My son was born four years ago. I took a three-month maternity leave and eased my way back into work, a luxury many parents do not have. I remember calling my sister-in-law one night (who is also a working mom) and sobbing to her about my life. I'm a horrible mom. My son is being cared for by someone else. Will he even know me? What if he thinks someone else is his mom?
My sister-in-law told me the best advice I've ever been given as a working parent, "Lauren, it's the quality of time spent with him that matters, not the quantity."
Her words calmed my nerves and made me view each moment I spent with my son that much more precious. But the best part is: Her words are backed by research.
Dr. Melissa Milkie, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, completed research in 2015 that focused on the effects of parental involvement with children. The study revealed that quantity of time mattered far less than the quality of interaction, especially for children under age 12.
As parents, we often find ourselves doing a lot of things for our children. Making dinner, cleaning up, doing laundry, taking them from here to there. What if we seized the opportunity to not only "do" but to "be" for our children? What if we were to "be" intentional through connecting with them in conversation, playing with them and letting them lead activities?
Dr. Dan Siegel, a best-selling author and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, says just 10 minutes of intentional uninterrupted time of play, conversation and sharing of experiences with your child can do wonders for your relationship with them, as well as their confidence, brain development and behavior. That's right, just 10 minutes.
If you're a working parent, you may be thinking, "I don't have 10 minutes!" Here are a few ideas to find those 10 minutes in your day.
› Before work/school: Talk about the schedule of the day, how each other is feeling, what you're excited or nervous about.
› After work/school: Play with your child, but let them lead. No phones, no screens, just unhindered time for connection and fun.
› Involve your child in cooking or doing chores: This may sound scary, but even just asking them to be present in the kitchen while you make dinner or sweep the floor can make them feel like they're important to you and an integral part of your world. You can always ask questions, sing songs or play "I Spy" while you fold clothes or peel potatoes.
› Before bed: Read with your child. Talk about what you enjoy in the story and anything new you may have learned. Or follow up on your day. Take turns sharing the best thing that happened to you that day, one thing new you may have tried or one way you helped someone else.
Here's a little inside secret: I started using the 10-minute theory with my son three years ago. While it has relieved some pressure, it has ultimately helped me to see our relationship through a different lens. And it's helped me to realize just how much time I do have with him and how much each second matters.
Being a parent is about more than just being around your child. It's about being connected with your child.
Lauren Hall is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.