My husband and I work in the financial industry with long hours and frequent travel. We try as much as we can to ensure that at least one of us can be at home with our son. But our boy, who has just turned seven, is getting out of control and we are regularly getting calls from school because he is not handing in homework and is hitting other children. I feel like such a bad mother. I am considering a transfer to the back office so I will be able to focus more on our son and spend more time with my husband. Is it too late?
Working mum guilt is an epidemic, especially in the financial industry, where staying competitive is vital to your work. Guilt can have a restorative value if you are able to see it as a signal for a change in behaviour and act accordingly, instead of running away from the problem.
If you want to help your son and develop a lasting relationship with him, you and your husband need to make compromises. Look at your son as your most valuable client - a demanding one who has a special place in your calendar every day - and you will be surprised how he reacts.
As with a client, you have to win his loyalty and trust and that takes time and commitment. All parents love their children, but youngsters need to be shown that you care. When you are in a business meeting with a fussy VIP client, do you chat with friends on WhatsApp? When you want to understand what your not-so-expressive client is mumbling about your product, how do you listen and ask questions in order to keep this client? For children, or in any relationship for that matter, nothing is worse than feeling that the other party doesn't care or that you are at the bottom of the priority list.
Children's misbehaviour often is a cry for help or a signal that something is missing or not right. Maybe that is time and attention from you both. Based on what you said, he may not have a lot of family time with mum and dad, and at his age he still needs guidance, love and warmth from both of you.
While your son needs more of your attention, he may also start to act more like a "little man" instead of the little boy that he once was.
It might be hard for many mothers to accept, but boys need fathering as much as being mothered. Many studies have shown the differences in parenting by mothers and fathers. Mothers are generally nurturing, gentle, protective and emotional, while fathers tend to be physical and playful, encouraging risk taking.
In order for your son to develop his full potential (physically, intellectually and emotionally), he needs his father as a role model.
He is still dependent on you both, but male mentoring will become increasingly important for his development.
Your son is reaching the stage where school life starts to become central to his life. School is where he develops his sense of identity in terms of abilities and sense of pride through social interaction. So check with his teachers and try to understand what lies behind his problematic behaviour and work with the school. The school counsellor should be able to give a better idea of what might have troubled your son, what you can do to help him and what resources might be available.
Don't forget to talk to your helper or nanny, since she is likely to be the person your son spends most time with.
You also have to consider what a transfer to the back office and possibly a lesser role would mean to you. Would you resent the loss of income and status? That might affect your parenting as well as your relationship with your husband, not to mention your self-esteem.
Maybe you and your husband can sit down and discuss how to make your son a priority.
Lora Lee is a child therapist and parenting counsellor with a background in developmental psychology, play therapy, and post-separation counselling