At a seminar I attended years ago when I was a single woman, a speaker told a story to buttress the point she was making about work-life balance that stayed with me.
A little girl whose mother had just started a demanding job was having a hard time adjusting. Before she woke up in the morning, her mum was gone, and she was usually in bed by the time her mum returned. One day, she left a note for her mother before going to bed. It read simply, “Mummy, long time o.”
The woman resigned that month, and who can blame her? Things are even more challenging in homes where both parents work and kids come home to caregivers with whom they spend most of their waking hours. What can working parents do to raise healthy, well-adjusted children?
1. Take care of your marriage: Nurturing a solid marriage is one of the best things you can do for your child. It gives children a sense of security knowing their parents are in a healthy, loving relationship. This is also why raising children in a dysfunctional marriage carry the risk of them learning the wrong things; it’s better to remove yourself and your children from a toxic environment. As a working couple you may not be able to spend much time with your child, but by loving your spouse you are also contributing to your children’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
2. Guard against guilt: We’re only human, and it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to placate our children with material things and money, to make up for the long hours spent at work. Guilt over not being present enough can also make parents reluctant to discipline their children, allowing them to grow up spoiled and entitled. Be on your guard against it. Good parenting requires firmness.
3. Don’t take your stress out on them: Commuting to and from work, added to the demands of the job itself, often leaves parents exhausted and cranky. As a result, many parents lash out at their children in the name of discipline. While noticing children when they irritate you is easier, noticing them when they do good things will pay off in the long run because attention reinforces the behaviour. Feed the positive and starve the negative.
4. Consider making career changes: The double income is often much needed, but the consequences of poor parenting are dire. It is not unusual for parents to take career decisions with their children in mind. For instance, personal finance expert Nimi Akinkugbe took a pay cut when her children were small in order to be able to close by 12 noon every day. Not everyone can do that obviously, but many couples have found that it made a huge difference when one parent took a less time-consuming job, started a business that gave them control of their time, or became a stay-at-home parent.
5. Make time for your child: It is said that children spell love, not L-O-V-E but T-I-M-E. It is true; the cornerstone of good parenting is time. There is simply no substitute for spending actual physical time with your child daily playing, cuddling, talking and very importantly, listening to them. In big cities with traffic challenges and residential areas far away from business districts, this is easily the most difficult part of parenting. However, both parents can work out an arrangement where the children spend time with at least ONE parent daily.
It may take a while for you to work out an arrangement that is sustainable, so make sure you have adequate childcare in place, and supervise them. Even when you have caregivers at home, calling and having others help check on the children and the domestic staff goes a long way in keeping the caregivers on their toes, and letting your children know that while you can’t be there, you do care.
Remember to treat their caregivers properly too. Here’s how to keep good domestic help.