Staying connected with our young children amidst the many challenges of this time period can be hard. Parents at home experience the endurance of repetitive feeding, pottying, cleaning, and tantrum times. Parents who work go through trying to get young ones up and out the door, peeling shrieking kids off a leg, the often-present mommy-guilt when it is time to say "good-bye," and the challenge of staying connected without being with the children throughout the day.
In order to provide strategies to help keep families connected when both parents work, I enlisted the help of career mom Tracy Moore, host of City TV's Cityline. Curious how she manages to get out the door, be rested and alert for her demanding career, yet close with her two young children, I asked her to explain how she stays connected.
The first thing Moore spoke about was making working out a priority in order to "stay sane." She realized that in order to feel content when she is with her kids, she had to find a way to get a workout done. This gives her the boost she needs each day.
1. Consider what is needed to feel good, and make a plan to achieve that.
Knowing working out is very important; Moore spent money on equipment, MADE the time happen in her schedule--which is to get up very early in the morning, and she continually pushes herself to work out every day. I love reading Moore's twitter posts (@TracyCityline) with her honesty about the difficulty and "nuttiness" it takes to accomplish her training goals. She said, "You have to do things that seem crazy if you know they will keep you so sane."
Curious if this early morning routine is hard to pull off, I asked if anything has to give in order to actually get this done each day. Moore quickly responded, "I will do anything to get a good eight hours of sleep. I'm not up watching TV or hanging out with people at night; I'm in bed sleeping!"
It is VERY important to put your rest and sanity-savers first. Rested, happy people can connect better.
2. Carve out individual time with each child in a way that suits his/her personality.
As Moore so carefully planned her workout time to be before kids wake up and at home, she is alert and refreshed when her four-year-old son Sidney wakes up. Moore beamed speaking about this time when she and her son get to spend about an hour playing together. Sidney expects to get his mom all to himself and when the time is over, "He is in such a good mood." Moore explained, "It is a time we treasure."
Moore and her two-year-old daughter Eva connect more in the evening. Where Sidney wants to play with his mom, Moore realizes Eva just wants to be in her space. Eva follows her mom around while the laundry and other house-jobs get done, with their evening ending with Moore putting the next day's Cityline outfit while Eva takes her turn with her mom's accessories and shoes.
3. Make changes to increase the time with each child.
Decisions such as work-home locations, work hours, and non-work activities affect the connection ability with kids. Like me, Moore made a point of choosing to live ten minutes away from work. She also scheduled her day so that she is awake before her kids wake up, and home before they get home at 4pm. If parents have to be away from their children for much of the day, attachment bridges can be used.
4. Carefully choose activities for young children.
Young children do not need piano lessons, art classes, soccer or French tutoring. Individuals have their whole life to choose things they love and put effort into becoming accomplished at a skill. It is just not necessary to over-schedule young children, particularly if parents are away from them during the day. Parents who are at home like to enrol their children in activities to help enjoy the day, but for families where the parents work, really consider if a particular activity is improving the relationship.
Moore feels her children are not happier when they are in an event, "I don't put that huge of value on creating activities. I'm all about the everyday parent-child connection, not I went to soccer and saw my son get a goal." Moore said, "I love the moments when we're not rushed and having to get places. Simplicity for us!"
5. Use the time with children wisely.
Children are able to get used to almost any type of schedule if it is consistent and predictable. If a parent only has a short time with his/ her child, make that time count. Often kids and parents see each other at the end of the day when everyone is tired and over stimulated. Take time to listen to the child without judgment, and ask specific questions rather than, "So how was your day?"
Learn how each child likes to connect. Moore talked about how she pays attention to what her kids need day to day, realizing that they often need different things.
Children are born with an open heart, and it is our job as parents to sustain that openness. If a parent only has half an hour with a child: focus on attunement, active listening, and using "I see you..." statements ("I see you putting your dish away without me asking! That is so helpful.") These are all messages to the child that they are valued and they matter.