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Balancing Work and Family

Air Date: 03/08/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.   In one of the slowly fermenting stacks of paper on my desk, I recently found a 2008 letter to the Wall Street Journal. Curious about why I'd saved it, I read through it-and realized that it was perhaps more pertinent in 2011 than it was in 2008. This letter referred to the "work-life blend" touted by an executive and author who described taking his laptop and paperwork to his son's baseball game so he could, essentially, kill two birds with one stone. The letter-writer lamented that family and children so often lose the competition with work for adult time and attention. This is especially interesting in light of recent research telling us that children and teens are experiencing increased stress and depression because they can't get their parents to pay attention to them: those parents are too busy texting and checking their Facebook pages.             It's true that parenting is a complicated-and often thankless-task and that most parents would benefit from parenting education and support on a regular basis. It's also true that work intrudes far more these days into family life than it used to, and that many parents feel pressured to focus on work rather than family-hence laptops at sporting events and Blackberries at school concerts. Parents usually believe they're doing well when they manage to show up for their kids' events, even when they have to drag work along with them. But where is all this multi-tasking getting us?             There's been lots of research into the effects on children of parents who work. Interestingly enough, most of the research tells us that kids don't mind when their parents work; in fact, many children are proud of how hard their parents work and understand that they do so to provide a good life for their family. But kids are also clear that they often feel less important than their parents' jobs and that the time they do have with their parents feels rushed-and kids hate that. It's hard to have a conversation with someone who keeps looking down at her watch.             If you are a working parent, take a moment to explore life from your son or daughter's perspective. Imagine that you are your child. You are playing your sport, or your instrument, or doing whatever you do, and you look up to search for your parents' faces in the crowd. When you do find them, you notice that they're not actually looking at you, but gazing instead at the screen of their phone or tapping out a text message. How would you feel-really? Is it the same when mom and dad are there if they're not actually paying attention?             The writer of the letter I mentioned noted that it would not be considered appropriate to bring laundry to fold or kids' homework to correct to a business meeting, yet parents bring work tasks into their family lives all the time. This conflict has only gotten more intense over the past few years, as technology invades our living rooms in the guise of iPads, smart phones, and other digital devices. Many frustrated parents tell me that they'd love to be more available to their kids but their bosses or clients expect them to be available "24/7" and they don't feel they can say no. This isn't multi-tasking; it's insanity.             I'm not going to tell you that finding the balance between work and family is easy: it isn't. I remember very well being a working single mom with a young son; every day brought choices between book deadlines, job duties, and Little League games, not to mention just having a relaxed conversation or baking cookies together. When my son told me he wasn't feeling well, I remember feeling sick myself as I contemplated staying home with him (with no paid sick leave) versus going to work.             But here's the deal: if you're a parent, you are shaping your child's entire view of the world and his place in it. If he isn't important enough for you to focus on, to give your undivided attention to, he will know it-and he will behave and make decisions accordingly. Children don't need to be the center of the universe-but they do need to have an important place in it, a place they don't need to fight for. Sometimes you just need to put aside the paperwork, the bills, the computer, the television, and the phone, and pay attention to the people you love.             Think for a moment: when was the last time you spent more than 10 minutes completely focused on your child, without any distractions? Try taking time every day to sit down, make real eye contact, and have a conversation. It doesn't have to be a long one, but focus on being completely present. Go to games and concerts and other activities; wave when your child looks for your face and look happy to be there. Work when you must-and we all must-but set some boundaries about where work ends and family begins. Your choices tell your children far more than your words about their place in your life. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.