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4 Smart Ways for Single Dads to Balance Work and Life

4 Smart Ways for Single Dads to Balance Work and Life

As if anyone didn’t already know this, America’s esteemed Pew Research Center relates that half of working parents find balancing work and life responsibilities either “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult.” Even sadder, 46 percent of fathers in the study report they spend “too little” time with their children.

Fathers need time with their children in order to feel whole and full in their family relationships. Time spent with children is one of the most entertaining and enriching activities available to us. As Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his hometown paper, The Jaynesville Gazette, this past summer, his time at home with family is “his oxygen,” the thing that both drives and centers him.

We wholeheartedly encourage fathers to devote as much time to their children as possible. It’s good for everyone, including the ex-spouse. Use these ideas seasoned single dads rely on to balance work and life.

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1. Create a schedule and share it with your boss and coworkers.

While creating your parenting plan with your co-parent, share your options with your boss and coworkers and ask them to approve ideal hours for you. Once the parenting plan is in place and running, make sure to stick to it from the beginning. If the boss says you need to be at a meeting outside of these hours, mention that you’re fully available from 8:30 to 5:30 only.

Soften the blow by offering to get the meeting notes from another person on your team or have other options on the ready. Plan the scenario and your response in your mind so it flows naturally when the situation comes up. Setting these limits early on helps everyone adjust.

2. Make your identity as an involved father clear at work.

In an interview with NPR, working dad Corey Dade laments the fact that people don’t really ask about his children at work. He’s seen women get phone calls during meetings and leave with no repercussions. He wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that.

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To make your role as a father plain, find opportunities to discuss what your children are doing; share what they showed you on YouTube or even the struggles of parenting. When coworkers and supervisors get used to your parental responsibilities, the occasional work-from-home sick day or early departure due to a recital goes over more smoothly.

This said, however, don’t fall into the trap of portraying yourself as dad-the-martyr. Don’t jockey for praise about being an involved dad. Most dads these days handle their share of the parenting duties because their ex-partners work part- or full-time, and because they want to have an involved hand in raising their children. Single parenting men and women sometimes present themselves as long-suffering, and it only turns colleagues and bosses off. Be positive about your parenting duties, but don’t paint yourself as a hero for carrying them out.

3. If your job isn’t going to work with a reasonable parenting schedule, find a new job.

In their book The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn and Flourish, pediatricians and long-time child advocates Drs. Berry Brazelton and Stanly Greenspan lay out seven needs that parenting gurus and parents cannot explain away. Number one is the need for on-going, nurturing relationships. Number five is the need for limit-setting, structure and expectations. Number seven is the need for stable, supportive communities and cultural identity.

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While all seven require substantial time investment, just listing these three should convey the energy and time children require. Discipline is exhausting, as any parent will tell you. Setting limits requires creation of those limits and the application of consequences when they are crossed. And yet, children need it and even crave it. Setting up a reasonable discipline program is one of the best things you can do for a child.

Creating friendships in the community and cultural identity involves significant time spent socializing and planning. Friendships wither and die when not tended to. A 60 to 70 hour workweek does not mesh with a parenting style and schedule that provides a child’s basic needs.

This means that fathers determined to be an active presence in their children’s lives may consider down-sizing their job. Some fathers move from work as a partner in a busy law firm to being the in-house counsel at a smaller business. Teachers go to job sharing. Sales people with 100,000 yearly airline travel miles switch to in-office positions or even marketing or customer service. There is no shame in letting others “get ahead” for a few years while you raise decent and happy human beings. Besides going to the zoo and on hikes is fun and expands you as a person.

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4. Find sources of help.

When the divorce first occurs, friends and family draw close asking if there’s anything they can do. Too many single fathers put on a brave face and say, “we’re going to do just fine on our own.” While this is a great message to send the children, keep in mind that many friends, relatives and even acquaintances, may want to play a larger role in your and your children’s lives. A little outside help does not indicate weakness. It shows you’re working to take care of your children’s needs in a responsible way.

If you don’t have friends and relatives close by and/or willing to pitch in, you will need to build your support community. The good news is that America is moving into “the sharing economy,” where community is valued over the size of the house or job title. There’s even a non-profit working to move Americans to more of a focus on family and community rather than material possessions.

The Center for a New American Dream’s Collaborative Communities program helps people engage in their neighborhoods to share resources and tackle projects together. Swapping your availability to take a neighbor child to her soccer game every other weekend could win you a ride home from school and babysitting for the afternoon from a part-time working parent. Kids need to get together and play outside, using their large motor skills anyway. Connecting via video games is one way to be social, but the cul-de-sac basketball pick up game is just as fun.

