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When you're a mom who works out of the home, there's always that nagging feeling that you're missing out on something -- whether it's your baby's first smile, an owie to kiss or just the normal, mundane afterschool download about your kid's day. Add to that the fact that your kids may be feeling their own anxiety about your absence, and you've got a great recipe for mommy guilt. So how can you stay connected to what's happening with your kids when you're away? We asked Joanne Stern, PhD, author of Parenting Is a Contact Sport, for her advice:
Set a time to talk.
Whether it's a "date" to call your babysitter each morning after your tot's nap time, or an appointment to text your tween when she's home from school, try to set a consistent time each day to check in. (Make sure, however, that your own work schedule allows for this consistency. Nothing will set your toddler off like a missed phone call because Mommy was stuck in a meeting!) This is especially important when your work day is much longer than your child's school day, Stern says. "When your child’s day is over, acknowledge that -- don’t wait until mom's day is over to make a connection."
Write them love notes.
Once your school-age kid can read -- even enough to decipher an "I [heart] you" note from Mommy -- you can tuck little letters into their backpacks or lunchboxes each day to remind them that you're thinking about them, Stern says.
Give them virtual hugs.
For kids age 4 and older, Stern is a big fan of this visualization technique: Give your child a small token -- anything from a photo to a bead or a coin -- that reminds them of you that they can put in their pocket or school bag. Then, if they start missing you, they just hold that little icon and squeeze it. "Teach your kids to visualize you," Stern says. "Say, 'Close your eyes and feel me giving you a hug.'"
Get photo updates.
If your child has a nanny or regular babysitter, ask her to email you photos of your tot at least once each day -- at a trip to the park, on a playdate with a pal or even while she's eating lunch -- so you can feel like you're a part of the event.
Take advantage of technology.
When my son was in preschool, there were cameras in the classroom, and parents could log on to their computers and watch what was going on each day. That's a great idea, Stern says. These days many schools have a blog or site where school photos are shared. "See if your child’s daycare or school has a way for you to see more of what’s going on."
What shouldn't you do as a parent? Stern warns against calling or texting your kid while she's at school (unless it's an emergency, of course) or checking in with older kids too often. "They’re capable of going through a day on their own," she says. "You want to teach them to be independent and if you’re constantly there giving them the message that you don’t trust them, then they'll feel like they can’t be on their own. There's a balance between taking care of them and helping them become self-reliant."