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Balancing, Juggling, and Other Single-Parenting Skills

By Jane Nelson, Ed.D., Cheryl Erwin, M.A., and Carol Delzer, M.A., J.D.

(An excerpt from Positive Discipline for Single Parents, by Jane Nelson, Ed.D., Cheryl Erwin, M.A., and Carol Delzer, M.A, J.D.)

Single parent families can function just as effectively and efficiently as the two-parent variety (and have just as much fun), nurturing and encouraging children who grow up to be capable, healthy adults. It is essential, however, to know just how and when to spend your all too-limited time and energy.

Time, as they say, is money. Yet we frequently budget our dollars carefully while we spend our time without thought or plan, wondering at the end of a frantic day why we got so little accomplished. Carefully sorting out priorities may be one of the most effective things any parent -- but especially a single parent - can do.

There are some things in life we can't avoid - work or school, for instance - but we demonstrate which things are important in our lives by the amount of discretionary time we spend on them. Some of those choices can be difficult: Should you concentrate on work and career, or make time with children a priority? Should you hop on the career fast track, hoping for advancement and the benefits it might bring to your family? Or do you spend less time at work, settling for fewer financial rewards but being more involved in your children's daily lives? What are the long range results of each decision, for you and for your children?

Answers to such fundamental questions will differ for each parent and will require a great deal of thought. However, deciding where the time goes day by day can be a bit easier to manage.

Try the following experiment: Make a list of what you value most in life, then prioritize this list. Your children will probably be up at the top. Next, keep track for a week or so of exactly how much time you actually spend on each activity in your life. The results are often surprising. When you discover just how you're spending your time now, it is fairly simple to look at the time available each week and decide what is really most important.

Ideally, how we spend our time reflects what we value most - and what we believe is most important for creating home and family. Many parents are surprised to learn that they spend most of their time on activities low on their priority list (such as watching television), and devote too little time and energy to the people or things at the top. It may be helpful to budget time during each week for family activities. (If you don't plan them, sometimes they don't happen at all.) Looking at the way you approach unavoidable chores can be helpful: A little advance planning may make one weekly trip to the grocery store possible, for example, instead of daily ones.

There are any number of creative ways to adjust priorities and responsibilities so that they fit better into a limited amount of time. Here are just a few suggestions for streamlining and simplifying your life:

Eliminate unrealistic expectations. Your mother may have kept her floors spotless, ironed her pillowcases, and placed elegantly prepared meals on the dining rook table each evening precisely at 6:30, but that doesn't mean you have to - or even should. Look at what is possible and keep your expectations of yourself realistic.

Make a list of all your "shoulds" and "oughts." Spend some time thinking about - and paying attention to your feelings about - the items on this list.

How much time are your spending on things you believe you "should" do - because you've "always done it that way" or because at some point in your life your were told you "had to" - that are not truly adding to the quality of your life? It will take time and some experimentation, but learn to be content with what you want to do, what you believe is truly worthwhile, and what you actually can do effectively.

Try making lists. Prioritize on paper each day's tasks and do the most important ones first. Not only will lists help you get things done, crossing items off can be one of the most satisfying parts of your day! Try to do small tasks (such as paying a bill or sewing on a loose button) as they come up, rather than piling them up for later.

Organize meal preparation. Getting dinner on the table after a day of work can be a single parent's recurring nightmare. Try preparing dishes (when you have time) that will provide several meals, such as casseroles or a roast turkey. Keep your cupboard stocked with items that will help you turn leftovers into tempting dishes. Invest in one of the many cookbooks designed to help your prepare nourishing meals in a short time. Or prepare double portions on weekends and put what's left in the freezer for a busy day. Get older children involved in planning and preparing meals - it can be a great learning experience for all of you.

One mother made a list of ten meals her children liked. They were simple things, such as tacos, spaghetti, tune-noodle casserole, meat loaf, soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, hamburgers, and lasagna. She then made an index card for each item, with the recipe on one side (along with side dishes, such as salads and vegetables) and the shopping ingredients on the other. During their weekly family meeting, the kids and Mom would take turns drawing five of the cards out of a hat. They would list the meals on a calendar. Each child was responsible for checking the pantry to see what ingredients might still be on hand for the meals they had picked, and they would make a list of the things that were needed to go on the weekly shopping list. (The younger kids got an older child or Mom to write up their list.)

Once a week they would all go shopping together. Each child helped find the ingredients for the meals they had chosen (and which they would help cook). This mother explained, "Our plan eliminated so much hassle. It was much more stressful to wonder what to cook than to do the cooking. What used to be a chore is now a fun family activity."

Share housecleaning duties. This is one part of family life that seems to get out of hand for many single parents. Cleaning can be more fun when everyone in the family works together. It's surprising how much can be done when everyone pitches in for ten minutes a day or two hours once a week. Try doing a little bit every day, rather than a lot all at once. Provide each member of the family with baskets for laundry - even young children can learn to put white clothes in one basket and dark clothes in another. Tackle cleaning one room each day. Agree on some family rules about picking up toys and clothes, and follow through on agreements (more about that later).

Again, life will be more enjoyable if children are involved in the process. During a family meeting, let children help you make a list of what needs to be done. Then create fun ways for kids to choose chores to do. One way is to put each chore on a card and let the kids pick several cards out of a hat. Another way is to create a wheel chart (maybe one for each room) with pictures of what needs to be done outside of the wheel and a spinner in the middle. Then the kids can spin to see which chore or chores they will tackle during cleaning time.

Take time to teach. Though it may not seem so at the time, teaching children how to help with domestic duties can save you time later on - as well as giving your children the basic skills they will need to be self-reliant and successful. Work alongside them, showing them how a job can best be done; next, supervise in a friendly way as they do it alone. Before long, they'll be able to do the work to your satisfaction without your involvement. Just be careful not to set your standards too high! (We'll explore teaching, encouragement, and self-esteem in greater depth in chapters 8 and 13.)

Make time for fun. Housework and chores seem a lot easier to bear when a good time is waiting at the end. You may choose to have the entire family do housework and yard work on Saturday morning, saving the rest of the day for an activity you have planned together. Be sure to leave time in your week for togetherness and fun: These times will make you feel like a family. It is important to put plans for fun on your calendar; otherwise they may become only good intentions.

Some other things may need to be moved far down the list of priorities. Giving the choice between an evening cuddle with a child who needs to talk and scouring the bathroom, it may be wise to choose the cuddle. The house may not be as spotless as you like, but housework will wait; moments missed with children may never come again.

Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 02:09PM by Registered CommenterSite Administrator in | Comments Off

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