Are you asset rich but time poor, such that you have no presence at home anymore? Or, are you consumed with meeting increasing mortgage payments, but find less quality time for your kids and self?
Maybe you are over burdened by the demands of your job, which requires extra effort or hours to succeed? Perhaps you are climbing the corporate ladder, in high heels, but with a trace of baby vomit still on your jacket? You wonder whether you need more of a presence in the board room, or at home.
All this makes you guilty, such that you make up, with presents like treats or big holidays, to compensate. However, it is really about having a parenting presence, rather than providing presents.
Frequent, regular, quality time
The good news is that as a busy parent, with careful planning, compromise and balancing, you can maintain a significant parenting presence. The key is frequent, regular, quality time and having a real presence, where children really are a first priority, each day.
Regrettably, if you don’t have a significant, regular parenting presence, toddlers and children are more at risk of becoming insecure and seeking attention. Quality time is critical in bonding, building self esteem, developing attachment and overcoming too high needs for attention, approval or affection.
Children, who are undernourished for quality parental time, or suffering emotional starvation, often display excessive attention seeking behaviour. They are more likely to alternate between being detached and distant, to being over needy and easily distressed. Depending on age, emotionally undernourished children can be aggressive, self harmful or tend to throw more tantrums. Typically, they are more demanding and easily distressed. Children of absent parents have been shown more likely to be violent, to underachieve at school and have social difficulties. These warning signs need attention and correction.
A great start to finding a solution is asking a personal question about your presence at home. When you are facing retirement, will you wish you had spent more time at work, or more time with your children? Looking further back, are your childhood memories of a big toy, or just of everyday fun times, with your family?
What do kids really want?
Not surprisingly, when kids are surveyed, they desire the little things, like having fun with mum or dad, not a big trip or a giant present. What kids really want is for mum or dad to really be there for them – not just a present occasionally, but really to be there for them, as a real presence.
There is no very reliable and highly consistent evidence that kids in busy households suffer markedly, as against stay at home families. Each seemingly has their advantages. For example, stay at home families appear to be more secure and have higher self esteem. However, kids who attend long day care appear to be more independent and are likely to have better social skills. It all relies on balance and keeping a regular, frequent presence.
Before discussing ways to develop a better balance, a few warnings are pertinent. Many over busy parents feel guilty, thus they tend to cover their guilt by buying extra presents to compensate, such as treats, big presents and holidays. Similarly, some over busy parents are constantly in a rush, never having time during the week. They try to make up, with a big catch up weekend. However, kids soon work out that such behaviour actually tells them that they are only really important on weekends. Further, experience warns us that less than 15 minutes quality time daily increases risks of misbehaviour.
Achieving a balance
Having a real presence requires daily quality time. Not huge amounts, as suggested by some professionals, just genuine quality time, each day. It might just be 10 minutes, after breakfast, or 15 concentrated minutes, each night. The key is uninterrupted, highly regarded time, where kids are really the greatest presence in the room.
Kids want to be a priority in a busy household. However, busy parents can too easily get into a rush after picking kids up from day care, to get dinner on, homework done and off to bed. A critical ingredient is to slow down and give kids the first 10 minutes, as quality time, before the rush begins. First, start the night entering home with a real presence by everyone stopping and enjoying a cool together while discussing the day. Then, having paused first, get on with the rush, second.
When giving quality time, ensure it is uninterrupted. Turn off mobiles, don’t check e-mail messages and keep screens turned off, both TV and computers. It is also very important to listen attentively, with genuine regard. Try to avoid putting kids off or discouraging them, with zappers, such as, “…can’t you see I’m busy…” or “….later, later, just give me a minute…” Later never arrives. It is better to get kids involved, such as letting them help prepare dinner, or joining in washing the car, where your presence may be simply teaching valuable skills.
A good means to ensure this is to develop routines and structures and stick to them consistently. Systems and processes work and avoid chaos. Use a whiteboard or visual diary to list daily routines, as well as everyone’s roles, chores and involvement. Don’t forget to schedule in your presence, as quality time, such as talking together after dinner.
While we are on dinner, busy parents understandably rely more on picking up dinner or take-aways. This can be an effective strategy sometimes, as not needing to prepare food allows for quality chatter and a greater presence. However, having a presence involves being present at the dinner table. Dinner at the coffee table, or in front of the TV, really means that the TV has a greater presence than the family.
If TV has a presence in your home, you can maintain a parental presence by not using it as a constant baby-sitter while catching up on chores. Try being flexible, such as folding the washing, while sharing a favourite TV program. Dad can share watching TV on a small screen in the kitchen while chatting with kids. Turn off the big plasma that has too big a presence in the lounge room.
Developing home networks
Often busy parents feel they need to be self sufficient. They can almost be too busy to have time to ask for help. However, keeping a presence requires calling in the troops. Extended family can help in many ways, such as providing a quality presence, when parents have to be away from home. Many busy parents use networking skills every day in the office, but don’t rely on networking at home.
Networking with other parents, such as sharing drives, pick-ups and getting between sporting commitments, can allow more quality time. If finances allow, parents can have a greater presence for really important quality time, by farming out some duties to paid workers, such as paying cleaners or getting the ironing done. Similarly, a mid-week dinner at a local eatery, forces everyone to slow down, listen and share their presence with each other.
Finally, having a real presence, even if you are very busy, will reward everyone with the biggest present of all – genuine love and regard for all.