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Balancing act

… between Parenting and Working

by Dr. Shirley Alleyne

lovingmeteishaandalyssaThe process of parenting (promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood) is fraught with guilt. I have met few parents in my personal and professional life who felt that they were doing a perfect job. The worries run the gamut from working too much to working too little.

The unhealthy level of ‘worrying’ occurs more in mothers than fathers. In the twenty-first century it has become an accepted practice that women pursue work outside of the household however society continues to scrutinize mother’s parenting in a way that it does not that of fathers and hence many women feel additional pressure to be affirmed by society in their parenting choices. It is therefore wise that the parent be guided by their own values and strives to find a balance between all of their commitments placing the developmental needs of their child high on their list of priorities.

Children need different things from their parents as they develop. The need for parental presence is greatest in infancy and gradually diminishes as a child transitions through the various stages of development. As much as the infant needs parental presence and consistency in order to develop secure attachments, late school age children and adolescents require some separation and socialization away from their parents in order to develop self-confidence and independence. Additionally it has been proposed that children who are reared by ever present hovering ‘helicopter’ parents are prone to becoming less confident, anxious adults who have difficulties making independent decisions. Hence the wise parents understand the developmental needs of their child and strive for the optimal balance.

To work or not to work, the million dollar question.

As children grow their need for intellectual stimulation increases exponentially. Although children whose parents work long hours will often report that they wish for more time with their parent, children of parents who work but consistently set aside time to engage with their children are exposed to a world that is not fashioned solely around their needs. They learn (through the example of their parents) to balance priorities and that working is a realistic part of living. They also learn that other persons besides their parents can sometimes provide for their needs. Work (like play for children) can also provide an opportunity for great pleasure for the parent thereby contributing to the self-esteem and happiness of the parent and by extension the child.

Parents should strive for employment that compliments the parenting process of supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of their child. These choices are further influenced by your individual child’s needs, for example, children with developmental challenges require parents with extremely flexible and in some cases the choice to not work may be the wise decision. Employment opportunities that provide satisfaction for the parent with consistent but flexible work hours compatible with the children’s schedule are ideal.

Most of us can improve the efficiency of our time. Examine how you spend your day and remove unimportant time consuming activities. Establish clear boundaries such that work does not invade home life in the form of phone calls, instant messages, e-mails, etc. It is important that your child understands that when they are in your presence they have your undivided attention. Try not to bring work home or choose to work after the children have gone to bed. Review your workplace’s policy with regard to working from home and minimize unnecessary travel by utilising internet based meeting options.

In cases where the employment is less than ideal it is important that parents delegate all possible duties that do not involve direct contact with their children (housework, gardening, supermarket errands etc.). When parents cannot be present find the best childcare available (relatives, friends, paid child care) such that the needs of your child are being met even if not by directly by you.

*Dr. Shirley Alleyne is a Board Certified Paediatric and Adult Psychiatrist.

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