Technology can keep busy families in touch, writes Ann-Maree Moodie.
Imagine being on the other side of the world, in another time zone and under pressure to win a crucial negotiation. Your career is important but so is staying in touch with your teenage daughter or primary school-age son.
What's happening at school? What assignments are due? Who's hearing readers, or helping out with trigonometry homework?
Phillip Heath, who recently resigned as the long-time head of St Andrew's Cathedral School in Sydney to become principal of Radford College in Canberra, says stress is often high for working parents who are absent during the school week.
"Parents are facing tremendous worries and a kind of ambient sense of guilt and disillusionment with the role of parenting," Heath says. "On the one hand, parents genuinely want to be directly and personally involved with their children's work and academic progress and everything else that goes into it. On the other hand, because of the pace of work-life balance and because of technology, parents frequently bring their work with them all the time."
While technology often is a robber of the amount of time parents and their children spend together, it can also be a friend.
The trick is to find periods of time or methods of contact that fit. But remember, the solution may be quite different to the way you were raised. Instead of mum offering afternoon tea at the end of the school day to her son or daughter like her own mother did, she may instead be logging on to Facebook from her laptop in a London hotel for a catch-up chat.
While technology often is a robber of the amount of time parents and their children spend together, it can also be a friend. Increasingly, parents who are absent for much of the school week because they travel or work long hours are using social media and technology: instant chat, SMS and Skype. Other parents restructure the work week to ensure there is plenty of family time, even though it may not be spent in the traditional periods, such as helping with homework after dinner.
Instead, some parents get up early in order to do homework over breakfast three mornings a week between 7am and 7.30am. "They surrender to the situation and then become creative in order to meet the needs of their children," says Gilbert Mane, headmaster of the John Colet School in Sydney.
The executive director of the Parenting Research Centre in Melbourne, Warren Cann, says academic studies consistently show it's not the amount of time parents spend with their children but rather the quality of time that counts.
"You can always pay interest and attention, even when you're not physically there," Cann says. "It's just about timing. It may not be between getting home from school and dinner time but it could be during dinner or after dinner. It's about the quality of the input, not the amount of the input. It's also possible to be around all of the time and be very un-engaged with your child's education."
Heath is likewise convinced that family time is important. He urges parents who often get home from work two or three hours after their children to consider using the supervised "homework clubs" offered by many secondary schools. The children may come home later but their immediate homework deadlines will be met, leaving the evening to relax, talk and, if necessary, prepare for tests or exams. Others may try fitting in time during the work day.
"By virtue of careful planning, a very high-powered woman I know built time into her schedule so she could be absent from the office in order to take part in the reading program at school," Heath says. "It was stunning that this woman who was responsible for making serious decisions that affected the nation was sitting reading with the little ones, one of whom was her own child. It was so touching and, I have to say, inspirational for the staff."
Tips for travelling parents
- Technology is the friend of the parent who travels regularly and who misses out on day-to-day contact with their school-age child. Schools often provide an intranet where mum and dad can log on to access their child's class page and keep abreast of exam timetables, assignments that are due and the latest subject notes.
- During phone calls home, the well-informed mum or dad is better positioned to talk about King Lear or offer advice on understanding logarithms. "No matter where they are in the world, parents can log on to their child's home page and get a feel for what's going on at school," says Radford's Phillip Heath.
- Voice-to-voice contact is often the best but phone calls can be expensive. Some parents use Skype to keep costs lower. Other forms of technology parents are using include SMS, messaging and instant chat.
- Parents who are always on business trips also like to become their child's "friend" on Facebook so they can communicate while they're away.
- For parents of young children, one suggestion is to pack photocopies of your little one's favourite books or load them on to an e-book reader before you leave. That way you can get your spouse to set the phone to "speaker" and you can read aloud to your child at bedtime from as far away as New York. It's not the same as being there but the fact you're doing it will be the thing that counts the most.
This article has been supplied by My Career.
Discuss this in the Toddler & Kids forums.