Staying connected with your kids is difficult for just about everyone. Many times, families get caught up in the business of the family such as chores, errands, the management of everyone’s schedules, and who is going to chauffeur the kids where and when. Add in staying connected to your kids while you are on shift or working overnights as an officer and it seems near impossible. You miss not only the little moments but some of the big moments in their lives simply because of the work or sleep.
Here are some tips to maintain a close relationship with your kids when you are not always present. If your kids are young, your spouse might have to help out with some of these.
It’s easy to Facetime or video chat with your kids or spouse now. It’s nice to see faces and not just talk or text. As much as it would be great to video chat at a certain time, that is just not possible as you just don’t know when a call will come in or you will be on scene. Instead, send or leave a video message for each of your children. Personalize the video with what may be going on for the day or a memory that you have with that child. Give them to your spouse so they can play them for the children at designated times during the day. As you know, young children will watch a video over and over which can be soothing for a child when they are missing you.
Set up Rituals
Rituals are incredibly important part of relationships and home life. The American Psychological Association reviewed research over the past 50 years finding that “family routine and ritual are powerful organizers of family life that offers stability during time of stress and transition.”
Coming home ritual
It’s easy to let the house and kids run you as soon as you walk in the door. Set up a ritual that will allow you to be present with your children when you get home. Children like to know what is expected of them and establishing a ritual helps them to meet your expectation. You might consider doing a quick round of hugs and kisses and then getting comfortable before hearing stories of the day (or days) you have missed. If you are coming home at 2 am, you might have a ritual of leaving them a note to wake up to and then a ritual for when you wake up. You get the point. Set up a ritual that works for you and your spouse. Remember your spouse has been with the children as a single parent while you have been on shift.
Day off Rituals
In addition to the coming home rituals, have rituals for your days off. This might be as simple as picking the kids up from school on these days, playing in their room with them for a certain period of time, or having them help in meal prep. You are always a parent but take the opportunity to have memories with them and not just get after them. It is the rituals they will remember when they grown up.
Play the high/low game
There is nothing more annoying than you asking your kids how their day was and they say “fine”. To find out more about what is really going on with your kids, play the “High/Low” game EVERYDAY. I have a friend that calls it “Cloud and Sunshine moments”. The purpose of this is to find out what the high point and low point of their days. You might not be able to talk to them about these high and low points when you hear about them but you can save them for later when you are off shift. Go back and ask them to tell you the story of what happened. MAKE SURE YOU EMPATHIZE. This is not a time to give advice, tell them what they SHOULD have done, or try to fix it for them. SIMPLY listen and think about what it would be like for them. Remember every experience is new for children and thus, A BIG DEAL! If it is a big deal for them, respond in kind!
Have a date with them to make some memories
Spending positive time with your children is one of the most important things you can do with the limited time you may have. One way to do this is to set up a date with your kid. My suggestion to parents is to set something up once a month that is just for that individual child with you. Get their input on what they would like to do. It can be as easy as going to the playground alone, sharing a bag of fries, going for a hike, or a craft activity. I challenge you to spend a VERY small amount of money to do this. It is about the time and attention you give that child and not about the amount of money you spend.
Don’t forget those 5 love languages
If you are not aware of the 5 Love Language by Gary Chapman, I encourage you to do a quick internet search and you can get caught up rather quickly. They are Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Quality Time. While these love languages were originally established to connect you with your spouse, they are important for just about any relationship that is meaningful for you like your children! Read up on these love languages and determine which ones are really important to each of your children. They are all different!
Being on-call and on shift work makes it hard to connect. Hopefully some of these tips can be incorporated into your routine. Whatever you decide, set yourself up for success. Trust is important for children to feel safe so if it is not something you can commit to, don’t! Start with small steps and master them before taking on more or bigger challenges with your kids. Remember raising healthy, happy, and productive kids involves making them feel loved and safe!