Parenting Q & A
Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections (formerly known as Heights Parent Center) for the last 12 years, fields questions about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues impact many parents. If you have questions you would like Barrett to respond to in this column, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. My husband and I have two children, ages five and seven. I always thought I’d be the mom who could work outside the home, prepare nutritious homemade meals, attend PTA meetings, volunteer at our church and in the community, and entertain friends on the weekends. Each year, as the kids get older, I expect to find time for all of that. I’m waiting for our family life to get easier, to feel more settled, and for us to be able to enjoy each other and do more than just survive. How can I find time for work and family, and have some kind of a life outside that as well?
A. I remember watching my son learn to juggle when he was about nine years old. He went outside and started to throw three balls in the air. At first he had to dart wildly around the yard to try and catch them all. He dropped more than he caught, so he put one ball down and tried to juggle just two. After he got the hang of that, and was able to stand in one place, smoothly catching each ball, he added the third ball back in. Again, he darted back and forth, out of breath, catching each ball before it hit the ground. Little by little, as he learned to perfect his timing and toss, he mastered the juggling—but not without much trial and error, practice and readjustment.
Balancing family life and learning to juggle have much in common. No system is perfect, but here are a few strategies that might help you get a little closer to keeping all of those balls in the air:
* Prioritize. Make a list of the things you have to do—all of the family, school and work obligations. Then, list the extra things you’d like to do. Put them in order of importance for your family or for you personally. Put each one in a category, such as ongoing, seasonal, one-time obligation. Ask yourself how much time and energy you would need to devote to each activity, then rank them and make some choices. Learn to say no to the activities that fall farther down on your priority list—and let yourself feel OK about that.
* Build collaboration and teamwork. Look for ways to share obligations, such as being part of a committee or taking on small tasks that are part of a bigger project, so that you can make a contribution without overextending yourself. “Kid-share” with another family—watch their kids on occasion so that they in turn watch yours another time. Carpooling, or rotating other obligations with families participating in the same activities, will ease your schedule a bit, too.
* Delegate more tasks to your kids. As they get older they will be able to contribute more to household chores and free up your time a bit.
* Don’t skimp on “me time.” It is OK to put your needs ahead of your kids’ needs sometimes. If entertaining or being involved in your church or community contributes to your happiness, make those priorities as well. Taking care of yourself is vital to the health and welfare of your family.
* Make time for your marriage. Like taking care of yourself, nurturing your marriage is essential and will contribute to the feelings of success and satisfaction you are seeking.
Above all, don’t be afraid to drop a ball now and then. No mom is perfect and no family runs smoothly all of the time. Just like learning to juggle, sometimes you’ll have to put a few balls down and other times you’ll be able to pick some up—and it does get easier.
Ellen Barrett is a family support specialist and parent educator at Family Connections and a ife-long resident of Cleveland Heights.