As a full-time working parent since my daughter was 4-months-old, I know the challenges parents face when it comes to balancing work with bonding with their children. But I also know for a fact that it can be done very successfully if the working parents are willing to make a number of adjustments to their lives to ensure that the time they have with their children is of the highest possible quality.
Three hours of true time together, one-on-one reading, snuggles on the couch or trips to the neighborhood park, can do more for our relationships with our children than an eight-hour stretch filled with chores and errands. And if the parent staying home with the kids is financially stressed, as is
likely to be the case in the expensive Bay Area, is she likely to be emotionally available for the children? It’s just too simplistic to look back at the ’50s…
… and say having Mom at home automatically translated into some sort of happy-go-lucky parent-child bond. Just look at all the baby boomers all grown up and in therapy and on anti-depressants these days. The old-time family unit with its strict boundaries for male and female roles was not a simple recipe for bliss.My own mother, bless her heart, was an ultra-bright woman who dropped out of college and found herself with four children and a problem husband. Because she put her children before her own emotional health and education, as she unfortunately learned from her own mother growing up, she was able to provide the nuts and bolts of care but sometimes was emotionally withdrawn.
I feel incredibly bonded to my daughter, now 6, and my son, 3 1/2. They are secure and happy when I leave and thrilled to see me when I return. By making good use of our time together during mornings, nights, weekends and vacations, we are building a solid family unit.
But make no mistake. The working parent does have to go the extra mile.
Because my daughter didn’t like taking a bottle at day care, she tended to
catch up on her breast feeding overnight. She slept in my bed most of the time to make nursing easier and nursed until she was 16-months-old. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that year, but the closeness we had was worth every minute.
These days I’ve learned to not over schedule my time on weekends and weeknights, key time for focusing on the family by cooking and eating dinner together, doing homework and always reading in bed together before bed. I make sure that my job allows me the flexibility to take and pick my children up from day care and school. I take days off to go on field trips and to volunteer in the classroom and I stay home when they are sick.
Is it better for one parent to stay at home full time? If that’s financially possible and the parent will be emotionally happy and fulfilled doing that and will focus on the quality of the time spent with the children, sure, that’s great. But it’s simply not realistic for the majority of families in the Bay Area,
and by saying that’s the “best” way to bond with the kids only puts an unfair
guilt trip on those of us who cannot afford to do that.
(For the counterpoint, see my colleague Ann Tatko-Peterson’s post: Admire, respect stay-at-home parent.)