It is a dilemma most working parents face: How do you fulfill your job commitments without cheating your children? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 79 percent of mothers with school age children work; and of these mothers, over 65 percent have children age six or younger. A study by the National Sleep Foundation reports that the average American works a 46-hour week; more surprisingly, 38 percent of these respondents worked more than 50 hours per week. Spending so much time at work can make you feel out of touch with your children. The feeling is compounded if you travel for business as well.
Instead of worrying, use the time you have to reconnect in these simple, yet meaningful ways. Strong connections can be made when you are at the office, out of town, or simply crunched for time at home. I discovered in the years of research for my book, Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, that small gestures, rituals or spur-of-the-moment adventures bring parents and children closer in hectic and pressured times.
When You Travel
It seems like an unrealistic challenge-making your child feel your presence when you are away from home, but little things like hearing your voice or being allowed to use your belongings serve as reminders that you are not too far. Your child will miss you less or have less negative feelings about your traveling if you put some of these connecting gestures to work:
- Place a framed picture of you or the two of you on his dresser or night table.
- Call more often then you think you should.
- When calling to say goodnight, explain to your child what you would do if you were tucking him into bed.
- Read bedtime stories into an audio (or video) tape and leave the book at home so your child can follow along as he listens to your voice.
- Now and then allow your child to sleep in your bed as an extra privilege when you are gone.
- Make sure you tell your child that you feel sad that you are away from home so much.
- While you are out of town, lend your child something-a pen, hat, gloves, radio-that you use frequently. Give him one of your t-shirts to sleep in.
- Send postcards from wherever you travel. Make sure to explain the city along with a special landmark or historical sight- even mention a funny incident so your child feels a part of your trip.
- Bring home something to give to your child. Even a free pad of paper, pen, or shampoo from a hotel room that may seem meaningless to you, often becomes a child's prized possession.
- When you finally arrive home, plan a simple celebration in honor of your return: a favorite meal, treat, or activity to do together.
Social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D. teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and is the author of thirteen books, including the popular Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren, Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only, and most recently Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and available for workshops on parenting and family relations issues.