Finding a Parenting Balance

I know I was looking for excuses but you have to understand: I so needed a shower! I closed my eyes and took a deep breath . . . I brought the baby’s little chair over, adjusted the volume of the television, kissed the top of his head and watched his eyes start to sparkle . . . And I prayed for forgiveness.
—Paula Ford-Martin, The Kid Turned Out Fine

Not every parent agonizes over using television as a babysitter. For some, the issue instead may be whether to accept a job that means more travel, or one that requires working the second shift, a time when kids are usually home. Some parents are torn over taking time away from being with their families to exercise and maintain adult relationships. Regardless of the circumstances, most, if not all, parents struggle to balance parenting and family care responsibilities with the need to work and produce income, and meet basic needs for rest, recreation, and even showers!

The following suggestions are intended to reassure you that it’s important to take care of yourself:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Ask for help! Your parents, siblings, trusted neighbors, or good friends may all have valuable ideas to share. They’ll be happy to help if they can.
    • Using high-quality babysitters and daycare providers is okay. Don’t feel guilty—many parents utilize these services.
    • If your child isn’t enrolled in a daycare program, sign up an older toddler or preschooler in a class or program near home. Even if you have to stay at first, your child will begin learning how to play by her- or himself and with other children, gradually becoming less dependent on you for entertainment. Eventually, you’ll be able to trust that she will be fine in classes or activities supervised by other adults.
    • Hang on to at least one daily ritual or hobby that brings you peace and enjoyment, whether it’s having morning coffee, doing sit-ups and push-ups before bed, reading something you enjoy, going for a run, or meeting up with other parents and children.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Be adventurous—visit new places or try new activities together that you’ve always been interested in (but thought were “just for kids”).
    • Go ahead and let children have a special treat once in awhile—and be sure to have some yourself!
    • Hire a sitter for your kids on a fairly regular basis, if at all possible, so that you can take time for yourself or with your partner. Some parents find child-care swaps or co-ops with trusted friends work well for this purpose.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Encourage your children to try hobbies and activities that you also enjoy and can do together. Kids at this age are still generally open to new experiences.
    • Remember that children at this age need your input and supervision as much as ever, but appreciate the fact that they also want and need more time alone and with their friends.
    • Seize the chance to read or watch a favorite show…and forget about that “to-do” list for a bit.
    • Brainstorm with your children options for getting themselves places. Walking, biking, and car pooling with friends are all good alternatives to being their on-call chauffeur. (Offer to be a part of the car pool, of course.) Teens can also use public transportation when you feel they’re ready.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Be willing to say “no” to your teen when he or she makes a request you’re uncomfortable with (such as certain purchases or activities he wants to try). It’s normal for teens to sometimes think your boundaries are unfair or uncool.
    • Continue to let go of feeling responsible for some of your teenagers’ choices (those that won’t compromise their safety), particularly in areas like homework, extracurricular activities, and friendships. However, let teens know of any concerns you have and that you are always willing to listen and talk through their choices.
  • If you have younger children, use (but don’t abuse) your teens as occasional sitters. You may or may not feel obligated to pay them, depending on your family’s values about money, but don’t expect your teenagers to become substitute parents to younger siblings—this isn’t fair to anyone involved.

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