Many adults equate good parenting to being around your kids as much as possible. But if you ask my children, Isabella and Daniel, they’ll disagree. They like their time with dad how Goldilocks liked porridge: not too much, not too little, but just right.
That's good news for working parents, who now find themselves attempting to balance being home with their kids all the time while still trying to get work done. It's important to keep in mind that what kids want most from adults is high-quality, meaningful action.
In other words, you can be an outstanding parent as a busy careerist or entrepreneur. You just have to focus on what matters most. To help you do that, I’d like to share five tips learned from 20 years of trial-and-error with my own children.
1. Don't try to win parenting
When I had my first kid, Isabella, I badly wanted to “win” at parenting. I spent months Googling cribs, looking for future schools, and considering potential careers. I thought I was being an excellent parent by planning my kid's bright future.
But I was wrong. By treating parenting as a sport, hobby, or job to excel at, I was being selfish. I thought I was doing right by my kid - but I was giving her very little attention as a father.
I now know many busy executives and professionals make this mistake. The business world we're used to is linear and competitive. There are losers and winners and rules for getting ahead - and we assume this is the case with our kids, too.
But what really matters to kids is your presence; not you doing a good job. That’s why the best thing you can do for your kids is to *not* be a "competitive parent"
2. Don't overcompensate for being busy
Modern culture often guilt-trips busy parents. As a result, many of us overcompensate for our absences with gifts, money, and parental leniency.
In my opinion, a better solution is to:
- Make your time together count. Be 100 percent present when you’re around, do fun things together, be engaged. Quality will help make up for quantity.
- Create new opportunities to spend time together. Maybe you can’t do a family dinner every night, but you can make your weekends extra special.
Is it always easy to follow these two rules? Definitely not. Today's corporate world is "always-on" and carving out the time and attention your kids deserve isn't easy. Still, it beats spoiling them while giving them none of yourself.
[ Looking for kid-friendly tech activities? Read: Programmable tanks and Raspberry Pi: Try these kids tech projects. ]
3. Include kids in your work and chores
I started working from home when Isabella was 10 and Daniel was nine. Kids being kids, they wanted to hang out with their dad a lot, and they didn’t understand I was working from home.
I began giving them little chores or errands to do. Simple stuff: looking up something on Google, finding new shoes I might review on my website, etc. By doing this, I included them in what I was doing - and we spent quality time together even though I was working.
My example may not be practical for some careerists, but it's worth getting creative in how you involve your kids in your "busy work." You can let your kids help you with chores, grocery shopping, or raking leaves, for instance. As long as they're helping you with whatever you're busy with, they'll feel included and you'll spend quality time together.
4. Maintain routines
Busy leaders and professionals have habits that make life easier. I'm talking about daily schedules, weekly reports, regular one-on-ones with key team members, etc. All of these routines help create and maintain momentum at work.
So why not make similar habits and routines for your family? Things like a family game night that can't be interrupted by work texts or calls - or a weekly ice cream raid to the local supermarket.
Over time, routines like these turn into the glue that brings families closer and holds them together. They create some much-needed intimacy and normalcy for kids with busy parents and go a long way.
5. Listen to your kids in earnest
Giving your kids advice and guidance is important. Children benefit from guidance. Having said that, I think it's even more important to listen to your kid.
[ Want to be a better listener at work and at home? Read: 10 ways for leaders to be better listeners now ]
You may not always agree with each other, but if you hear them out, you’ll understand their point of view. This will make it easier to give them meaningful advice and/or negotiate with them. It also shows them that you respect them as an equal. This will encourage them to listen to you when it's your turn to speak.
I hope these tips help you as much as they did me - or maybe inspire you to try new parenting strategies of your own.
[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]