finweek

How to be a better working parent

Mia Von Scha is a life and parenting coach. (Picture: Supplied)
Mia Von Scha is a life and parenting coach. (Picture: Supplied)
  

Recently, a live BBC interview of an esteemed academic about the turmoil in North Korea was unexpectedly interrupted by his two young children, and then their desperate mom, who tried to keep them out of the frame.

The video went viral at the speed of toddler projectile-vomiting. Across the world, parents cringed in painful recognition at the messy collision of work and parenting.

The combination of a challenging career and attempting to be a perfect parent can be exhausting. Both roles are all-consuming, leaving many working parents torn between competing responsibilities.

One of the biggest problems parents face is being wracked by guilt that they are not spending enormous amounts of time with their children, says Mia Von Scha, a life and parenting coach in Johannesburg. “Parents need to change their perspective and adopt a new, more instructive attitude.”

Start by letting go of the unrealistic parenting ideals that are fed to us by television and other media, says Von Scha. Fact is, most parents do not have a choice: they have to work, often for very long hours, often away from home.

Most parents cannot afford tending to their children at all times. And in truth, being on tap does not make you a good parent. It is all about spending quality time with your children and giving them what they need, making it clear to them that you understand who they are and appreciate them as individuals.  

Often parents also feel great guilt and frustration about the “outsourcing” of their parental responsibilities to third parties. “But no one person can ever provide for all the needs of another person. Every one of us needs a variety of people in our lives that we can learn from and emulate and try out our life skills on,” says Von Scha.

Choosing loving, nurturing caregivers for your children can help them grow into fully rounded people.

Here’s how to be a better working parent:

Set boundaries to protect your home life: For working parents, the most important thing you can do is to switch off your devices when you get home, says Stephanie Dawson-Cosser, a relationship coach specialising in family dynamics in Johannesburg.  

“Pay full attention to your children and partner, and make sure that you have quality conversations and interaction with them.” Set boundaries around the first two to three hours after coming home from work: spend time with your family and nurture your relationships. Try not to think about work or check your email.

“It is crucial that you are fully present when you are with your children,” says Von Scha. 

If there is pressure to complete work at home, make sure you first have a quality conversation or interaction with your children, adds Dawson-Cosser. 

Stop multi-tasking: A big myth of the work-life balance is that you can do more than one thing at the same time, says Dawson Cosser. You may think you are listening to a child while typing that email, instead you are not hearing half of what they are saying, and neither is your full attention on the email.

“Trying to multi-task between work and parenting cheats both our kids and ourselves.”

Establish family rituals: Your children should have a clear sense of the activities and values that bind you together as family. Having dinner together (or if your schedules don’t allow it, at least one special meal a week) is one of the key things you can do to build a stronger connection in your family.

Devising shared outings, film nights and adventures will help to strengthen a family foundation that can last a lifetime, says Dawson-Cosser. “Too many people have completely lost their sense of what it means to be part of a family.”

Match your activity to the child: It is important you spend time with your individual kids doing things that they like. Whether this be kicking a soccer ball for five minutes in the garden, or playing a drawing game, it is crucial that your child knows that you understand who they are, and that you have respect for them, explains Von Scha. “Create special moments of meaningful connection.”

Make time for their sport matches and recitals: Your teenage children will assure you that your presence is absolutely not required at their next soccer game. In truth, it is especially important for older children to see their parents supporting them, showing their love and commitment. “It is immensely reassuring for teenagers to see that their parents care,” says Dawson-Cosser.

Crisis-proof your childcare: Make sure you have complete peace of mind about your childcare arrangements for young children. Importantly, you also need a Plan B for if your child falls ill. This will take the stress out of an unexpected crisis when you can’t take time off work. 

Have a clear co-parenting strategy: Avoid conflict with your partner by establishing a clear division of tasks. Then, don’t interfere or micromanage the tasks on your partner’s list. Letting go of ideals of perfection will make life much easier for both of you.

Ask for help: Delegate all low-value tasks at the office and at home.

Pay parenting forward: As a manager, make sure that you are fostering a culture that is friendly towards parents.   

EIGHT TIMESAVERS FOR PARENTS

1. Make sure that bags and lunches are packed, and school clothes are ready the night before, to take the stress out of mornings.  

2. Have a central family calendar where all activities are clearly marked.    

3. Von Scha recommends having a Stinky Friday, allowing the kids to go to bed unbathed. “You’ll be surprised how much time this opens up, and the kids generally love it!”  

4. Try cooking in batches so that you make enough for two or even three meals and then eat leftovers the next night or freeze some meals for later in the week.  

5. Use online shopping or home-cooking services (like Ucook) to avoid being stuck in shops.  

6. Allow toddlers to sometimes go to school in their pyjamas, or even have them sleep in a tracksuit and just get up and go in the morning, says Von Scha.  

7. Involve your children in household chores.    

8. Consider adopting a ‘digital sabbath’: banning devices for a set period over the weekends to help your family connect with one another. 

This article originally appeared in the 23 March edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

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