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Eye-Opening Questions for Working Parents to Ask

I remember watching my 18-month-old son eat a big frosted cookie while I was carrying him out of the bakery. I asked him, "Can you give mommy a bite?" He leaned over and gently bit me on the cheek.

Kids take things so literally. What misconceptions and concerns might your child have about their working parent?

An in-depth study was done through the Families and Work Institute, to find out what children want from their working parents. Wouldn't you think the study would show that kids want more time with working parents above all else? Surprise. They want their working parents to be less stressed. That's right. Less stressed. It makes sense. Doesn't it? Think of how you feel after spending time with stressed-out people.

Balancing the needs of work and family isn't easy. It takes skill, planning, and a lot of positive communication. Even then, it's easy to get stressed by time constraints and conflicting demands, especially around the holidays.

Try asking your kids these eight questions. Their answers might surprise you.

* Where do I work?
* What do you suppose I do at work?
* Why do you think I go to work?
* What would it be like if I didn't work?
* What do you like about me going to work?
* What's the hardest part for you about me going to work?
* In what ways would you like things to be different?
* How do you suppose I feel about working?

Your family life will be enriched when you open communication by letting kids express their thoughts and ideas. Read the do's and don'ts to prepare for an eye-opening conversation.

- Don't insist on asking every question in one sitting. Continue as long as your child is interested in the conversation.

- Expect the unexpected. You may be delighted by some of your child's thoughts and dismayed by others. Five-year-old, Bryan, told his dad with complete sincerity, "I think you go to work so you can be with friends your own age."

- See your child's negative responses as feedback to consider, instead of criticism.

- Don't shut down communication, when you don't like what you hear. Allowing your kids to fully express themselves will strengthen your relationship. Let them feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with you, even the scary or angry ones. Don't make your kids fear your reaction.

- Acknowledge your child's feelings. Suppose she says, "I think you go to work because you don't like to be with me." Resist the urge to cut her off with, "You know that's not true!" Be helpful by saying, "I didn't know you felt that way. Would you like to know how I feel about it? . . ."

- Focus on listening more than you talk. It's easy for me to talk on and on about what I'm passionate about. What I've found is, the more I talk, the less my kids listen. They tune me out. Don't overwhelm kids with too much information. Give brief and age appropriate responses.

- Encourage kids to guess when they aren't sure how to answer a question. It takes the pressure off and makes the questions more playful.

- There isn't always a quick fix to resolving conflict. When kids feel insecure or unhappy about family issues, don't expect one conversation to clear everything up. It takes time for kids and adults to break out of old habits of thinking.

- If you are a stay-at-home parent, shed a positive light on the parent who works outside the home. I still remember the warm feelings I had when my mom would say, "Your daddy works so hard for his family." Parents, whether married or divorced, working outside or inside the home, will reduce tension by showing appreciation for the positives of the other parent.

- The question, "What would it be like if I didn't work?" may reveal your child's favorite things to do. If she answers, "We would sing songs or play make-believe or read books," you can sprinkle those activities into the time you have at home.

- Help kids understand that working is another way of taking care of them by providing financial support. It can be a model for achieving a sense of fulfillment and contribution to society. Don't create fear around the need to work. Instead focus on the needs it meets.

- When your child shares feelings of hardship with having a working parent, show compassion not pity. Pity makes a child feel pitiful and feeds their insecurities. Talk about how the child wishes things could be. Possibly make changes to ease the hard parts for them and for yourself.

- Follow up the discussion with a visit to your workplace. If that's not possible, show your child a picture of your workplace, or paint a picture with your words so they can imagine where you are when you aren't home. This creates security for kids, replacing fear of the unknown with a positive image.

Tensions are reduced when kids and parents share their thoughts and ideas. Balancing work and family is tricky business, and well worth the efforts.

Marilyn Suttle shows you how to create satisfying work and family relationships, increase self esteem and self care. Marilyn shares delightful stories filled with useful skills and principles. She has presented programs to corporations both large and small, including Fortune 500 companies such as Ford Motor Company, Visteon Corporation, and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. She delivers programs that enlighten, entertain and empower.Email her at Marilyn@SuttleOnline.NET. Subscribe to her Free monthly e-newsletter by visiting her web site: WWW.SuttleOnline.NET.

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