Dear Dr. Jill:
My husband and I both work and sometimes it feels like our children are raising themselves! We need both of our jobs to meet our budget. We also enjoy our work and find it to be very meaningful. What can we do to be more involved and connected with our kids?
Welcome to family life in the new millennium! Balancing work and family has always taken love, creativity and stamina. Throughout history, parents have worked and had to do their parenting AROUND their work. Dad didn’t delay harvesting the wheat because Junior had a spelling test the next day. Mom baked today’s bread even when she had a sick child to tend. Traditionally, the ability to devote one’s self full time to parenting has been a luxury most parents couldn’t afford. The great mid-century post-war prosperity allowed many (but not most) families this luxury. Today, many working parents experience considerable guilt because their children are deprived of the idealized family life of the 1950’s. The good news is that you can be involved and connected with your kids by combining both “quality” time and “quantity” time as your situation permits. Here are some ideas:
1. Make family a priority. Schedule consistent weekend time as a family. Family vacations and regular family activities will enhance family connection. Reconsider your volunteer work and civic contributions. Would it be best to spend more time with your kids now and more time on these other important pursuits later? Plan time with extended family. Keep family pictures around where kids can see them.
2. Focus less on individual activities and more on family activities. Minimize separate after school sports, clubs and activities. Have everyone take an art class this summer and try basketball together next fall.
3. Talk to your kids about your work. Make sure they know what you do. Share what is meaningful about your career with your family. Take your children to your office. Have them sit in your chair. Show them their pictures on your desk or their artwork on you bulletin board.
4. Enjoy meals together. Plan at least 3 leisurely meals together per week. TURN OFF THE TV! Make conversation and listen to each other.
5. Watch movies, read books (aloud!) and play games that celebrate family and encourage interaction.
6. Develop family rituals and traditions.
7. Become the family your children’s friends want to hang out with.
8. Involve your children in caring for their own home and family. Give them chores that can be done along with other family members (such as weeding, washing dishes, cooking) rather than solitary activities like taking out the trash.. In the past, shared chores were an important part of parent-child interaction, as well as the only way to get things done before modern conveniences.
9. Promote a family friendly workplace. If you are in a management position, allow your employees the flexibility to attend school functions, prepare for important holidays, vacation during school breaks, and work at home when necessary. Remind each other that you work to live, not live to work. No one uses their last breath to wish they had worked more. Vote for politicians who promote life balance and family rights.