How can busy parents still engage with children?

By Dave Sebastian, 

In her Monday night speech at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama astounded the country with her thoughts on exemplary qualities of a United States president. Yet politics aside, the first lady also embedded a personal touch by recalling her experience as a working parent, like when she and her two daughters started adjusting to the White House life.

“I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just seven and ten years old, piled into those black SUVs with all those men with guns,” she recollected. “And that’s all their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, ‘What have we done?’”

An average American’s experience, inarguably, is not parallel to that of the First Family’s, but the first lady’s remarks reflect a valid concern for working parents: How can parents properly spend quality time with their children?

Forty-one years ago, Americans spent 46 hours a week on average to grapple for dollars, according to the Pew Research Center, ranking as one of the countries with highest workweeks. In 2011, Americans only labor through 35 hours weekly. However, many still claim themselves “busy.”

On the flipside, today’s children are also faced with higher academic standards. Kindergarten math classrooms in Massachusetts, for instance, train four- to five-year-olds to “[c]ompose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones … and record each composition or decomposition by drawing or equation,” according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Amid packed meeting schedules and long commute, parents can still maintain engagements with their children and be on track with children’s academic progress — here are a few options:

1. Using effective educational tools
Though learning apps are often the practical way to introduce concepts, traditional gadget-free tools — such as puzzles and books — can lead to stronger bond and interaction between a parent and a child. As gadgets emphasize automated features, parents play a less dominant role in teaching, said Temple University psychology professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek to the New York Times. Thus, parents’ utilizing traditional educational tools can in turn make those scarce after-work hours productive and emotionally fulfilling. (Read: vs-electronic- toys-should- parents-restrict- childrens-gaming- time.)

2. Socializing with the school community
Despite being riddled with office work, parents should still manage to build a cooperative relationship with those involved at school — teachers and other parents. Parents, especially those with younger children, can obtain an inside look at the classroom and connect with their children’s activities. Such cognizance of school programs and activities is in line with Johns Hopkins University professor Joyce Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement, in which she detailed the importance of “collaborating with community.”

3. Employing better time organization
Feeling busy? Though office work may be burdensome, one should still be able to find some of those golden minutes within a 24-hour timeframe — whether recognizable or not. Laura Vanderkam, the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, studied several women’s working hours, and what she found was astonishing. Take Amy Mahon, a British lawyer, as an example — although she works 60 hours a week, she still manages to enjoy “family time” during weekdays by working two late nights and going home early on other days. As “busy” as that paperwork may seem, spending the weekend on the beach — and free from work — shouldn’t be taxing.

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