Working Parents: Expert Tips to Maximise Quality Time with Children
For many working parents, it can feel as if there’s never enough time to spend with their child(ren). The pressure to make that time 100% fun and enjoyable can lead to stress and conflict when family time doesn’t go as planned – which often results in even more parental guilt!
Is it possible to break the cycle of parental guilt without necessarily scaling back at work? Research suggests it is. The secret? Focusing on the quality, rather than the quantity of time, spent with children.
A renowned study by University of Toronto sociologist Melissa Milkie found that the amount of time children aged 3 to 11 spent with their mothers had no measurable impact on their emotional wellbeing, behaviour, or academic success. Another British study found that children seem to have fewer behavioural problems in school if their dads enjoy parenting, a more important factor than the actual amount of time a father and child spend together.
This is reassuring news for time-poor parents. But what counts as quality time? And how exactly can you make the time spent with children more meaningful?
Here are my 5 top tips as a parental coach at Moments that Matter. They’re part of our “Quality over Quantity” corporate seminar, designed for parents working in fast-paced corporate environments.
1. Seize the micro-moments
Spending quality time with children doesn’t have to mean structured, scheduled activities or surprise visits to a theme park. Seeing the everyday moments you’re already spending together as micro-opportunities to connect is a liberating first step. Asking them about their day during meal times, playing “I spy with my little eye” while commuting, or being extra silly while getting ready together can turn mundane moments into a bonding experience. Here are some conversation starters you can try with young children and teenagers.
2. Be present and engaged
Connection requires attention. It may not be possible to be fully present and engaged the entire time you’re around your child(ren), but can you set apart blocks of time where you can guarantee your undivided attention? Put away your phone and any other distractions and let them know you’re fully theirs for X amount of time (as little as 10 minutes can be enough!). Set a clear end in advance to avoid disappointment – for instance, until you finish the game or until the timer rings and you have to go back to work. Aside from fostering a deeper connection, you’ll help build up their confidence by showing them you value your time with them enough to put other priorities on hold.
3. Establish routines and boundaries
Routines and consistency give children a sense of safety, stability and predictability – all of which help to prevent resistance and stressful parenting moments! If planning out every weekday and weekend doesn’t quite fit your family schedule or parenting style, try establishing a few non-negotiable mini-routines, such as reading a book before bedtime or family game night on Sunday night. Sticking to these family routines consistently may involve setting and communicating your boundaries at work too!
4. Don’t ditch the discipline
Quality time with children doesn’t have to mean limitless fun. A common coping strategy for parents who feel guilty for spending little time with their children, is to compensate for it by being overly permissive. Though it’s understandable to not want to ruin your precious few moments together with a meltdown, remember that reasonable rules are a good thing for children. They give them a sense of security and help them develop self-control.
Find ways to be firm and loving when following through with boundaries, for instance by validating their big emotions instead of dismissing them: “I know it’s hard to turn the TV off right now” instead of “Oh come on, you’ve watched enough”. Teachable moments count as meaningful quality time, too!
5. Prioritise quality time with yourself, too
The better you’re taking care of your own wellbeing, the more likely you are to show up as a present, patient and engaged parent. And parenting aside, you as an individual deserve to feel like the best version of yourself as often as possible. So, when planning your tight schedule for the week ahead, remember to factor in some time to do what recharges your energy bank. Even if it means sacrificing some precious time with your children, it might make the time you do spend with them that much more meaningful.
Next time you catch yourself feeling guilty for the time you’re not spending with your child(ren), try focusing on what you can control: small, achievable ways to turn the time you already spend with them into meaningful quality time. Whether that’s asking more questions about your child(ren)’s life, introducing “phone free” times/zones, or coming up with a new weekly ritual – you know better than anyone where the low-hanging fruits are for your family!