In my job as a career coach at a public high school, it’s not uncommon for me to get regular visits from parents of students who are habitually absent or skipping classes. Now, these parents don’t usually come because they have prior knowledge of their children’s absences – they know that their kids leave the house after breakfast everyday to go to school; they have no idea that instead of going to school their kids drop by some online gaming stations or just hang outside the school with friends. The only reason these parents are in the Guidance Office is because they were notified by their children’s Class Adviser.
Recently a father of an eighth grader came to the Guidance Office because he heard stories from neighbors that his eldest son is no longer coming to school. These stories confused him because the boy leaves their house for school everyday. Upon checking my records, it shows that I have indeed spoken with his son regarding the boy’s absences and during the interview he said his parents are both farmers and that they usually ask him to come with them to the farm when there are plenty of tasks to do.
Knowing that our town is among the top 4 municipalities identified by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to have high cases of child labor in the country, I believed what the boy told me and immediately conferred with his Class Adviser to consider his case and arrange for an intervention. Nevertheless, we still sent his father an invitation to come to school so they are properly informed of their child’s performance.
It’s such a good thing that his father was a calm and composed man, but he was never able hide his disappointment when he heard what we told him about his son’s explanation for his absences. It turns out he was not a full-time farmer and that he has a job in another town. They do have a farm, but it is only a small one and they usually hire farm hands to do the job. His wife, on the other hand, stays at home to watch over the eighth grader’s younger siblings.
The boy has one younger brother in second grade, another in pre-school and the youngest is barely one year old. It’s easy to see how the mother’s hands are always full with very young children. When we asked his father if his oldest son gets to help their mother with the chores or with his younger siblings, he said no, in fact their mother rarely asks him to do anything that is why he cannot understand why their son cannot focus on his studies or have the energy to participate in class.
We asked his father if his son was always like this. He said no, he used to be a sweet and cheerful boy – until he had siblings.
“It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.”
Halfway through the interview with his father, we have come to understand where the boy’s lack of interest and enthusiasm was coming from. Due to the nature of his job, his father seldom comes home while his mother is usually preoccupied with taking care of three small children. Having nothing much to do at home, the boy spends most his time outside and sometimes spends the night at his grandparents’ or other relatives’ house. And his mother allows it.
SOMETIMES, OUR SILENCE SPEAKS LOUDER THAN OUR WORDS
“To a child, ‘love’ is spelled, ‘T-I-M-E'” – Zig Ziglar
Most of the time we are so busy with other things we neglect to tell our children we love them and that they matter to us, that their education and their interests are important to us. Either we assume that they know this already or we are hoping that pretty soon we will get the chance to tell them – when we’re done with the chores. Unfortunately, children are better at picking up on non-verbal cues than our spoken words. We can tell them again and again that we love them but they are never good at listening. When they see us working very hard and seldom having the time to sit down and talk to them, they don’t see us making the sacrifices in order to give them a comfortable life. Instead, they see parents who don’t care or worse – they see themselves as not lovable enough or important enough to deserve love and attention, and this self-defeating belief, when not corrected, can have a devastating long-term effect on their self-esteem.
Sometimes I say to myself, hey I should know this! I was a kid once. But no, I don’t. Maybe I did – before I had kids of my own. Funny how life plays tricks on us.
I guess I’m a slow learner. It took me six years to figure this out. Looking at the records, it appears that more than 90% of the cases brought into this office involve children whose parents are either not very involved with their education or are no longer living together.
“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren
There are of course rare cases where the children are raised single-handedly by a solo parent or a guardian but are raised with all the love and attention they need and they are doing perfectly well at school. It appears that the kind attention they are getting and the quality of time given to them by their loved ones as they are growing up is a key ingredient to helping them cope with the challenges they face at school and in life.
I understand how busy you are. As a working mother, I am faced with similar challenges as well. However, when I came to see how important spending time with our children is, I made a vow to restructure my daily routine so I can squeeze in a regular time daily to spend on my family.
THREE SIMPLE STEPS YOU CAN DO TO MAKE TIME FOR YOUR KIDS
Step #1 Examine Your Daily Routine
I used to think that once you are a working parent you work really hard to earn a living and be able to bring food to the table and send the children to school. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices, such as sleeping late to get something done, waking up early and coming home late.
This is insane! I thought to myself after six long years (I told you I’m a slow learner). I am slaving myself off for my family but my family can’t seem to feel or see what all the effort is for! I scream at the kids when they bother me and I easily lose my temper like most sleep-deprived parents do.
Sep #2 Plan Your Routine
This was when I decided to redesign my routine and spend at least 20 minutes each day for the children and my spouse. Since then, things seemed to get better at home. The kids look happier, my husband looks definitely happier and I was happier! All because I deliberately chose to allocate 20 minutes each day for them and when I say for them, I mean exclusively for them – no TV or any other background noise, no smartphone, nothing. Just me reading stories to them or hearing each child tell about his adventures at school that day while I give their dad a massage. My husband and I would take turns asking questions about how their day at school went and we would usually laugh at how funny these boys see the world. Cute kids.
“The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Because when you dedicate your time, you are offering a part of your life that you will never get back.” (godvine.com)
Simple things like these take no more than 20 minutes. In the morning I can also squeeze in around three minutes snuggling next to them in bed after I have prepared breakfast. I would wake them up with butterfly kisses and ask them if they had a good night’s sleep before having them jump off their beds. It sets the mood for the day. I hate seeing a grumpy child jump out of bed in a hurry because he is late for school. Makes me a grumpy mother at work too.
Step #3 Commit to Implement Your Plan
The first few days are the hardest, but when you consciously decide to follow your routine and consistently implement it for 21 to 30 days in a row, it will become a habit and doing it will feel as natural as brushing your teeth before going to bed.
There are times when I get to have projects that I need to work on late into the night. As much as possible I don’t allow projects to get in my way of giving my kids their 10-minute bedtime routine. Since they need to be in bed at around 9:30 or 10:00 in the evening, I make it a point to drop whatever it is I’m doing to spend a 10-minute cuddle time with them or read them bedtime stories. As soon as they are asleep, I tip-toe my way out of the room and get back to work.
Changing a routine we have gotten so accustomed to for so long can be very challenging and I would be lying to you if I said it was easy, but like our grandparents always told us, nothing is impossible with God. I drew much of my strength from my Higher Power. I’m done with relying on my own strength and trying to make things on my own.
What I shared with you here are bits and pieces of information from my own experience. You can of course try them and see if it works for you, or you may have had similar experiences, challenges and tips that you can share to other pilgrim parents like us. The road through life is sweeter and more meaningful when shared. I would appreciate it if you let us hear your thoughts and leave your message in the comments section below. Or if you found this helpful, we would appreciate it if you share it with your friends. Until next time!