Despite the best intentions there are occasions when parents don't have enough time to spend with their children. When work commitments pile up or the social calendar becomes unusually crowded our family must temporarily take a backseat. There is little wrong with this as long as it doesn't become a habit.
Stephen Covey, in his best seller, The Seven Habits of Effective People, has good advice for parents who struggle to balance their time between each family member, work and other commitments. Covey believes that if relationships are to be successful those involved must build up a strong emotional bank account through shared, positive experiences. Parents build up goodwill with their children through listening; encouraging, talking and doing those nurturing things that are generally considered part of the job. According to Covey the more positive experiences parents share with their children the stronger their relationship is likely to be. When parents show discourtesy, disrespect, ignore kids or are simply too busy getting on with life to spend time with them the emotional bank account becomes overdrawn. Covey's emotional bank account concept is forgiving for parents because we can put back what we take out, but it takes effort and time to make the necessary deposits.
While the first five years of a child's life is vital for his development it is the next five years that the relationship-building stuff occurs in families. It is during middle childhood that parents, and fathers in particular, have the chance to share enjoyable activities with their children that build strong and lasting relationships.
If family time is at a premium try the following ideas:
* Enlist paid help, if possible, to create more personal and family time for you and your partner. Get a cleaner in for a few hours each week to keep the house in order. If your budget doesn't stretch to pay home help, enlist the support of family or friends to save you time or even give you a break. Spending an hour with family is far better use of your time than pushing a vacuum cleaner over the floors or a lawn mower around a backyard.
* Plan one-to-one time with each of your children. Do something that you and each child enjoy. Establish a special interest with each of your children so that you have something in common. Look back at the fond memories you have of time spent with your own parents and they will nearly always involve just you and your mother or father enjoying each other's company.
* Establish strong rituals that promote communication and relationships. Rituals are those non-negotiable activities that cannot be moved or broken. Evening meals or bedtime stories are examples of ritualized activities that some families enjoy.
* Get yourself and everyone else off the endless activity roundabout and schedule 'at home days or evenings' when no one has to go anywhere.
* Keep your children informed about the areas of your life that affect them or keep you from them. If you are going through a busy period at work let your children know what it is that you are doing and how long you expect to be tied up.
* At busy times when you don't see enough of your children stay in touch through notes, letters and via the telephone. Phone each child at different times just to say hello - they really appreciate the personal touch.
* Place special events such as birthdays, school plays and speech nights in your diary as soon as they come up and work around those dates. Children expect their parents to be there for them on special occasions. If you can't be there then it is important to acknowledge and take an intense interest in them.
* Make up for long absences with enjoyable family events rather than compensating by providing toys, presents or other material goods. Don't get me wrong. Gifts are great to receive but don't let them be a substitute for the important things kids really need that build up the emotional bank account that you share. If you have hardly seen your children for the last few weekends make the next one a weekend to remember. Don't be fooled by the idea of quality time. It is a huge con job. The notion that it is okay to spend limited time with kids as long as the quality is good doesn't make sense. Time is not something to be rationed out or given in portions to our kids like crumbs falling off a table. Time needs to be prioritized and managed so that families do come first. If we leave it up to chance then something will always crop up and get in the way.
Michael Grose is a popular parenting expert. For great ideas and inspiration to help you raise happy, confident kids and resilient young people, visit Parentingideas.com for free articles and access to a free advice line.