With research from The University of Oxford revealing the negative impact a disengaged father has on his child, it's not surprising that one of the most common questions new Dads ask me is How can I be there for my child when my job takes me away from home so often? It's an understandable fear especially in this crazy, demanding world of ours. Many Dads are required to travel regularly for business purposes and the constant back and forth inevitably affects a father-child relationship. But that effect doesn't have to be negative.
To be successful, a relationship doesn't require a constant physical presence 24/7, 365 days of the year. We'd all be driven mad if it did! But it does require an emotional presence whether the person is in the same city or halfway around the world. We all know how it feels to be in a relationship - whether business or personal - where the other party is not emotionally invested. Maybe we've been that person ourselves. But when it comes to the parent-child connection, emotional engagement isn't an option. It's a requirement.
So the question remains - how to be emotionally present when physically absent? Easy. By keeping it simple, routine and consistent.
There are many ways to be emotionally engaged but the simplest is to make an internal commitment to do so then follow it up with external action. And with kids, your options for action are many...
When baby is still just a baby, ask your partner to put the phone on speaker when you call. Allow baby to hear your voice every day.When your child is a little older, get creative with some games you can play while you're away. Buy a jigsaw puzzle then hide the pieces around the house with clues leading from one piece to the next. Bring the final piece home with you then complete the puzzle together. You can do something similar with a book - let your child find a page each day then read it together when you call before bedtime. Or if time doesn't permit organising games, simply record a video message for them each night before you go to bed then email it to them or your partner to play for them over breakfast. Ask them questions you can then discuss on your evening calls. This can become more important as your child approaches the teen years and needs to know they're being seen and heard for who they are.
If your job takes you away regularly, start looking at ways to make your home time a routine occurrence. So you could decide that no matter what occurs at work, you'll always be home at weekends or will only travel every second week. Then when you're home, make that time matter.
Set some definite Daddy-time over the weekend that your child knows they can look forward to every week. Although there can be a temptation to do something big to "make up' for not being there during the week, it's often better and easier to keep it simple. And with all that travel, you'll probably benefit from keeping it simple too! A trip to the playground or cinema or just some playtime at home can be exactly what your child needs. If still a baby, then taking him out in the stroller or just hanging out with her getting to know her individual quirks can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Be consistent. Whatever you choose to do with your child, make it at the same bat-time, same bat channel. This gives your child the reassurance they need that Daddy-time is guaranteed time no matter how often his job takes him away from home. Discuss any child rearing issues that need resolving with your partner. Let your child know that all decisions are made by both parents even when you're not there. The more your child knows that your absence isn't an invitation to usurp Mum's decision, the better for everyone.
In the same way you would automatically review any project you're working on at the office, it's a good idea to apply the same logic here. Take a regular look at how it's all going. Do changes need to be made? Are you happy with the amount of time you're spending with your child? Is your travel schedule beginning to negatively impact on your family relationships whether with your partner or kids or both? If so, it may be time to start planning for the future.
Speak to your company about reducing your travel requirements. If that's not possible, are they open to you working from home so that you can at least be in the same space as your child when you're here?If your company is completely against any change in your current working situation, is there another job out there that would allow you to be home more whilst still ticking all the boxes of your career plans? It may be time to look for a more flexible company that's happy to support and acknowledge the needs of a family man.Or is it time to follow that dream you've had of working for yourself? What are the steps required to make that dream a reality? Can you bring your knowledge and expertise to other companies as a consultant? Or are there other people in the same situation you could join up with in creating the kind of company you could all benefit from?
Being there for our children is a balancing act all parents face. And it can take time to get that balance right. The willingness to be there even when you're not and the commitment that takes may seem daunting at first but is a huge step on the path to a fulfilling father-child connection. No matter how often your job takes you away from your child, a little bit of consistent action will allow you to be there for them always.