In our house the juggle of work/life balance is a tough one, a ‘work in progress’. My husband has a demanding job which means a lot of hours spent away from home.
Because of this we have always had to work hard to ensure that our kids feel connected to their Dad, that he feels connected to them and equally that they continue to see us as a team despite having much more face time with me.
This has always been a challenge and one that has changed as the kids’ have gotten older.
We by no means have the secret bullet that allows any parent to be ‘present’ without actually being present, but we have muddled over this, reflected, argued, laughed, cried, deliberated and more… on our journey, these are the things that we do to ensure our kids feel connected to both their parents.
1. Parents talk
From a very young age we have told our kids that at night, Mummy and Daddy talk. We say hello, ask about each other’s day and fill the other in on what has happened, both the positives and the negatives.
Now this ‘talk’ in reality does not happen every night- some nights I will already be asleep or one or both of us are just too tired for a chat.
BUT what is important is that our children believe that Mummy and Daddy talk about everything. The reason this has come to be so important in our house is that it means the kids see us as a team. And as a team we share both the highs and lows of the day-to-day.
This means that even though Dad might not, for example, be at a preschool end of term function, my daughter knows that he will hear about it from me and then ask her to tell him about it the next morning too.
Any time I have had cause to stop and tell my daughter about a situation that made me really proud of her, she often asks ‘will you tell Daddy too?’ because she loves the idea that he too will share in this proud moment, celebrating an achievement or kind act on her part.
Equally should we have a trying day, then my daughter knows that Daddy will also know about this and is therefore, quite receptive to the occasional quiet word with Daddy the following morning about why that might not have been the right choice or the appropriate way to behave etc.
In our kids minds we are, therefore, always on ‘the same page’.
2. No contradictions
I think this is probably a really common one in most homes should one parent spend more face-to-face time with the kids than the other.
Rules get bent a little and/or more trust is bestowed on children as they mature and one parent may not yet be aware of this. In our house this scenario inevitably ends with an ear splitting scream of ‘But Mummy lets me!!!!!!’
At these times I try never to blatantly contradict what has already been said as this would be demeaning for my husband and his authority as parent. But equally I cannot leave it because this would seem very unjust to my kids and exacerbate the feeling for them that it is ‘one rule with Mum and another with Dad’.
A good example of this is climbing into the car seat themselves from the front seat.
I’m not sure how this habit started but it wasn’t just ‘sure go for it’ from the first day they attempted. But as the parent at home you have to pick your battles too, so inevitably there are minor behaviours that are let through to the keeper.
When the kids first tried to do this on Dad’s watch a total melt down ensued. Because they were told ‘no’ and fair enough as they used to be too young to do this without injury.
In this scenario I had to intervene and quietly explained to our eldest that Daddy doesn’t know you can do that because he hasn’t seen you do it safely. He doesn’t know that I let you and is saying ‘no’ because he is worried you will hurt yourself.
So instead of getting really upset, try saying to Dad calmly that Mum lets me because she has watched me do it safely and now lets me do it myself. Ask him if he can watch you do it safely and then maybe let you do it yourself.
My husband is well versed in this scenario as it happens often. He knows that this is the compromise so that neither party loses out. We have an unspoken ‘team’ agreement in these scenarios.
The kids feel heard and safe that their boundaries have not been shifted and equally the goal posts aren’t moved on Dad, he isn’t contradicted in his role as Dad, but validated in the eyes of the kids.
The end result being, we are still seen, by our kids, as a TEAM.
3. Technology is a friend
In our house face time is more common than voice calls. The reason for this is that I believe it is important for kids to be able to picture where Daddy is, rather than just a feeling that he isn’t at home.
And so we call on face time, almost every night. My husband knows the time frame and that he’ll need to step out of whatever meeting to say a brief hello and ‘connect’ with the kids.
We have had office tours, chats with Dad’s colleagues and even played funny games over face time before we snuggle down for a story. The kids love it and Dad does too.
We also often use this time to share with Dad something important from the day, so he has the opportunity to share in the excitement or proud parenting moment and that the kids get to share it with him.
These moments do not replace the face-to-face connection time but are a compromise and a good sight better than the kids feeling like only Mum knows the ups and downs of the day.
Should there be something that either child is really proud of and we have shared it with Dad over face time, my husband always makes a concerted effort to acknowledge it with the kids when he next sees them. Which is special for him but also for the kids as they get to feel that validation and proud moment and share it with their Dad face-to-face.
4. Imagination can help build connection
Not being able to give Dad a physical cuddle, kiss or be tucked in by him has been a hard obstacle for us at different times over the past five years. We now play a game called ‘sending our love’, which just naturally evolved over time with our eldest. When Dad is on face time we send him kisses, cuddles etc and they travel…
Down the corridor, out the door, down the street, round the corner, over the bridge, along the road, over the next bridge, down another street, stop at Daddy’s building, into the front door, up the lift, around the corner, around Dad’s desk and BAM onto his cheek!
Daddy plays along by play-acting the kiss or cuddle banging into him. The kids love it and even send them at times when we are not on face time, asking Dad the following morning if he got them, which he is very good at playing along and extrapolating.
Again, this doesn’t replace the physical connection of a kiss or a cuddle but it is a level of connection that is far better than none at all.
5. Weekend time = connection time
On the weekends, we try to block out some time that is just for the kids and Dad. I head out, so that the kids can have some uninterrupted child-lead play time to connect with Dad.
This has become a really important part of our weekends and the kids love it too.
6. Discussions are for night time
I think this is probably also a really common occurrence in most households… as parents you do not always agree with each other when it comes to parenting kids. This is perfectly normal.
BUT we have a firm and unspoken rule in our house that any disagreement is voiced when the kids are in bed.
We have this rule for 2x reasons.
1. It enforces for the kids that Mum and Dad are a team and work together. We always have each others back.
2. It encourages a level of reflection and mindfulness that can only be beneficial to how we raise our kids. I do not believe that any parent gets it right all the time. But I do believe that what makes for good parenting is reflecting on your interactions with your kids, considering what you might do again and what you would do differently and then striving to do better the next day. The act of discussing the day with another adult and explaining your reasoning naturally encourages this reflection. It also allows you to find a common ground with each other so that the kids continue to see you as a true team.
3. I do not believe that parents should discuss their kids in front of them unless you are intentionally involving them in the discussion. Kids are far more intuitive than they are given credit for. Because of this I think it is important that should parents need to vent (which we all need to do at times), then this should happen away from little ears. Kids who listen in on their parents discussing their behaviour with someone else are often more inclined to play up to this reaction and/or misinterpret a parent’s frustration and therefore feel judgement over their behaviour. Research has told us this is detrimental to a kid’s sense of self.
No child is intrinsically naughty. A certain behaviour may be undesirable/inappropriate but not the child themselves. As adults we can forget this when we are venting and little ears are listening.
None of the above that we implement in our house replaces having both parents always physically present. But this is not a realistic reality in many households - some kids only have one parent raising them, others have grandparents, some have both at home for equal amounts of time and some like us have one more-at-home. There is no right or wrong scenario here, you simply work with what life has thrown you.
For us, this is our reality for the time being. As the kids grow up this dynamic and how we approach it will change.
What is important is that as parents we reflect on how our current set-up affects our kids and work to support them in having strong connections with family in whatever combination that may be. We know that developing these connections is how we help raise independent, confident and respectful little humans.
Your Hands-On Helper,