In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge for working parents to build in as much quality time with children as you would like. I was a working parent, and I know how difficult it can be to juggle three lives simultaneously – home, work, and school – never mind the guilt that goes along with just not being there. Family time together is precious: we know that a well-bonded child does better at many things, including processing information, problem-solving and sticking with a problem longer, as well as experiencing cognitive, language and social development benefits.
So how can working parents compensate for time away? Here are a few things you can do to make the most of your family time together.
Invest in Family Meetings
Sit down as a family in a neutral space and have an empathic family meeting where the entire family, including the children, brainstorms on how to create ways to participate in the family so that the family system works and is on a positive course. This requires authenticity from all members involved, including mom and dad. This family meeting works for all family structures, including the single parent. It is based on the premise that each member gets an established time to speak and an established time to listen, which is the best way to communicate.
Moreover, each party is invested in the outcome, has a role in creating the rewards and consequences for appropriate behavior in this family model and, therefore, learns positive ways to solve family problems. Since all members of a family are a part of the whole, it is important to reinforce their membership by being both respectful and mutual.
Let go of perfection and focus on what’s important
Give up on being perfect and keeping a perfect house. Relationships are much more important and much more flexible than these goals. If you make mistakes and are easier on yourself, you open up a space for others to be more human and misstep every once and a while. This will allow you to relax and truly enjoy your family time.
Build structure into your family’s day
It is important to give yourself – and your child – the best chance for the least stressful day so that you can make the most of your time together as a family.
First, set an alarm clock, allowing you time to wake up both yourself and your family. Make sure that everyone has enough time for personal hygiene, breakfast, and family time to chat a little before getting to school and work on time.
Spend time with your child the night before laying out her clothes for the next day. Give her a few options from which she can choose. Allowing your child to choose from options you have already pre-selected as acceptable helps build confidence and competence. This is also a great opportunity to connect with her and talk about her day.
Be a presence even when you can’t be present.
Whenever possible, be present for as many school-related and extracurricular activities as possible. Children need you be invested in them, and you need to know what is going on in their lives — school and social. Scrutiny is not spying. Parents are entitled to parent, and they need to know where their children are, when, and with whom. But this must be done in a respectful way, by maintaining healthy boundaries between you and your children.
For times you can’t be physically present, find a way to still be there and create ways to bond, with your children. For example: record bedtime stories on audio tapes, and even being a little creative in making up bedtime stories by using your child’s name as a character in a tape recorded story.
Work Together to Reduce Stress
Learn how to relax and teach your child how to relax. It is simple! Simple exercises take the edge off and allow you to have more enjoyable, quality time together. The key is to have a regular time to do it.
• Meditate with your child using progressive relaxation techniques. This can be a life long practice, to both reduce stress, and by so doing, enhance learning.
• Ask for help when needed. Kids love to chip in when asked. Learn to delegate. No one can do everything all of the time.
• Give each child private, one-on-one time with you whenever possible.
• Don’t burden your child with your problems — let them have their childhood. If you need help, seek professional help and go to a counselor.
Finally, you and your child are on a journey together — honor the process. Recognize that while no family situation may be perfect, as working parents, you always have the power to create the best possible scenario for you and your children. Remember as you are following these tips, that the only thing you really have to do is meet your child’s needs, nurture them, and be there by being reliable.