Working parents, particularly mothers, beat themselves up incessantly about not being available for their children. Heaven forbid they miss a school play, that is enough to send some mothers into a spin about how they are damaging their children in some way. Research shows that while in the 1970s, 48% of families had both parents working, this had risen to 63% by 2015. No doubt the figures are even higher now. Most families have to contend with working parents, particularly if you throw single mothers into the mix.
This means beating yourself up about having to work and not being available 24/7 for your kids is not going to get you anywhere, not if you want to keep a roof over your heads. So it is about time we looked at this issue exactly for what it is.
A survey done by Drexel University’s Jeff Greenhaus and organisational psychologist Stewart D. Friedman, involving professionals in several industries, came up with some rather eye opening findings about the effect working parents have on their children.
It is All About Your Values
It is not the number of hours you work that impact your children but rather if you believe that family should come first. If that is your core value, you find a way to work and still show up for your children and make them feel they matter. In fact they found out that parents with this value had children with higher emotional health.
Your Emotional Involvement in Your Career
This is what they called the psychological interference of your career on your family, as in even when you are physically present, you are still thinking about work. So on the family walk at the weekend, you still take that call from your boss! I take this further and say this all about your boundaries which are driven by your values. If you value your family time, you will make sure others know to leave you alone unless it is a matter of life and death! That said, it is one thing to set a boundary and another thing to have the confidence and self-esteem to enforce it.
Whether you See Work as a Source of Challenge, Creativity, and Enjoyment
Let’s face it, how many people work because they have to and it pays the bills rather than, they wake up in the morning and can’t wait to go to work because they know what they do is exciting, challenging and brings out the best in them? They genuinely enjoy what they do for living and it taps into their passion and creativity? Very few people get to do this which means that the concept of work is mostly fraught with resistance and tension. This leaves them wiped out and emotionally unavailable to their kids. This is what affects their wellbeing rather than the hours that they work. The research found that children are better off when their parents enjoy their work and see it as a creative source. When parents thrive, their children thrive, it is that simple.
Being Physically Available to the Children
Of course this is what parents normally use to beat themselves up when they are working long hours because they are not physically available to the children. Being physically available is not the same as being in the same room as them but engaged in other activities! When you are available to them, they need to know they come first, in that moment that you are with them, it is all about them. It is better to have an hour with them when they know you are all theirs than 12 hours when they are an afterthought or they are being squished between social media and the laundry. Being on top of the housework does not necessarily equal happy children.
Discretion and Authority at Work and Self-care
For mothers in particular, having control over what happens to them at work resulted in them having emotionally healthier children..
For me though, what was more revelatory out of this research is that mothers spending time on relaxation and self-care and not so much on housework had more positive outcomes on their kids. It even goes further to say that if mothers were preoccupied with housework and not taking care of themselves, their children were more likely to be beset with behaviour problems. For all the mothers that come to me ridden with guilt, I want to print this out plaster it all over their house.
Hopefully the above has inspired you to ditch the guilt about being a working parent and instead, work on your values of family first, have the courage to take care of yourself and THRIVE and focus on being REALLY available when you are with your children.