By Susan Newman, Ph.D.
It is a dilemma most working parents face: How do you fulfill your job commitments without cheating your children? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 79 % of mothers with school age children work; and of these mothers, over 65% have children age six or younger. A study by the National Sleep Foundation reports that the average American works a 46-hour week; more surprisingly, 38% of these respondents worked more than 50 hours per week! Spending so much time at work can make you feel out of touch with your children. Even worse, the feeling is compounded if you travel for business as well.
Instead of worrying, use the time you have to reconnect in these simple, yet meaningful ways. Strong connections can be made when you are at the office, out of town, or simply crunched for time at home. I discovered in the years of research for my book, Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, that small gestures, rituals or spur-of-the-moment adventures bring parents and children closer in hectic and pressured times.
When You Travel
It seems like an unrealistic challenge—making your child feel your presence when you are away from home, but little things like hearing your voice or being allowed to use your belongings serve as reminders that you are not too far. Your child will miss you less or have less negative feelings about your traveling if you put some of these connecting gestures to work:
1. Place a framed picture of you or the two of you on his dresser or night table.
2. Call more often then you think you should.
3. When calling to say goodnight, explain to your child what you would do if you were tucking him into bed.
4. Read bedtime stories into an audio (or video) tape and leave the book at home so your child can follow along as he listens to your voice.
5. Now and then allow your child to sleep in your bed as an extra privilege when you are gone.
6. Make sure you tell your child that you feel sad that you are away from home so much.
7. While you are out of town, lend your child something-a pen, hat, gloves, radio-that you use frequently. Give him one of your t-shirts to sleep in.
8. Send postcards from wherever you travel. Make sure to explain the city along with a special landmark or historical sight- even mention a funny incident so your child feels a part of your trip.
9. Bring home something to give to your child. Even a free pad of paper, pen, or shampoo from a hotel room that may seem meaningless to you, often becomes a child's prized possession.
10.When you finally arrive home, plan a simple celebration in honor of your return: a favorite meal, treat, or activity to do together.
When You Work Long Hours
You may not be states or countries away, but an extended workday also requires thoughtfulness. Use available time to the fullest. A meal, a game or one-on-one conversation can help your child deal with your absences. To compensate for your long day, try:
11. Before you rush off to work, eat breakfast with your child. During this time you can make sure he has all of the necessary things for the day. If you are together at breakfast, your absence at dinner may be better tolerated.
12. Whenever you can, arrive home half an hour or so earlier than usual to play outside before dark with your child.
13. Be sure your family eats together at least twice a week-or more.
14. Select a game and play it regularly; when appropriate keep an ongoing score. For younger children promise a game of Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land; for older children Monopoly, basketball or Scrabble. Leave game boards or puzzles set up for the next round or to add puzzle pieces before or after dinner.
15. Now and then if you can, go into the office late so you can take your child to school.
16. Do not miss back-to-school night. If you go to work before your child is up, leave a note telling him how much you enjoyed visiting his classroom.
17. When your child least expects it, take him to the store and buy something he's been longing to own. 18. Use chauffeuring time wisely: Talk with your child instead of listening to the radio.
19. Cook something together at least once a month-pancakes, cookies, muffins-recipes that call for simple preparation so your children can help.
20. Remember that you don't always have to be doing something with your children. Your just being home and in the same room is often enough.
Some of these ideas may seem obvious—others will be new to your family. Select the ones that work for you and your family. Although you are trying to please your children who see less of you than you would like, these suggestions will make your life less stressful and reduce some of the guilt you may have. For the long haul, it is the little things that get etched into children's minds and are long remembered.
For more ideas on building bonds with your children, see Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.
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