October 2011: What do you do if you’re a missing-in-action parent?
Papa was coming home! The house was abuzz with excitement, and seven-year-old me was in charge of doing a last cleanup. When he arrived, I proudly showed off my contribution around the house, even following him into their bathroom. Here, Papa noticed a new bar of soap. “Tara*, why have you put out new soap?” he asked. “Because,” I replied, “Mummy’s told me that I must open new soap every time a guest comes home…”
I didn’t realise then how much I had hurt my rarely home Naval Officer father, but have never forgotten his shocked, crestfallen face. As a parent who travels a lot on work, I’m sure there are times you too are acutely aware of the void you’re leaving in your kids’ lives and of all you’re missing, aren’t there?
We’re come up with a few tips on how best to be a parent-in-absentia… Tell us your stories and ideas… we’d love to hear ’em!
Keep in Touch
Have you seen the latest iPhone ad? It has lovely footage of a father watching his baby, live, from far away. Fortunately, we live in the tech era, not the trunk call one, so use it to bridge the gap. With mobiles, Skype, BBM, WhatsApp, SMS, email, Facebook, (the list is endless), there’s no excuse not to tell bedtime stories, get ‘how was your day at school?’ updates, and basically be as accessible as possible…
Use technology not only to be in touch with your kids, but also to stay tuned in to what’s going on around them. Stay involved in their worlds by staying connected to their teachers, friends, friends’ parents, and your spouse, of course!
Set a Ritual
High-flying marketing guru, Navroze Dhondy has taken his kids to school every day for the past 17+ years—every day that he’s home, that is. “My travelling has only increased in the last few years. But this ritual, that I’ve had since my daughter was four (she’s now 21, my son’s in the 11th) has helped me stay connected to the kids. It’s our bonding time, where a lot of questions are asked, connections are made. Waking up early has certainly been worth it!”
Keep it Real
“Leaving everything to the maids and the drivers creates an unhealthy world for the kids,” says Navroze. So even if you’re away a lot, when you can, make a special effort to do the small, seemingly insignificant things—combing their hair, making their tiffin—not only contribute to the ‘bigger’ occasions.
Being There for the ‘Big’ Times
Don’t you remember running in to your dad’s arms when you lost the tennis championship by a whisker when you were in the sixth? Or that sepia-toned Diwali when the whole family was together, just before your brother went off to hostel?
No matter how much you travel or how important your job is, your role or absence on some days will be forever etched in your kids’ memories. Is there a PTA meeting, sports’ day, birthday, festival coming up? Try realigning your schedule to be around for important days.
Our Delicious Daddy Hrithik Roshan, who, as we all know, jet sets across the world, is particularly worried about overcompensating for his absences. You should be careful too: you see why being too indulgent when you’re back will upset the order and routine in your kids’ lives, and is patently unfair to the always-there parent, right?
Is one of you a parent-in-absentia? How do you stay connected to your kids?
This article appeared on Yowoto—a now-defunct parenting website startup that I helped incubate as Editor-in-chief—in October 2011.
While I’m now a firm childless antinatalist, my politics weren’t fully formed when I took this short-lived assignment to explore the digital side of publishing (though it was never a good fit). Nonetheless, some of the articles I wrote at the time are interesting.