Ever since his first day back to work after we came home from the hospital with her, he has a little sadness in his eyes every morning as he walks out the door. He’s not one to complain, but sometimes he lists off the things he’s missed – the first time she said a real word, her first time eating toast, and probably soon, her first step. When it’s his turn to get her in the morning, he tells her how much she’s grown up in the last day.
To be a parent is to know heartbreak every day, and this is especially true for working parents. Our family’s found that the secret is to create lots of opportunities for those magical little moments that make us want to wake her up after she’s asleep (even though that’s a very, VERY bad idea).
Here are a few ways our family makes creates little opportunities for our work-away parent to bond with our toddler:
Teach a Skill
One of the most rewarding things about having a toddler (and one of the toughest things for the working-away parent to constantly miss) is the thrill of watching them learn a new skill. In our family, we save a few things that are just for Daddy and Little to learn together (we discovered she really likes when we moo like cows, so this week he’s teaching her the “M” sound). That way, whenever she repeats that thing, he gets to feel that connection. This could be eating a special food or playing a game like high five.
Video Calls and Making Videos
If you can pull this off at all, do it! It’s worth it. We often do calls during his lunch hour and he gets to see her playing on the floor or eating her lunch.
In that vein, if I can’t call him, I take a bunch of little videos throughout the day on my phone and we watch them together while we’re getting ready for bed. This doubles as a way to see her face again when she’s asleep and is a great reminder of the good parts of the day.
If you don’t have a video camera, just use a regular camera, or even make a little written journal the working-away parent can read at the end of the day.
Create Shortcuts That Maximize Evening Time
Every family is different, but around here, our working parent (Dad) gets home around 6 and then an hour later it’s time for Little to start her bedtime routine. Even though I also work from home during the day, I make sure I stop whatever else is going on about an hour before he comes home so he can get right into daddy bonding mode. It’s his job to feed her right when he comes in the door, and then any leftover time is theirs for playing and catching up.
I’m not advocating for the stay-at-home parent to do this exact thing, I know you’ve got your hands full (trust me). But working in a few little shortcuts so that the working-away parent can hop right in is an important part of maximizing their time together.
We also like to treat this hour like a mini-weekend. When the weather’s nice, I pack sandwiches and we go out and look for a grassy spot to have a super quick outing.
Work in Daytime Visits
This may not be possible for every family, but sometimes he surprises us with a visit home for lunch and other times we’ll pop in and see him just for a minute. While we don’t do these very often, they definitely make the work day seem much shorter, make for good memories and help us bond as a family.
Nothing’s ever perfect. More often than not, things don’t happen exactly as planned – but that doesn’t stop us from trying.