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Time - written by Valerie Jackson
Being a parent isnít easy at the best of times. Itís even more confusing when there appear to be conflicting messages coming from those who lay down the rules by which we are expected to abide.
On the one hand, parents, especially mothers, are being encouraged to return to the workforce as soon as they can. The Government is putting provision into place to facilitate this in the form of Ďwraparoundí care. This means basically that you could have someone look after your child from the time they are born right through until they are old enough to leave school at the age of sixteen for almost 24 hours each day.
There are free child care places available for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years; in fact there will be over 10,000 of these throughout the country. Day nurseries are being approached to provide child care from an earlier time in the morning, and possibly offer breakfast clubs for school age children. At the other end of the day, there will be after school clubs and later closing hours for nurseries, so that parents can work longer hours or more unsociable hours.
All of this is marvellous, but now we also hear that the best person to look after the child is the parent. Itís very difficult to know what to do for the best. If you work a full day, how do you then find enough time with your child to offer them anything beyond the most basic parenting, such as feeding, bathing and a place to sleep?
Letís look at a typical scenario. A couple have a six-month-old child but unfortunately find that the day-to-day living expenses and mortgage repayments dictate that both of them will have to work, despite their intentions to share child care between them and cut down on the hours each is away from the family home.
They are supported by extended family members who agree to look after their child, letís call him Toby, for most of the week so childcare costs are reduced. A local nursery has subsidised places on offer for two half days a week and have welcomed him.
The care that Toby receives is absolutely fine. He is happy and content and is beginning to demonstrate his increasing social development by smiling and gurgling, in fact, doing all the things a child of his age should do. His parents feel guilty because they are not able to be available every day. They have been advised to spend Ďquality timeí with Toby but have no real idea what this is or how to make sure this is what they do.
What is quality time?
Hereís our first hurdle. Why should we assume that everyone, especially new parents, understand the terminology bounced around by so-called experts?
So, what is quality time? My definition is simple: Quality time is an opportunity for interaction, learning or quiet reflection for parent and child. It has no specific length. It does not have to be planned in great detail and most importantly for this family, it wonít necessarily cost a lot of money.
What play things do you need?
Hurdle two is often linked to pre-conceived ideas about what children, especially those in their early years, require for play things.
So, time for another gem of wisdom: The first toy a baby has is the parent or care giver. How cheap is that! You have eyes to offer eye contact; you have a face to smile and frown; you have arms to hug with; you have fingers for your child to hold, suck or chew; you have a voice to speak to or sing to or laugh with your child. You offer safety and security. You show pride and give encouragement. You reassure and comfort. What more could any small person ask for? A final cherry on this fabulous cake is that you arenít made of plastic.
How does quality time work?
I was a working parent. I returned to work after the standard three monthsí maternity leave available at the time. I worked in a child guidance clinic and was fortunate that, for some of the week, my daughter was able to be with me at work. For two days each week, she became the best teaching model I had. Part of my work was encouraging parents who, for one reason or another, had not formed positive relationships with their pre-school child to play and interact with them.
Whilst they may have felt no emotional ties to their own child, they loved being allowed to hold my baby. By having this opportunity to develop a tentative bond with someone elseís child, where no responsibility or pressure was enforced on them, they slowly learned how to recognise the glimmer of love and protection for their own child.
The rest of the time she was with her father or my parents. She had a variety of carers and I missed her when she wasnít with me. Our quality time was bath time. Every night I ran the bath and placed in it empty bubble bath bottles, a sieve and anything else that I felt might offer her fun and learning. I sat on the floor beside the bath, once she was old enough to sit unaided, and we would play and sing and splash for a good twenty minutes to half an hour. After she was dried, she had her supper and a warm drink and I put her to bed to fall into a relaxed sleep.
That routine set the pattern for us both to spend a richness of time together, no matter what else had happened during the day. For working parents, it isnít the length of time, itís how that time is spent.
Does quality time have to be every day?
No. A survey conducted into the actual time fathers spent with their children on a one-to-one basis in any one week, in the 1980s, identified a maximum of two hours. That time was usually just before the child went to sleep or first thing in the morning or, where fathers worked very long hours, at the weekend.
Few of the children interviewed felt that they missed out, especially when the time they did spend with their fathers was rich in communication and physical contact. Going for a walk with the dog, watching a cartoon together sitting on the sofa. The main message of being together is more important than what is done.
For parents who only get to see their child
for restricted periods of time, whether due to separation or work demands,
there are much better places to go than the local fast food restaurant.
Buy sandwiches and go to the local park to have a picnic. The weather doesnít
matter. Feed the ducks, watch a football match, go to the childrenís play
ground. Show your child that you really enjoy their company. It will pay
massive dividends in later years.
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