and follow it. Your children live in your family, not in the expert’s family. Your values may be influenced by information but you need to sift it through your family’s values.
Remember there are many wonderful nursery schools, schools and colleges; the important issue is the fit between the child and the school, not the popularity of the school. Education is not a popularity contest. It is an opportunity to move forward from the darkness to light according to the Latin root of the word, educare. Remember the projections for your kids are that the job market may not be as favourable as it was in your day, so definitely, give them the opportunity to experience disappointments and unfair behaviour now while you are still there to support them.
Reality is imperfect. The secret of parenting is to nurture strong, resilient children who learn to roll with the punches life provides. With parenting, if you do a reasonably good job, you are out of a job, since they learn to do it themselves. You provided a little touch of reality, and the skills needed for the 21st century, by living thru a two career family in which you sought to write your own rules rather than accept dated rules from the fifties. They will have the strength, resilience and flexibility demanded by imperfect reality while becoming strong and resilient as a result.
Question 10. A Yes answer means: You need a break, a night out with your husband; ask your parents, sitter or a friend to babysit a few times a month but get some time to recharge your batteries. You can’t do it all and still get seven hours sleep a night. And sleep is a must, seven or even eight hours preferred. Take some time, sit down and make a circle, in it put amount of 24 hour day allotted to work and travel; hours spent with kids; spouse time; sleep and self care, exercise, spiritual work; time spent in housework/shopping/cooking; fun time and recreation. See if there is some balance. If not have the intention to get more balance, that alone will make a difference. See if you can reduce the amount of time you spend on challenging tasks but really focus on them, wheter at home or in the office. Many folks worry about what is going on at home while in the office, making them less efficient and think about the office while at home. Both tasks are done far less efficiently as a result. Use time constructively by being fully present to whatever you are doing. You are human, I know that but have the intent.
I promise changes if you spend one half hour a day with your child or spouse, but are fully there, and not on devices or thinking about work, and you also take some guilt-free time for yourself. You will begin to enjoy watching your children evolve and they will flourish as they connect with you. Make shopping, cooking or housework a game. They might get to like it. House corners, kitchens and miniature shopping corners are the stuff of nursery schools. Use cooking and housekeeping chores as opportunities to teach decision making and problem solving as well as good chances to connect with your children, far more productive then letting them watch cartoons. That is called progressive life education. Don’t forget to enjoy and really be there fully present and fun to be with.
If you want to connect with other working parents who are trying to get it right, join us on a webinar series with Dr Mary Giuffra, marriage and family therapist who has spent the past 35 years coaching two career families, a former labor and delivery nurse and child development specialist who was in the trenches with you. Mary and her husband, Bob, raised four successful children as she taught full time at New York University and her husband practiced as a litigator. Their four adult children are now married parents and partners in two career families.
You will have an opportunity to ask questions with other parents and spouses who are going through exactly what you are experiencing. It will be informative, enriching, fun and provide just the support you need to accomplish well what has rarely been done in our lifetime.