Let's face it. In the old battle between Quality Time vs. Quantity Time, ask any kid and he will say that he wants both. But where does that leave us today? More families than ever have two parents being paid for work that takes them away from the family resulting in outsiders spending as many or more hours with the child than the parent. How is a parent to be the parent he wants to be in this situation? There is no easy answer, but below are some parenting choices that can help:
1. Take the time to be on the same parenting page as your partner. When families are stressed and there is very little flexibility, it is more important than ever that parents have taken the time to articulate their key values and priorities. Clearly, with less available time, something is going to have to be left out. It will help if parents are at least confident that they are fostering the lessons they think are most essential.
2. Let clear routines move your time together along smoothly. Parents who feel they are not getting enough time with their kids are sometimes over indulgent to make up for it. As a short cut to establishing closeness, they let the child make all the decisions about what the family is going to eat, watch, when they'll go to bed, etc. That might buy short-term good will, but it never works in the long run. Inevitably parents' patience runs out and there are meltdowns when the parents now tries to insist the child go a certain direction. With clear routines--including routines for fun-, silly- and down-time--children know what to expect. They don't get to the edge of feeling out of control and they don't feel the need to fight their parent. Life unfolds in a regular rhythm.
3. Be deliberate in creating traditions or habits that will bring you together as a family. I know a family with four boys that has a routine before they go out the door. Mom or Dad stands at the door and does roll call! Each boy shouts HERE energetically. Then the parent goes down the list of what is needed for that outing (Gone potty? homework? lunch?) and after each inquiry each boy replies in best military fashion CHECK! I have seen this rountine in action, and the boys love it. It makes them feel like a troupe ready to go on a mission all without feeling nagged and without the drama of showing up at school without your homework, your lunch, etc.
4. Figure out what are the key pieces you need in your day/week to keep your sanity. I used to race from my classroom at my school to my daughter's after school care. I was going on the theory that it was better to have me nearby--say, while correcting papers at the kitchen table--than it was to give her my undivided attention. This didn't work. I was harried and distracted when I first got to her and once we got home that stack of papers was always pulling me away from her. She finally had the wisdom to tell me to do my correcting at school and then LEAVE the papers there. When I went to pick her up--even if it was a couple hours later than I would have before--I was 100% hers.
5. Be willing to reevaluate your work/life balance every six months or so. Here's my final tip. Most children would be happy with you standing at the ready 24/7: Most jobs could easily fill our every waking moment. Therefore, balance is something we reach for: It is not something we get and then keep with no attention to it. The key is to remain open to change. The sitter who was right for your infant, might not have the energy to keep up with your toddler. You might choose to work fewer hours for a while so that you can join the co-op preschool down the street. The school-aged child who has been sailing along might get the teacher from hell this year requiring you to go into work at dawn so you can be there to pick her up at the end of the day. Maybe you have been a stay-at-home parent and that has felt pretty good, but over time your longing for meaningful work in your field is making you short tempered and impatient. In that case, it might be healthier for your children to see less of you but to have a thriving, full-filled parent when you get home. Only you can know what is best for you and your family. There is no magic formula other than to keep checking in with yourself and what is really most important to you. Working with a coach will help get you that clarity.