by Dr. Jane Nelsen
Do you ever wonder, "Will my children suffer because they have a working parent? Will they be deprived?" The answer: That depends on what you believe and what you do.
Many happy, successful people have been raised by working parents. It is not the circumstance of life, but how we perceive those circumstances and what we do that has the greatest impact. Each person decides whether challenges will be stumbling blocks or stepping-stones to joy and success in life. Understanding this does not negate the struggles and concerns of working parents, but it can offer hope and a basis for dealing with the struggles in ways that benefit rather than harm children.
Let's begin with your beliefs. It is a myth that children who have a working parent are automatically more deprived than children who have a stay-at-home parent. Many stay-at-home parents are just as busy as you are. However, children usually adopt the attitudes of their parents—or learn to manipulate in areas of weakness. If you are feeling guilty and fearful that your children will be deprived, chances are they will feel deprived. They may develop a victim mentality, or they may play on your guilt for special privileges. On the other hand, if you have an optimistic, courageous attitude, your children will be influenced and will learn from you.
Give up the belief that you have to make it up to your child for being a working parent. Present your circumstances with a positive attitude: "This is how it is, and we are going to benefit from how it is."
7 Ways to Help Your Child Feel Special
The greatest gift you can give your children is to have a hopeful outlook on life no matter what your circumstances—and all circumstances, no matter how difficult, offer opportunities to learn and grow. Focus on how you can make the best of your present opportunities as a working parent to help your children feel special. Following are seven possibilities.
1.) Take time for hugs
No matter how busy you are, there is always time for a three-second hug. That is a substantial hug that can lift spirits and change attitudes—yours and your child's. Sometimes a hug can be the most effective method to stop misbehavior. Try it the next time you are feeling frazzled or your child is whining and see for yourself. Give hugs in the morning, right after work, several during the evening, a longer one just before bed. You will both feel very special.
2.) Hold weekly family meetings
Twenty to thirty minutes a week is a small investment of time with huge payoffs. Children feel very special when they are listened to, taken seriously and have their thoughts and ideas validated. That is the immediate payoff. The near future payoff is that you can solve many daily hassles during a family meeting. Your kids can help you create morning and bedtime routines and come up with creative ways for handling chores. It is amazing how much more willing children are to follow rules and plans they have helped create. The long-term pay off is that children learn important life skills such and communication skills and problem-solving skills. Think of the benefits to their future jobs and relationships. It takes much less time to hold weekly family meetings where children learn to cooperate and solve problems than the time it takes to nag, lecture, and scold. During busy times parents often find relief or create a diversion from a problem by simply inviting the child to put the problem on the family meeting agenda. Everyone learns to trust that a respectful solution will be found soon.
3.) Ask for help
Children need to feel needed. It is much different when you ask for help in an inviting manner instead of lecturing and scolding. "I would appreciate anything you can do to spruce up the family room before dinner," usually invites much more cooperation than, "How many times have I told you not to leave all your stuff all over the family room!" Children feel special when they are helping. They don't feel special when they are being scolded and put down.
4.) Spend regularly scheduled, special time
This does not take very much time and can be comforting to parents and children when it is part of the schedule. Very young children need special time daily for ten to fifteen minutes. This doesn't mean you never spend more time than that. It does mean that you have scheduled special time for you and your child to count on and look forward to. One mother scheduled time with her daughter for reading books or playing games from 5:30 to 5:45. Her daughter loved helping her mother start dinner first while looking forward to their special time. If the phone rang during the special time, Mom would say, "I'm sorry I can't talk right now. It is Tara's special time. "Tara would beam. After the age of six, 30 to 60 minutes a week works well. You may be able to talk teenagers into a date night for just the two of you once a month. The amount of time is not as important as the attitude created by scheduled "special" time. Children feel special when they know that time with them is as important to you as all your other appointments and tasks. During other times when you are just too busy or too tired, children will not feel discounted (and you don't feel guilty) when you can say, "I'm too busy or too tired now, but I'm looking forward to our special time."
5.) Share sad and happy times as part of the bedtime routine
When tucking your child into bed at night, take a few minutes to let her share the saddest thing that happened to her that day. Just listen respectfully without trying to solve the problem. Then share your saddest time of the day. Follow this by taking turns sharing your happiest event of the day. You may be surprised at the things you hear when your children have a few minutes of your undivided attention to evaluate their day and hear about yours.
6.) Take a few seconds to write a note for your child's lunch bag, pillow, or mirror
One very busy Mom decided to put a note in her daughter's lunch bag every day for a year. She took time on airplanes or while waiting for an appointment to write several notes or silly rhymes in advance, such as "Roses are red, Violets are blue, Every day, I think about you. " When she traveled, she gave the childcare person notes to tuck into the lunch bag for each day she was gone. Her daughter's friends gathered around her at lunch in eager anticipation to hear the note of the day. Her daughter felt very special.
7.) When you run a short errand in the car, ask one of your children to ride along
Spend as much time as possible together. You might make a big deal of this by creating a chart during a family meeting so you can check whose turn it is. During these rides be a closet listener (don't ask questions). You may be surprised at how much your children may open up and start talking when there is no "inquisition" that invites them to clam up. Simply let them know how glad you are to have a few minutes to be with them, and share special moments from your own life or day. Kids feel special when you share yourself.
Helping your child feel special is a matter of planning and habit, not a lack of time. The fringe benefit of making it a habit to help your child feel special is that you will feel like a special mom or dad.