Balancing All Family Members' Needs

“Get Out of My Life: But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?”
—Title of Anthony Wolf’s book, subtitled, A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager

Regardless of whether you’re a family of 2 or 12, balancing everyone’s needs and interests is bound to be a significant, ongoing challenge. This is especially true during the elementary and middle school years, before teens can drive or get rides with friends. As the parent, it’s important for you to set limits and boundaries that protect your own time and energy, while also finding ways to help your children balance school, family time, activities, socializing, and so on. Here are some ideas that might help:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Do your best to take care of your own needs for adequate sleep, nutrition, and alone time. This can be very difficult—and will sometimes feel impossible—when your children are babies and very young children. Be sure to ask for help and support from people you trust. Also schedule regular time away from your children, such as nights out with friends or family, time to exercise, or time to just be alone doing something you enjoy.
    • Go to your babies when they cry. If they are hungry, feed them; if they need a clean diaper, change it; and so on. They will learn to trust that their basic needs will be met and this will help them be more relaxed and trusting in general.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • If your children need rides to school or other activities, find out if there are other children in your area who also need rides. If all the parents drive, set up a carpool. If you use public transportation, take turns escorting so that everyone gets a break sometimes. If no good options are available, call the school or program provider and find out if they have a system for helping with transportation . . . some do.
    • Schedule time away from your kids for yourself and/or you and your parenting partner. Children this age often will be comfortable being left with a friend’s family for an afternoon or evening.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Older children and young teens should be expected to help maintain sanity and order in the household. Divide chores among your family in a way that respects everyone’s schedules and preferences. Most young people will more willingly help out if they understand the need and are included in the process of making “assignments.”
    • Set aside a certain time (or times) each week that are \“at home\” hours when no one is expected to run errands, need a ride somewhere, or have an activity or event.
    • Often, a child’s involvement in something is connected to it being an interest or activity of one parent. This means that some siblings may get more or a different kind of one parent’s time. If parents are alert to this they can be intentional about the amount and quality of time they spend with their other children.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Regardless of your teenagers’ interests and current involvement, regularly sit down with them and talk through their commitments to school, friends, jobs, and so on. Make sure they are making intentional decisions about what they do with their time, and make sure that their choices are respectful of your family’s schedule.
    • Boundaries and expectations about curfews will be most effective when they are fair (e.g., based on your community’s law) and are established through discussion, not just mandate. Help your children understand your reasons (such as you needing to be able to go to sleep at night) for wanting them to have a curfew.
  • Be consistent in what you say and what you do. As much as possible demonstrate balance in your own life.

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