Amazingly I have never written about the daily conflict many parents feel as they leave for work in the morning, knowing that their return might be days later from a business trip, or late at night after long hours on the job. This is never easy. It is not easy for the kids who don't see one or more of their parents very often or for any length of time, and who seem out of the loop about what's going on in their lives. It is also not easy for the parents who feel conflicted about not giving enough to their job, or conflicted about not giving enough to their family.
There have been a confluence of situations with families this week that gave me pause for thought. For one single mom, she has had to turn over most of the parenting responsibilities to her mom, who luckily lives in the same complex. Her job demands now that she travel 3 or 4 days a week, and as a single mom, with full custody of her teen, this is a situation fraught with ambivalence. She has to earn her living, and her daughter needs to be supervised, but together they have little time. Another single dad with 3 kids, has a team of nannies looking after his elementary and teen aged kids. He too, must travel, knows his kids are well cared for, but not by him. And finally, I was watching a reality show last night call "The Pitch" about the life of working in an advertising agency, and the toll long hours can wreak on families. One particular scene showed a young dad receiving a phone call from his wife, reminding him that he hadn't seen his kids for 4 nights running. Feeling guilt and sadness, the father secretly leaves his office to steal a bedtime ritual with his kids. The kids run to their dad, climbing all over him like a jungle gym, until a call from the office demands he return to deal with an imminent deadline. The kids burst into tears, not understanding why their daddy can't just stay home. They do not understand deadlines! The pain on this guy's face, having to leave his children, and the pain on his wife's on being left with the children was palpable. Real life, real conflict!! Sound familiar?
Young children can be bribed, reasoned with and cuddled. Teens, not so much. Entering in and out of a teen's life is not easy. They are apt to be angry that mom or dad is unavailable when they are needed and resent the parent for wanting to bud in on a life they are not much a part of. Such was the case with this single mom. The daughter's life is unlike any of her friends. She lives in a wealthy suburban town where her friends live in large comfortable houses. She lives in an apartment. Her friends can go home after school to houses where a parent is present, she has to go to her grandmother's. She often has to sleep at her grandmother's. She loves her grandmother, but misses the comfort of just being able to hang in her own room, when she wants. She and mom are not in a good place. There is unspoken resentment and anger from the daughter. The mom feels awful, and guilty most of the time.
If you have a partner, or you are the parent whose hours at work outnumber the hours at home, you have to work hard at letting your teen know you understand that this can be difficult. You do not need to apologize for your work, cause that may be what you have to do to provide for your family, but understanding how this might be a difficult for your teen, and communicating them to them is vital.
Here is a conversation I suggested she have with her daughter, one she has never had. '' You know honey, I was thinking the other day while I was sitting on the plane that your life is so different from your friends, and how hard that might be for you sometimes. I admire you so much for your ability to be so flexible, and to often have to give up your own comforts and routines just because of my schedule. I don't think I have ever told you how much I really appreciate all you do and all you often have to give up because of the kind of life we have. I love you, and think you are amazing for putting up with all this. "
Most times a teen just needs to be validated that its OK to feel that their life isn't they way they wish it was, and that they wish their parents didn't have to work so much, and were away so much. You don't need to buy them expensive gifts to prove your love. Making your teen feel important can be as easy as having the conversation above, and a quick daily text saying, "I miss you", or, "hope you had a good day", or a nightly bedtime ritual call when you are away. No need to feel guilty or defensive, just loving. That can go a long long way!