Your child’s first superhero and idol will be mum or dad, admittedly this will be inter-changeable through the years and phases of their growth and you will fall in and out of favor no doubt. Children do not distinguish between business suits and mummy clothes, business or pleasure, they care nothing for whether it is Business travel or a session at the gym that takes you from them, they only understand that you are gone. They will adjust to you being gone and to your absences when your day extends to a 14 hour stint maybe more. And they will no longer expect you around.
They can’t be empathic when they are knee high, to when your battery is dying on a last minute client call or when the new mobile doesn’t sync up correctly or if you have yet another dozen calls to make to that one irritating business partner that is standing between you and that deal that needs clinching. They only know the sense of irritable energy that has entered the house and that perhaps play time isn’t a good idea. Our children’s time with us is plagued with our on-line links, connections and presence, with our permanent connection to our business and leads, clients and colleagues. Yet we do not stay that connected or attached to our families, we give it all to our career drive. We run around like head-less chickens feeding our career dreams, being the providers of comfort and lifestyle, safety and security to our families and little people. All the while with a slight guilt that we are not present at home even when we are there occupying a space and all the while (whether we admit this to ourselves or not) slightly irritated that we have to be all things to everyone, at home and at work. The pressure is on and no-one is gaining.
We indulge our little people by adding the right noises and acknowledgement via head nods and grunts to show we are listening, to show we are interested. But our eye contact, body language and real attention is elsewhere diverted and dictated to by the screen in front of us at the time. If and when we find time to reflect on the quality of our relationships with our children we can feel the guilt and the sense of a job less than well done.
We travel, we cross the globe to all sorts of destinations and we miss out on household routines such as bed time, bath time and story time. We miss flu season when germs are on the rampage and broken sleep is the order of the week.
You could argue that your true life’s work will be those small people you gave a life to. The hardest Job Spec will be Mum or Dad. Yet our work careers, our promotions, successes and failures along the way will account for the majority of our time and attention.
There will be little satisfaction in self-actualizing one day but returning home to a house where no-one expects or looks for you there any longer and where your own children may resemble strangers.
While you are out chasing your tail trying to be the be all and end all to everyone, trying to be the career Exec rolled into Parent, Partner, Friend, Sibling and whatever other roles you have decided to fulfill you will head fast towards burn out. There are striking numbers of high achievers later in life, at their peaks in their careers suffering from psychosomatic illnesses, panic attacks and anxiety related issues.
As is true in all of life, balance is the only solution. How to achieve balance that promotes sanity, calm and emotional well-being as well as career success? How do we find that key, that solution to maintaining that balance but also incorporating our children into it?
Here are a few tips and ideas:
- Driving to and from places with children is a great opportunity for conversation. When they are small in car seats they are full of words or babble, whole sentences devoted to the view outside the window or the final destination. The absence of I-pads, TV or toys means there is little to steal their attention. Take note however, you have to find a way to lead them into a conversation, because just asking "so what did you do today" will more often than not simply get you the customary response "nothing". For surly teenagers, the car environment with its noises and the traffic outside mean a good meaningful conversation can happen which doesn’t require the young person to look you dead in the eye. In short: Get rid of the ear piece and be prepared to listen.
- Another way to interact with kids is to find out what they are into and ask them questions even if it means nothing to you. You can show your listening (even if it’s with little comprehension) by occasionally repeating the last part of their sentence and turning it in to a question then building up from there.
- When you are due to take a business trip, tell small children some time ahead and count down to it, explain where you are going, show them pictures so they have a pleasant visual of where you will be and what it’s like. While you are away get their other care givers to keep them up to date with a calendar count down as to when you will be home, an actual visual representation of the days helps small children conceptualize.
- Skype and call while you are away. A no brainer but Skype or phone dates with your kid at the same time each day as part of their routine means you maintain that connection to them, they know as part of bedtime it’s Good night phone call or Skype so they know you are ok.
- Exercise or any physical hobby will help with stress relief and if you can find something that incorporates your kids even better. A lot of gyms or Family sports centers feature activities for parents and kids.
- Decide on a time of day when work is over and commit to it, meaning all access and communication with work based people or issues is switched off.
- No screens. When you do have time to spend with children engage with them without web support. Talk, sing, play, throw yourself around, be led by the little person. Tell them you are all theirs for that period and mean it, stay with it and do not get lured away by a beep, ringer or notification of any description.
- Journal writing. It cannot be stressed enough that ending your day with a 5 minute reflective vomit into a journal is stress relieving and very revealing, can be quite cathartic and cleansing. Free writing is also an excellent form of this and promotes a clearer mind, devoid of ‘interference’, where root issues can be out-ed and dealt with. The hard drive of our minds, our sub conscious, benefits greatly from this clearing type of activity and thereby helps immensely with potent sleep and rest.
These are just a few ideas to help get you started on the path to following a healthy, balanced life where you and the little people in your life can benefit from quality time together. A fresh approach to managing a calmer life-work balance will also mean you can be the best you can be, not just at work but at home being fully present.
Anyone with other tips to add feel free to comment. Anyone interested in coaching in this area, further tips and ideas or even to just chat about this issue that affects all of us feel free to contact me.