When I was growing up in the 60’s, my dad worked outside the home and my mom stayed home. We came home for lunch every day and Mom was always there and she was always there after school. That was just the way it was and that was pretty much that way it was for virtually all my friends. In fact, if I remember correctly, I only had one friend whose mom worked outside the home. She went back to work when my friend was 12 years old.
Today things are very different. Our new reality is that in most families, both parents work outside the home, at least part time and many families are headed by only one parent who in most cases, is working outside the home. My 1960’s reality is now very much the exception.
What is the impact on the kids when they’re away from their parents for sometimes, ten hours a day? I’ve often had parents of young children tell me they only see their kids for one or two hours a day. The bulk of the time, their kids are in the care of someone else. They might be with a nanny in their own home, in a daycare center or with a relative. Bedtime often becomes a very challenging time because the kids want to drag it out for as long as possible and parents who are out working all day long will often indulge out of guilt. Bedtime can be challenging for parents who are at home all day but it can be even more difficult for working parents.
When both parents work outside the home, they will often confess to giving in to demands just because it’s easier. They’re too tired to fight or negotiate. As well, they often confess to buying more toys and extravagant experiences because they feel guilty for being away for so much of the day.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent, that is your job and it’s more than a full-time job. I don’t have to explain. If you have a job outside the home which is full-time, you have two full-time jobs and there is no break in between. You have to immediately change hats. Children are self-centered and “winding down” after a long day at work is out of the question. They want you the minute you step inside the door. There are also bills to pay, phone calls to return, and time needed to catch up with your partner if you live with the other parent. Multi-tasking takes on a whole new meaning.
This new reality makes it necessary to radically adjust the expectations of both ourselves and others. We’re not super human and if there was ever a time to prioritize, this is the time. I remember giving a workshop to a large group of working parents once and one parent gave us a snap shot of her day. It began at 6am and ended at 11pm. It was non-stop. We worked together to see how she might make things easier on herself and everyone agreed that her first priority should be to hire a cleaner to do her house work. Several people said it saved them hours of time and was worth every cent. Other people suggested things like making meals ahead of time to store in the freezer. We also talked about letting go of any need to be perfect. The key word was DELEGATE.
One of my suggestions is to limit the number of extra-curricular activities your children are enrolled in. It means even more time away from parents and is often conducive to lots of quarreling when it comes time to get ready and get out the door. Instead of enrolling your children in baseball when they’re young, opt instead to play ball with them in your own backyard. Instead of putting them in art classes, do art projects with them at home. When they reflect on their childhood they’ll appreciate the time you spent with them much more than what they learned from the organized activities.