Back to work and back to school. The start of lift clubs, tuition classes, new extramural activities and loathed mandatory homework, project nights and birthday parties seemingly every other weekend.
Not to mention the gym routine you’re itching to get back into, weekday business travel trips and plain putting dinner on the table.
All of which, at the start of a new year, herald the frenetic pace of “life at the grindstone”. Only, it’s not your boss who is putting this kind of pressure on you, but you yourself.
To be a better parent.
I’m not talking about the Monday blues, when after the weekend’s revelries you’re depressed at the idea of returning to yet another mundane work week. These are people who dread Mondays.
Monday syndrome – something I came across by chance and can’t seem to find anywhere online, but is clearly evident in real life – is experienced by parents who are happy to be at work on a Monday morning and, moreover, happy to be away from their families.
The trouble is, it’s a secret feeling few parents will confess to, knowing their kids and spouses won’t be too pleased to hear about it.
These are parents who are simply burning themselves out and being too hard on themselves about deserved time away from their brood.
When they’re not “away” at work, they go to parent-teacher meetings; drop, fetch and/or attend all of their child’s various athletic activities; and ensure he or she isn’t missing out on anything, like the new Waterworld all their friends are talking about.
In fact, the busier some parents are during the week, the more they seem to want to cram into weekends with their children. Camping trips, short holidays at the coast, going to the latest movie, theme park or mall trawling – all in the name of quality time.
A secret longing for Monday mornings in the sanctuary of the office, where they can perhaps drink that cup of coffee and read the newspaper in peace.
Durban-based educational psychologist Dr Anand Ramphal says this is a defeating exercise and it’s not for the lack of love for one’s children.
“Despite everything that is broadcast to modern parents about quality time, there are parents who forget it is about meaningful interaction, and simply giving your child 100 percent of your attention.
“For some children it is about what Dad or Mom ‘has bought me’ or ‘where they are taking me this weekend’.
“The bonding process and a child’s social skills rely on interaction with those individuals closest to them. A child who is simply given things will miss out on certain learning opportunities.
“In the old days children made items to play with, using their imagination and resources. It’s not the same as being handed something to play with and it doesn’t inculcate the same values. So parents who feel they are doing a disservice by not buying the latest ‘it’ toy need to understand that premise is a fallacy.”
He adds that children continually taken on expensive trips and bought the latest “must-haves”, quickly come to believe this is what they need.
“A noose for your neck,” as a colleague of mine would say.
So where did it all start and what do you do to make it stop?
Guilt about not being there, it seems, breeds guilt about not wanting to be there.
Psychologist Dr Prema Laban says that what we’re talking about is incredibly common, especially among young parents.
She says younger parents of today, who do not have the support systems to raise their children, as their parents had, are particularly resentful.
They have to work and they have to raise their children successfully, often by themselves.
Step one, it seems, is to stop feeling guilty about having to work.
“Parents need to understand that their work ensures they can provide for the child’s well-being and their job satisfaction, ultimately makes them better people to be around and thus better parents.
“School is expensive and work is demanding. This can be stressful and, to top it all, frustrating when they don’t often get enough time with their children. So, these parents do more on the weekends and land up fatigued from it by Sunday evening.”
Laban says many parents see weekends as their time with their children and weekdays as the school’s responsibility. This split is detrimental, she says.
They become emotionally detached during the week.
“It is important to aim for a balance – parents should make time with their children during the week. Don’t separate the week from the weekend into school and fun.”
Apart from creating a balance or spreading out quality time together across the week, she says parents should not make the mistake of trying to make up for their absence with gifts.
In other words, stop buying takeaway meals with toys.
Stop trying to buy affection.
“Rather listen to your child more, play with them in the backyard. No one says stop going out, but don’t make it necessary in order to have a good time.”
If what you do with your children is about what other folks are doing, you have a whole other kettle of fish on your hands, she says.
“For example, we find in pre-school environments that parents get competitive about what they do for their children. It’s about who can bake or go on field trips. Worse, working moms end up being pitched against stay-at-home moms.
“Steer clear, by understanding that we have created too much of a culture around children. We have prioritised children’s needs to the detriment of adult needs.
“Any needs met from a place of guilt will lead to anger. Parents should nip it in the bud, at the start of the school year by saying goodbye to guilt and accepting that good moms and dads are happy moms and dads.” - The Mercury