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When time is limited: Make every minute matter

The mama guilt and chest tightening is in full effect again today, as I ready the fridge and leave notes everywhere for work that requires me to be away for 24+hrs.  Yesterday, in preparation for another busy week wherein I must ask my kids to be independent and responsible (taking care of themselves, letting themselves into the home, staying alone for stretches), we all went to the museum and enjoyed a great interactive history exhibit.  And, yet, we squabbled almost all other times of the day.

Our time is so limited, and I desperately want to make every minute matter.  A few commenters on last week's thread suggest:

Maybe the more useful conversation is how to connect with your kids and build a good relationship when your hours are limited. There's a huge swath of the population that works inflexible, long hours out of necessity. And there are others who have made the choice to put in those hours. So then what?

A great question indeed.  How do you maintain a strong relationship with your kids when your time together is necessarily limited?

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Re the squabbling, I will sometimes meta-communicate about it e.g., "Let's enjoy this afternoon, we won't have much time together tomorrow and I'd really like to have fun with you right now." Surprisingly, that can 'reset' my husband's and daughter's attitudes sometimes!

I think an activity together is a good choice, but what kind of activity depends on your personalities: crafting or a puzzle at home vs. something more active or out of the house. Either way, I like the shared experience and the chance for conversations that are relaxed--often that's when my kids bring up things that are important to me.

And I think it should also be said, whatever you choose shouldn't add much of a burden to an already busy life! So a craft you already have materials for, or making a favorite recipe together. Something that's easy and low stress to pull together instead of requiring it's own errands and prep.

My guess is the squabbling stemmed from anxiety on everyone's side---and sadly, sometimes it's just like that. I've had fights with both my husband and my daughter at times that it really should've been the last thing that happened.

I think the museum was a good idea, also maybe a spa (or even just facials or manicures) day together? I gave my daughter and her BFF a spa package for her 12th birthday (and got my hair cut while they were receiving the full "monty")--she later confessed she partially really wanted to spa with just me! In fact she plastered her FB page with Mommy/daughter spa day images for several weeks beforehand.

Travel's always hard when it's a favored parent going away: back when I worked long hours, I had to travel for a couple of days, about twice a year. My daughter was only six, but she HATED it--initially she even announced she would be coming with me.

I softened the separation by promising a present upon my return---do you do that? And I don't think it's buying the kid's affection, either....it just gives them something to look forward to and focus on, instead of missing you.

Also, can your husband make things as fun as possible while you're gone? When my husband travels now (again, not that often, but he will sometimes visit my MIL without us or have the odd business trip), it's more like a slumber party for my daughter and myself...even if she has school, etc. We order sushi and eat it while watching old movies, let the house get messy (and I'm the one who cleans!), etc.

That can help, too.

I work full time + and don't get nearly the time I wish I had with my children on a daily basis so when I am with them, I make the most of every moment. I work and run when they're asleep so that I can be as present as possible mornings and evenings. We talk about their day, school, friends, soccer, life, etc. every moment in the car, at meals, etc.

And I completely disconnect and unplug unless I have work to do and they're busy with their own play together. Phones, TV, etc. are all turned off during family and meal times. Every little bit counts and we all do our best.

So depressing! I wish our culture provided a true "balance". I have asked and asked other moms how they achieve balance and haven't heard a good response yet. It's a sham. There is no "balance" in our culture unless you have a partner who can support the family on their own- so then you aren't forced to work full-time. Like my husband says, "you should have married UP".

This is the best thing I have read on the subject: http://putdowntheurinalcake.com/2012/02/balance-and-the-pendulum-rhythm/

Changed my whole perspective, actually. And I stopped stressing about balance, because seriously--even the moms I know who DID "marry up" (hee) and can stay at home worry-free also struggle with this.

Enjoy!

I think Gina's advice is right on about the phones and computers. Also, would it be worth it to try approaching like a long distance relationship? With love notes in lunch boxes and book bags and under pillows? And little surprise Valentines that just remind them that they are on your mind?

@anonymous - that returns us to a very 1950's mindset. Not all of us want to stay home full time or even part time. Plenty of mothers find work fullfilling and enjoyable, why should they have to sacrifice thier careers? And for that matter, why should men have to either have the stress of supporting their family entirely (because what happens if they lose their job?) or have to sacrifice their career?

Also, truth is, we never REALLY had that balance except for maybe the 1950's and 1960's. There were wars (where men were away and women worked in factories to both support the effort and make ends meet); a predominately agricultural/industrial revolutionary society in which everyone worked (or had servants largely raise their children), including children; the Depression, when everyone banded together just to survive, ect.

Even when there was that "blance" of stay at home, it was pure drudgery and boredom for many women---it's why historically your biggest set of substance abusers have been middle class housewives. The entire reason the women's movement began was because housewives discovered in the 1940's they enjoyed working and making their own decisions, that was taken away from them in the 50's and 60's--and they hated it.

Modern balance is imperfect because life and the world are imperfect. But at least we have a choice and in most households, things are more equal. I feel overall my household has fairly decent balance and always has. Like life and parenting, there will always be difficulties and choices (like the one to have kids or get married to begin with).

If my family sold our house, lived in an apartment, didn't take vacations and basically live pretty well overall, we could easily get by on my husband's income. To me, that sounds like boring, miserable drudgery. So I'm happy to work at a job I'm good at and enjoy!

It sounds like you would prefer to be a full time, SAHM. That's fine---but for many of us, not working is sometimes not an option, sometimes not a preference.

Even those of us who love our jobs wish this culture was more balanced. We work 20% more hours than any other industrialized country including hard working Germany and we get on average very few vacation days compared with our European counterparts. Yes, people have to and love to work but the US is out of balance with the rest of the world and it shows in our stressed families. There should be a middle between home all the time and work all the time. Balance.

Here's how I've tried to connect - I say no to evening work events, I work full time yet during the school calendar, I've accepted the fact we cannot sit down to dinner every night during the week, but do as often as we can, I found a daycare place that is about relationships, and do family outings during the weekends. Plus, try to socialize with other families for me and for the kids. I also only use the computer / TV after the kids are in bed.

I didn't work for a period of time and hated it. My time spent with my kids was not quality, it was drudgery for me. Working is great, and my daughters can see me as an example of what they can do! As my 3 year old told me - "I'm going to be a working mommy when I grow up!"

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