The people I work with have HUGE jobs and, oftentimes, very strong family commitments and values that they want to honor with their time and presence.  With the publication of  Anne Marie Slaughter’s new book and the concomitant debate it has sparked, we are all well-served to ask how we might set up systems and business environments that don’t make these decisions so fraught.

In the meantime, while more systematic changes are pondered and pursued, I have clients answer the following: even if nothing changes with your work demands, what is possible right now to better connect with your children? I include below some of the incredibly practical and wonderful systems I have seen them set up, with the hopes that it inspires:

  • Parent of teens has “amnesty” Tuesday when he takes one of his three teenagers out for coffee. On those evenings, they can “confess” or tell him anything on their mind. His commitment is to problem solve/mentor only and promises no hyper reactivity. (Note: This structure is particularly genius because he can get in the right frame of mind in advance to listen). After doing this for some time, he’s noted that he can now tell when something major is going on when his kids start to switch their weeks.
  • Saturday “Bagels and Talk” ritual; each of three kids has a turn; they get full attention during that time
  • Movie/dinner night with family every Friday, when they’re beat anyway and can’t muster up energy for much else. If there are no new movies, they do Netflix/order in.
  • Another started gifting an activity for birthdays and holidays (long bike ride, race, kayaking in city, etc)
  • Another signed up for theater series with daughter to ensures it’s on calendar far in advance (sports tickets, opera/symphony tickets, etc do the same)
  • Using the school year as a marker, each child gets a solo dinner out at the beginning, middle, and end of school
  • One chooses LONG books to read to young children and does so by iChat even when away from home (they’re loaded on Kindle)
  • Another has “world cooking” every other week with pre-determined location from kids. If wiped out, they simply dine at restaurant from the region
  • Family works out together at health club once during the week (a two-fer!) then eats dinner there

None of these solve the ultimate problem of competing commitments in our cultural/work system. But they do start the process of getting better at creating the time, space and rituals that we, as human beings respond so well to.