Resident dadzclub child psychologist, Jennifer Wills, advises on how to make the most of the time with our children
Oliver, 31, recently took on a second job in order to make ends meet and now finds himself out of the house for bathtimes, bedtimes and weekend fun times. “I miss spending time with my boys. At the moment I feel like I’m only there before school and that’s basically half an hour of battling to get them dressed and fed on time”. Oliver feels left out and is worried that his relationship with his children will suffer. Similarly, after a messy break-up, Guy, 35, found himself living over an hour from his three year old daughter and only able to see her for a short time on weekends. “I don’t know what she wants or what I should be doing. Every time she cries on our Saturdays, I feel like I have let her down again.” Guy just wants his daughter to be happy and thinks that their previous closeness will disappear if he doesn’t make every weekend magical. Finally, James, 40, has recently been promoted while several colleagues were made redundant. The resulting workplace stress, longer hours, and arduous commute means that when weekends roll around, James has limited patience with his five year old twins. “I’m tired, irritable and snappy, they behave like little monsters, I shout, they cry, my wife gets angry, we’re all miserable and I can’t wait for Monday morning.” James feels like he has forgotten how to have fun and relax with his kids, and is concerned that they will grow up thinking of him as an ogre. James, Oliver and Guy are like many fathers: they are getting less and less quality time with their children, and are finding themselves more and more worried about the impact on their family. The simple tips below can go a long way to avoiding the kinds of problems experienced above.
Any time can be quality time. Ten minutes of laughing together over a cartoon, five minutes sharing bad jokes, or pulling funny faces at the bathroom mirror while brushing teeth. We all know that quantity doesn’t equal quality and, in fact, little snatched moments of shared happiness can add up to a whole lot more in the parent-child bank than hours of enforced fun at the local theme park.
Special time can be simple time. Try not to get caught up in the pressure to make every weekend a thrilling, fun-packed, money-siphoning extravaganza. Some of the most special childhood memories come from lazy afternoons curled up on the sofa watching DVDs, or laughing yourself silly playing chase in the park. Give yourself and your children time to connect and remember that it is you they need, not bells and whistles. Simple activities like choosing books in the local library, or going on a nature hunt in a local park will entertain your kids and give you valuable special time together.
Don’t be afraid to say no. It can be hard to resist the temptation to give in to your child’s every whim, especially when you only have three hours a week to spend with her. Rest assured that children feel happier and more comfortable when they are given boundaries. It is reassuring, especially for younger children, for adults to gently but firmly remain in charge.
Don’t panic about tantrums. If you do feel tears and tantrums are looming (the child’s, not yours!), stay calm. Try distraction and diversion, and keep a smile on your face. If the tantrum wins out, stay with your child but don’t give in to their demands. When she starts to calm down, offer comfort and cuddles.
Be realistic when you plan your time. It can be difficult to combine childcare with the need to relax after a stressful week. Try to plan calm and soothing activities if you know that you are going to be tired and fractious. Taking excitable children to a hot, noisy, soft-play centre is probably a recipe for disaster if you are not in the right frame of mind. A matinee screening of a kiddie-friendly cartoon, however, will provide you with the chance to sit down in (relative) peace and quiet while your children are enthralled by the latest in 3D dinosaurs. An old favourite (and free) calming game is ‘Hospitals’: the tired-out adult lies down while the child doctor tends to imaginary illnesses with toilet-roll bandages, cornflour-and-water ointments, orange-squash medicine and headphone-stethoscopes.
Be consistent. It can be hard when you are stressed out but avoid dealing ultimatums, giving threats you don’t mean or making promises you can’t keep. Children are quick to notice when you don’t mean what you say and they can feel unsettled when rules or consequences change. If you and their mother are separated, it is worth trying to establish a few principles that apply no matter who is caring for them. They respond so well to consistency, and you’ll probably find that you do, too!
Juggling work and childcare is not easy, and can be even harder if you live away from your children. Every situation is unique and families have to find the things that work best for them. However, keeping these general principles in mind can go a long way towards helping you and your child make the most of your time together.