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Make family time count

There’s no question that parents these days are busy. It’s typical for both moms and dads to work and, often, their jobs demand that they work long hours, that they travel more frequently and that they stay virtually connected to work no matter the time of day.

“Parents aren’t home for dinner at six anymore,” says Toronto psychologist Sarah Chana Radcliffe, who specializes in marriage, parenting and individual counselling and is the author of Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice . “There is more absence. My clients often tell me they have to work a minimum of 60 hours a week early on in their career when their children are young. It’s hard.”

All this time away from home could negatively affect children, but it doesn’t have to. “Quality time with your children is more important than quantity,” says Sarah. “The nature of your time together – the warmth, love and bonding you do – makes the biggest difference.”

These three families have one thing in common: they make the quality of time with their families count when quantity isn’t always an option.

Family micallefs - make family time countThe Micallefs
Victor, Kathleen and Zachariah, 3

Lack of quantity time
Victor is a member of the Canadian quartet The Tenors. The group travels a lot, and last year logged 300 performances. “This past year has been a little easier since we’re recording a new album and I can be in one place for longer,” says Victor. “If I’m anywhere for three days I will fly my family out, but sometimes it’s tough to bring them along. It’s a grueling schedule for us, so you can imagine how hard it would be for a child. I live out of a suitcase and see the airports and backstages of a lot of places, but we look for opportunities to be together. I make stops home if I’m anywhere close to Toronto even if it means taking a red-eye and being exhausted. Those days make a heck of a difference. And now Zach is aware. Every time I go to an airport it’s a big emotional thing for him. It breaks my heart to see him holding back tears.”

“I talk about Vic when he’s away,” says Kathleen. “It’s important that Zach knows his dad and that he knows Vic is always with us. We watch Vic when he’s on TV. He knows his father loves him.”

How they spend quality time

“Three is a great age,” says Victor of son Zachariah. “Everything he says makes us laugh. He’s got a lot of energy. We play sports together at home. We like to take him to the park. Kath reads to Zach and I’ll join them. Zach’s face lights up when I’m there. I do the voices.”

“We celebrate the holidays,” Kathleen adds. “We pick Halloween costumes together and decorate the Christmas tree. We go bowling. We go to church and sit together as a family. It’s the little things. We make the effort to make it work, but it’s not always easy.”

Words of wisdom
“I’ve got amazing family support,” says Kathleen. “It makes it a lot easier. When Vic is away, we plan lots of activities and visits to our families. It keeps us busy and passes the time until Vic gets home. I’ve also learned to pick my battles with Zach and let things slide sometimes to make it easier on myself. You need to know when it’s worth fighting with your kids.”

“My advice is to never take relationships with your wife or kids for granted,” says Victor. “I remind them that I miss them and love them. We all need to hear it. It’s also nice to count the sleeps so you can see an end to the absence and have something to look forward to. When we see each other we always do something fun. We ask our family to babysit and go on a date. We need to have moments alone together, too.”

Sometimes, being away serves as inspiration. “I wrote a lullaby to Zach that is going on our next album. In the song I tell him that I will meet him in his dreams. I think parents will really connect with the song.”

The Tenors’ latest album, Lead with Your Heart, is in music stores now. Visit them online at tenorsmusic.com.

Family wassersteins - make family time countThe Wassersteins
Candice, Dave, Ella, 4, Hayley, 2

Lack of quantity time
Dave is an orthopedic surgeon completing a fellowship. “Last year was the hardest year of my life,” says Candice. “Dave was out of the house at 5 a.m. and home at 8 or 9 p.m. every day and on call seven to eight times a month. I had a newborn and two-year-old. I was alone a lot. It was hard on me but it was hardest on my daughter, Ella. She cries for Daddy and misses him.”

How they spend quality time
“It’s the little things that matter,” says Candice. “When Dave is home, special time for him and the kids is bath time. Dave will forfeit eating to give them a bath. Then when he gets home, Ella sits on his lap and eats a second dinner with him.” They also play games like Zingo (a bingo game series for kids), Go Fish or memory games. On weekends, Dave makes elaborate breakfasts for the family. “Ella helps him crack the eggs and stir the batter for the waffles and pancakes.”

Words of wisdom
“We know it’s important to have balance, but when that isn’t an option, it’s quality time that counts. You do the most you can in the time you have. It’s the special little things that mean so much to kids – bath, breakfast or bingo before bed. I’m comforted by the idea that my kids won’t remember how much they cried during this time. As hard as it is, I think they will remember the good times.”

Family laidlaws - make family time countThe Laidlaws
Master Corporal Nicole Laidlaw, Sergeant Cameron Laidlaw, Emma, 2

Lack of quantity time
Nicole is a military police officer in the Canadian Forces and Cameron is in the infantry. They are both currently stationed in Toronto. Before they had Emma, they served in Afghanistan. They each need to travel for their jobs and there is always a possibility that they might end up being posted separately at any time. “When we lived in Petawawa, I did shift work where I’d be working for five days and off for five,” says Nicole. “I didn’t get to see Emma. And Cameron left for two months when Emma was born. It was hard. There were days when neither of us was home and my mom watched her. When Cameron was away in Halifax, Emma had temper tantrums all week. She just screamed and screamed. I didn’t know what to do. She’d never done this before, but she stopped when he got home.”

How they spend quality time
“We have more balance in Toronto,” says Nicole. “We usually work Monday to Friday with weekends off. It’s nice to focus on family and we are taking advantage of all that Toronto has to offer.” The family goes to museums, the CN Tower and enjoys outdoor activities, like geocaching, in which participants put coordinates on a GPS and look for treasures around the city. “We carry Emma and do it nearly every weekend in the summer!”

Words of wisdom
“We love our jobs,” says Nicole. “We both grew up in military families, so this is normal for us. We are proud to serve our country even though it puts a strain on our family. We try to see the bigger good and not focus on the smaller things. It’s hard, but we have a job to do. It also makes us appreciate the family time we do have and having each other as husband and wife. We make it work.”

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.

a man carrying two children

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