“I work long hours and when I get home, I don’t have the energy to play with my kids!” This is a very common rant I hear from many working women I encounter in my Counselling Clinic. The same holds good for men too. And, along with this statement comes a list of unmanageable behaviour issues they face with their children at home. So, how do you do the balancing act between being a professional and a parent? Every single Google search or Gyan from various professionals maintains that parents spending quality time with their child will go a long way in managing problems in parenting. So back to my opening line, “I don’t have energy to play with my kids...How do I ensure quality time for my child?”
Spending quality time with children
Let us now try and understand what this ‘quality time’ entails. It is not possible for every working parent out there to have regular play dates and organise fishing or camping trips with his or her children. Even if they do but are focussed on their own chores or errands during the entirety of that time, they are not giving their children essentially any quality time. Therefore, ‘Quality Time’, in essence is a time where a parent is present with the child. This includes giving whole-hearted attention to children by listening and responding to them while the phones are kept a metre away. Also, cracking silly jokes and empathising with their classroom quarrels will help children feel the emotional presence of their parent. This emotional presence will foster positive behaviour in children.
Establishing the rhythm of parenting
Just like the simple act of breathing, where a rhythm of breathing-in and breathing-out is unconsciously established, a rhythm has to be established in parenting too. From the moment, a parent meets the school-going child in the evening, to the time they hit the bed, they strive on establishing an unconscious rhythm where there are alternating patterns of inhaling (breathing in) and exhaling (breathing out).
- Breathing in: During the period of inhaling, which can be as short as 45 minutes, the parent focusses on inward activities with the child like helping her with an art-work, offering homework help, or talking to her about school and friends. In this phase, it is very important for parents to give their complete attention to the child and not focus on reading a newspaper or looking at a mobile phone. Having a snack or tea, while chit-chatting about the day is also an excellent breathing-in activity that helps the child absorb the complete undivided attention from her parent.
- Breathing out: Next comes the exhalation or breathing-out phase, where the parent and child may do their own thing. Parents can go out or attend meetings while the child plays with his friends under an adult’s supervision. Parents can even attend to domestic chores, while the child either joins in or has a different schedule. It is important to understand that it is okay for a child to feel bored. Boredom with very limited toys and the right encouragement from parents will foster imagination and creativity in children. They may invent games, make do with household articles as toys, enact role-plays, paint, read or write a story. They may also do chores at home like gardening or car-washing, which will help them develop a healthy sense of self-efficacy and teach them to value hard work. This breathing out period can be anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours. You can have at least two to three alternating rhythms in a day.
- Culmination: The rhythm must end with a regular bedtime ritual where the parent connects with the child at a deep-emotional level. I have come across parents who say they must read at least ten stories before their children nod off. What children love the most is to hear their parents speak about themselves. Simple recollection of childhood events and memories could serve as an excellent way to connect with the child than best-seller stories.
Establishing such a rhythm in parenting will help maintain a good work-life balance as well as strengthen the bond between parents and children. It is of the utmost importance to note that this should be a seamless rhythm and not a rigid pattern of alternating schedules.
Remember, parenting is an instinct. It is an emotional connection. It is the act of forming the most-unbreakable bond, which cannot be established by prescribing, preaching or outsourcing. It can only be established by sheer love and commitment. So, go on and enjoy the rhythm of parenting!
The author is a psychologist, public speaker and special needs consultant.
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