Solutions for the Absent Parent

Studio 5 Contributor Annie Valentine shares some thoughts on how to be present when you’re not present.

Here are a few ideas from some fantastically creative mommies that can help us sharpen our skills and get back in the present.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, quantity doesn’t always convert to quality. Sometimes we get so distracted with our jobs and our cell phones and our facebook accounts, it’s easy to forget that there are people who need more than a plug-in babysitter. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed with parenting but still want to be a good mom or dad, consider a few of the following ideas:

1. A Foot Box. This is a box filled with “special” games and toys that can only be played with at a parent’s feet. Kick back and read your novel while your little children peruse whatever assortment of treasures you can come up with. Ideas include paper dolls, books on tape, costume jewelry, or even a small felt board. Whatever your child considers gold standard, that’s what goes in the Foot Box.

2. For very small children, a Coloring Box is another great idea. Take the bottom of a large crate type box and tape a piece of paper down. Dump in crayons and your toddler, and what you end up with is a contained work space that they’ll play in for, oh, at least fifteen minutes. That’s some good parenting right there.

3. A third idea is to give your child a small photo album and have them make you a book or write a story. Sit there with your ipod on and forget the world, while your little creative genius thinks he’s got the coolest mommy on the planet.

For the parent who works full-time and has few daylight hours to spend with their kids, it’s important to make the most of what you’ve got.

1. Media Free Bucket. Take an hour each evening where everyone in the family, mom and dad included, bucket their media. Phones, ipods, television and computers–everything goes unplugged. It’s a great way to show your kids that they’re more important than any of the distractions vying for your time. Teach them to play cards, read aloud (even if they’re older), or work with them on homework.

2. Have a nightly Hi-Lo ritual. If you eat dinner together, take the time to go around the table so everyone can share a little about his or her day–the high and the low. Even small children love this routine. If you can’t eat together, consider having a family bed time ritual, a Round Table where everyone sits together in one place and eats hot cocoa and toast, then shares their Hi-Lo. After all, isn’t everything better with food?

And for the parent who isn’t currently living under the same roof as their children, consider some of the following ideas.

1. Take advantage of video conferencing, and use the HI-Lo technique or some other conversation ritual to give your kids a reason to get on the line.

2. Take regular pictures of your time together, and help them keep a running photo album of your relationship. With a few clicks you can download pictures to just about anywhere and have them sent to just about anyone. Send your kids updated pictures of your adventures to keep you fresh in their minds.

3. Make them a countdown calendar for your next visit. When my husband is gone for long periods of time with work, we like to put random facts or questions about him on each different day. It keeps him fresh in our minds, and the kids learn something new about him they might not have known.

And when you find yourself tuning out that jabbering toddler or paying more attention to your email than your second grader, focus on the color of their eyes. It’s a great way to get yourself back in the present and really hear what they’re saying.

Whatever it is that’s keeping you from being the parent you want to be, there’s nothing like a good excuse to get back in the saddle and try something new. This time is fleeting, let’s make the most of it.”

Annie is a columnist and blogger. You can share her insights by visiting

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