My husband Vineet, 40 years old, is an architect. We have three children aged 15, 12 and 10. He starts his work at 7 a.m. and finishes by 10 p.m. Twice in a year we take a vacation and at that time he tries to make up for the whole year. He gives all the attention at that time, makes us enjoy and is full of fun. However, after that he is back to his work. As a result, we suffer as a family. We have tried to involve him in our matters but somehow he always has an emergency at that time. I know that he does not have an avoidant intention, however it is also true that he has been unable to give us the needed time. My children also feel that their father is neglecting them. Now they are growing up and need his advice and guidance in many matters. How can I get my husband to put his family as a priority?
One of the worst feelings in the world is to realize that your family has been pushed down your priority list and it becomes even worse when you realize what has happened as a result. Your husband is unable to put the family ahead of many things and it is important to convey that to him. At the same time, it is also necessary to give him some help in making the family a priority. You have to set up a structure where he is able to involve himself in the family. Having a family time together can provide that structure. In the family time together, you could set up about 3-4 hours in a week preferably on a Sunday. If you do it on a regular basis and set aside a specific time, it would be better. You can change that time occasionally if something urgent comes up, but if this happens, immediately reschedule it for another time during the week. The main purpose of that time is to be together as a family. There should be four goals of spending this time – planning, teaching, problem solving and having fun. The first is to review your family’s calendar. Once you do that, your husband will begin to put time across in his calendar for these activities as they have been planned ahead of time. The weekly schedule would help you to know what is happening in every family member’s life and whether there is any event in the family, which you need to keep in mind. The next is to discuss problems and issues. Give suggestions and take decisions. The next is to have a bit of fun. Plan some activity for that time including some games or outing. That activity should involve all members of the family and should have a lot of interaction between the members. The idea is to feel close to each other and to feel a part of a unit. One thing, which can be done sometimes, is to get together and see a movie. However, that movie should have a theme, which can be discussed later by the family. It should be one, which can teach your children values and ethics, yet be in a fun way. In this way, you can start to gel as a family and achieve all the four goals. Occasionally you may try to get an outsider to come and talk to your family. It might be an elderly family member like a grandfather or grandmother who could tell you life experiences. It could also be a teacher or a learned person who could share his or her views and how life has been. This would be an invaluable teaching experience. One of the other things is to let each family member take a turn at being the leader of the family for that week. It would make them feel important beyond words. They get training in leadership and taking responsibility. It also shows what your children think about you and for Vineet it can be a learning experience too. If you feel that this is too idealistic and it is difficult to get Vineet to do all this from the first day, you could try doing only some things. Take one step at a time. It could start with a special family dinner every Sunday. Make it fun and perhaps he will realize that he gets a lot of enjoyment from that evening and then it is perhaps easier to have a more involved family time. Children particularly long for family experiences that make them feel close to one another and where they can demonstrate that they care about each other. Such a family time will have an effect not only your children but also on Vineet. His feelings of inadequacy may be responsible for his initial reluctance but as time goes by this will reduce as he starts to feel his contribution. When your children realize that your husband is a very busy and successful architect, and when he has time from his busy schedule to sit down with them and talk about them, they feel extremely important and special. Memories are built around such interactions and so are emotions. It helps to create a family safety net. For Vineet it is going to be a big task to get started. The end may look very fantastic and incredible, it may even justify all the efforts but the toughest part is to get started. He is weighed down by his daily schedule and there will be a great resistance. It probably requires a great internal thrust and motivation. However, once it happens you will be amazed at the freedom it gives to you and your family. You will have many options and alternatives. Do not get discouraged about what happens in the family meeting. It is not easy and sometimes inconvenient. Nevertheless, it will give results in the longer run. (to be continued)