Feel like you’re a part-time parent? When you finally go to bed at night, do you lie awake feeling guilty, wondering if you did enough with your children and for your children? There’s now some relief for working parents bogged down by full-time corporate demands and hours spent away from home or tied to some laptop or mobile phone. A new study is supporting the quality of time parents spend with their children over the quantity of time. In fact, the study (to be published in April by the Journal of Marriage and Family) says the amount of time spent with children has nothing to do with how successful they’ll be. It’s the type of time that counts.
Children often grow up and say with disdain, “My mom was never around,” or “My dad was never around.” It’s a feeling of emotional absence no parent wants to be responsible for. I suggest busy parents make use of life's everyday moments with their children. Go grocery shopping and have your child pick out his favorite healthy snacks and teach him about the fresh ingredients for tonight’s dinner—how they’re planted, their color, their smell. Run errands together; go to the post office, the bank. Not every event in your child’s life has to be extraordinary. But they can be meaningful and memorable. When your child wakes up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, who does he cry out for? You. These are common events that matter and exemplify that you care and that you will always be there.
Understandably, you are more than a parent, and your life stretches beyond your children. You are a high-powered executive. You are a spin-class enthusiast. You have friends outside of play-dates. This is all OK. Do not feel like you have to stuff hours into your day for your child, but make the moments that you do have count. Spending hours and hours in the same room does not qualify as high-quality moments; it’s simply just time. The moments count when you engage and interact and build on the important connections with your children.
I always tell parents that parenting is the most difficult job that you will ever have where there are no mandated courses. It’s a stressful responsibility, but it does not have to consume you. While you are required to take care of your children, you also have to take care of yourself. Sleep. Exercise. Eat well. Growing up with stressed-out parents is a damaging experience for children. You cannot cut back on what is healthy for you so that you can spend more of your energy on your children. It’s counter-productive. Children don’t need to spend nine waking hours of their day with drained parents. What they need is mom and dad to be energized to share in the moments that will last for life.