Is staying home when your kids are tweens more important than when they're babies?

We often hear how important it is to invest time in the first five years of your kids' lives, but perhaps it’s just as essential for parents to be accessible when their kids are a bit older.

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In mid-November, Shell Canada’s president and country chair, Lorraine Mitchelmore, 53, announced that she was stepping down at the end of the year, in part to spend more time with her two daughters. Her youngest is currently in grade six, which puts her right at the cusp of her tween years.

We often hear how important it is to invest time in the first five years of your kids’ lives, but perhaps it’s just as essential for parents to be accessible when their kids are a bit older. It’s been, ahem, a while since I was a tween, but I still recall how confusing life can be when you’re a preteen or a teenager. Many potentially life-altering choices, combined with raging hormones, are enough to create the perfect storm. My mom and dad were both close to home when my two sisters and I were at this age, and having them around a lot was a good thing. Our house was where everyone hung out—including our friends. I recently had a conversation with a friend of my middle sister, who told me how much that space meant to her when we were growing up. “We were all good kids,” she told me. “But, like all kids, you’re curious about trying new things. Having a place to go with adults around meant that we were less likely to push ourselves too far.” This friend appreciated it so much, she is considering restructuring her work life so she can be home when her toddler is older.

My kids are six and two-and-a-half, so they’re still years away from the kind of drama that middle school and high school can bring. But I can already see how important it is to be around—you notice the little things that could signal something bigger down the road. While it’s certainly possible to still do this if you’re working full-time, it may be easier if you’re around more often to catch a rare moment when your teenager wants to open up.

In a speech she gave last March as part of the Women of Influence series, Mitchelmore spoke about managing her life as a parent with her career. “I can’t tell you how often I get asked how I balance my demanding professional life with my equally demanding family life with my husband, Kevin, and our two daughters,” she says. “For me, it’s all about balance, whether you’re a woman or a man. It’s also about being there for each other and, going back to what I said earlier, it’s about knowing yourself and what works for you.”

And that’s exactly it: There is no script for this. For you or your partner, maybe going down this path means taking on a part-time position or working from home. Not everyone can stop working. And, let’s be honest, Mitchelmore was a senior oil-and-gas industry executive when she chose to take time off, so she has the privilege of being able to afford a pause in her career (and she is still a member of many boards of directors). But especially if your kids are young now, it’s worth thinking about what life might be like in 10 or more years. As Mitchelmore said in her Women of Influence speech: “Sometimes we need to lean in. Sometimes we need to lean back. Sometimes we need to lean sideways. Sometimes we don’t need to lean any way.”

Alex Mlynek is a writer and editor. She has two kids and wrote this post while her eldest (home sick) amused himself with an iPad.

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