x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE working parents guide to spending quality time with your children

If you live in a perpetual state of guilt as a working parent, here's how to excel at home and raise kids you can be proud of.

The parenting educator Carmen Benton with her son Jamie at their Dubai home. Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper
The parenting educator Carmen Benton with her son Jamie at their Dubai home. Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper

There's no doubt that parenting involves a fair amount of juggling, and when you throw employment into the mix, that juggling act increases to circus-level difficulty.

"The ability to devote enough time to both can be, for many parents, an overwhelming challenge," says Carmen Benton, a parenting educator at Lifeworks Counselling and Development (www.lifeworksdubai.com).

Whether it's because of finances, career or even personal choice, the number of dual-working parents is on the rise. The UAE is reported to have the highest level of female participation in employment in the GCC, with 59 per cent of women contributing to the economy (based on a study by Regus, an international office space-letting agency).

Many working parents will tell you that they frequently suffer from guilt, stress and exhaustion, so here's a four-step guide to dealing with these challenges and raising children you can be proud of.

1. Make every minute count

A study conducted by the Office of National Statistics in the UK revealed that working parents spend an average of 19 minutes every day focusing solely on their children.

"This is why we need to make the conscious choice to ensure that the minutes we have with our children count," says Benton. Even better, try to set aside a special family time each week. It could be a Friday afternoon when you simply have fun together, chat and pass on your values.

Equally important: build in regular bonding time with each member of your family. For example, while your baby sleeps, you can bake fairy cakes with your preschooler.

"During this time, it is essential that you follow the other person's agenda for them to experience it as quality time with you," explains Benton. You may find that tantrums and meltdowns diminish because these special times are created. Many parenting challenges are cries for attention.

2. Unwind before you get home

"Many parents come in asking for help in this area," says Dr Deema Sihweil, a clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute (www.hridubai.com). "Stress, demanding work deadlines, travel and working across different time zones can wreak havoc on and even destroy family ties."

Focusing on work-related tasks on the journey home and continuing to take work calls once you're through the front door can cause problems. When parents get home, they are met with family needs and demands, leaving them with no time to attend to their children.

"Parents need to look after themselves if they are to be able to take care of their family," says Sihweil. Think about what you need to do to unwind so you're ready for family life: perhaps take a shower, rest or exercise. Discuss this with your spouse and support each other.

3. Teach your kids emotional know-how

While your maid may spend most of the day with your children, you are still the most important caregiver and role model, so it's up to you to teach values, beliefs and cultural traditions.

"While nannies can be helpful and can allow for more time between parents and children, discipline, praise, fun and emotional development comes from the parents," says Sihweil. "Nannies are meant to reinforce and complement the rules, not create them."

Encourage your child to talk about his feelings, acknowledge them, give them a name and discuss how he should cope with difficult situations. Similarly, if your children are old enough, let them know if you feel sad, tired or happy, and explain why. This will help equip them with the emotional skills they'll need for life.

4. Prioritise quality time over play dates

"Do not take for granted the little time you have with your kids - make it a priority over play dates, after-school activities and so on," advises Sihweil. "Even if you only have 15 minutes, plan an activity and make sure you engage with your child."

Turn off the television, computer and phone and refrain from multitasking. Spend some time asking about homework and genuinely expressing interest in your child's day.

"Reading a book, cooking a meal or taking a walk together is valuable, no matter how much time it involves," says Dr Sihweil. And importantly, make this time consistent and predictable so that your child can look forward to the moments you spend together.

artslife@thenational.ae

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