WASHINGTON, September 9, 2014 — This is the time of year when our children begin school or return to school. It is the time in which parents are overwhelmed with conflicting roles and responsibilities. For example, many parents have a job. Their first pressure is transporting their child to and from school. Once the child returns home, the next decision is who watches the child? Does one parent work or both? Can the parents arrange their schedules so that one parent is home when the other is not? Is childcare the only option?
If this was the extent of the conflict, life would be rather simple. Instead, our children have the gall to need and want play dates, sports, homework, tutoring, and other extracurricular activities. The child must be transported there and home again. The younger the child, then the more supervision needed at each activity. Who will be there and can any of these caregivers be trusted with your child?
Is that all? No. Many families consist of multiple children. They must all get places and return from those places. These children range in age from those who need care continuously and those who are more self-reliant. Finding good childcare is daunting, leaving a child with a care giver is daunting, and leaving a child alone, regardless of age, is downright scary.
There is a difference between childcare and participating in your children’s’ lives. Some parents like to be at as many events that their child participates in as possible. Some parents split this duty, and some prefer to let others do that part of childrearing for them.
It is likely that each of these alternatives and making these decisions creates a feeling of conflict, and in many cases, guilt or separation anxiety for the parents. A major source of spousal arguments comes from making these decisions. Oftentimes there is a dominant child rearer (or the converse, dominant worker), but in the best case, these duties can be shared.
The keys to successfully managing these daunting tasks and maintaining a happy career-life balance is the following:
- Identify, in advance, a manageable (for you) amount of activities your children will be involved in. There are times this may be out of your control such as when you must hire a tutor unexpectedly or you have a specials needs child who needs extra assistance with activities. The number one mistake parents make is deciding what is a manageable amount of activities for their children – it is not their schedule that matters most, it is yours.
- Expose your children to activities that they like but remember they do not need every minute of their day filled, even if they appear to be very good at many things or they seem to like many things. Parents – control the impulse to overenroll them; it is not good for them or you.
- Identify where you and your spouse like to spend most of your time – at work, with family or a combination of both. There is nothing wrong with enjoying work and spending a great deal of time there. It is important to attend significant events and not let your child’s life pass you by. However, you do not need to be there for everything. A child who is five and younger, rarely remembers most of his/her pre-school years so they will not miss you. They do, however, remember being loved and protected. That love and protection you can provide without being at every single event. Find a balance with your spouse that makes both of you happy.
- There is nothing wrong with being a full-time parent even if you were previously devoted to work. One piece of advice for the stay-at-home – stay connected when you are raising your children. Read the news, maintain friendships with coworkers and supervisors, if possible, and keep up with new technology. This will give you options when your children are older and you may want to work again.
- Meetings never end on time. Scheduled activities at work never begin or end on time. Parents will be running late all of the time. Learn to be assertive and leave on time. Have a backup plan when you cannot leave on time. Running to and from their child’s activities is possibly the most stressful and dangerous activities for parents because they are highly distracted and they are likely sitting in traffic.
Raising children and working a full-time or even part-time job at the same time is one of the most challenging aspects of today’s world. Very few people have the luxury of choice – they must do both. Therefore, it is better to create a purposeful strategy that does not create marital conflict, does not overstress the children, and it allows parents to be productive at work.
This week’s prescription: Make a tangible plan to balance your work life with your children’s schedules in order to protect you, them, your work and your marriage from excessive stress.