The good news is that the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends reports also found that Fathers have nearly tripled their time with children since 1965.  If you make your children a priority and are willing to shift your life around, you can find the right balance for you, and your kids.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via image.shutterstock.com

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Peter Mueller

Founder of Father's Rights Law Center

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Published on September 21, 2020

The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

I am a parent of three children aged 8, 6, and 6. Like many parents, I struggle with knowing the right balance of activities for them. I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities to play sports and participate in activities that will enhance their lives and help them grow as individuals. However, I also don’t want them to become overscheduled kids, to the extent that they get worn out and stressed out.

There is a balance in providing activities for our children and overscheduling them. The tendency for the latter is prevalent these days. Our lives — and the lives of our kids — are increasingly overscheduled and overworked. Thus, we need to understand the dangers of having overscheduled kids and how to prevent this from happening in our own families.

What’s Wrong with Overscheduling Your Kids?

1. Overscheduling Can Burn Out Our Kids

When our kids are on the go and scheduled to the max from a young age, their potential to get burned out before reaching high school is quite high. The New York Times reported some research on burnout and found that burnout with kids relates to their workload, along with their parents’ propensity to experience it.[1] This means that overworked children are more likely to get burned out than others. Similarly, overscheduled parents tend to have overscheduled kids more often than not.

Burnout

When a person is burned out, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by what others expect them to get done daily. Children who are involved in too many activities with little to no downtime have a high chance of experiencing burnout. When parents place too many expectations on their kids, they also have an increased potential to burn out.

If you get the sense that your child is feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their daily activities, you need to know which ones can be cut back. If they have too many activities outside of school work, for instance, then that is one area that likely needs to be downsized.

An overworked child will present various symptoms like moodiness, irritability, crankiness, despondency, anger, stomach aches, headaches, rebellion, etc. Cutting back their activities will help to relieve their stress and reduce the said burnout signs. If your kid has severe burnout symptoms, though, then professional help from a pediatrician or therapist for children should be sought.

Downtime

Downtime is key to helping relieve burnout. If children don’t have free time during the day to have any rest, they are more likely to become burned out than others. Downtime means unorganized free time to do what they enjoy or relax. Cut back your kids’ extra-curricular activities if they don’t have downtime in their schedule.

Here are more tips on creating downtime for the children: How to Create Downtime for Kids.

2. Overscheduling Kills Playtime and Creativity

Kids need time to be kids. When their schedules are filled every day with activities like organized ballet, soccer, and music lessons, and they only take a break for dinner and bedtime, then they are overscheduled. They need to have free time after school to relax and play. When they don’t have that and proceed from one scheduled activity to the next, they are missing out on playtime.

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Playtime is crucial to child development. If they cannot get enough time to play, then their ability to develop their creativity decreases. The Genius of Play explains that there are six major developmental benefits that children get from playtime:[2]

  • Creativity
  • Social skill development
  • Cognitive development
  • Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
  • Communication skills
  • Emotional development

If children don’t have time to play because they are always on-the-go, then they are missing out on the developmental benefits of play.

Children need downtime after school so that they can unwind, play, and decompress. Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry.[3] Playtime provides an outlet for them to manage these emotions in a healthy manner and helps with the development of their creativity.

Children need free time to play every day. Fifteen minutes at recess is not enough. They need time for it after school, at home, outside of the constraints of scheduled activities.

Solution

Ensure that your child has time to play after school. This is especially important for young children who greatly benefit from playing. Limit organized activities so that your child is not scheduled every day and can play after school. If they have an activity every hour, then it doesn’t allow for playtime.

3. Overscheduling Causes Stress and Pressure

When kids are overscheduled because their parents are so intent on having high-performing children, then they will feel stressed. Parental pressure upon a child to do well in academics, music, multiple sports, and religious studies is a reality for many kids. The children scheduled in all of these activities can often feel stress and pressure, especially when they are expected to succeed in all of them.

It is hard enough for kids to be good or succeed at a single activity. For a parent to overschedule their child and expect superior performance in various activities, that is a recipe for a stressed-out child.

Solution

Parents should not schedule kids in multiple activities with the expectation of superior performance in all. They should also consider the child’s interests. If the child is not interested in one activity, then they are likely to feel stressed and pressured to do it.

For example, if Suzy has been taking piano lessons for four years, and she no longer enjoys learning the instrument, then perhaps it is time to take a break. If Suzy is forced to continue with the lessons and daily practices, then she may feel pressured to continue performing simply because her mom wants her to do so. This can lead Suzy to resent her mother for forcing her to keep on doing something that she doesn’t like anymore.

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Let your child help in selecting the activities that they get involved in. Also, put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled.

Kids need downtime and time to play, too. If they need to do a new activity every day, that downtime is diminished, considering the time at home or outside of the scheduled activities is limited. This limited time is then filled with homework, mealtime, and bedtime prep. Eliminating activities several days a week will allow the child to have some time to play freely. The younger the kid is, the more time they need playtime. As they get older, they can take on more activities; however, under the age of 13, playing daily is a must for children.

4. Healthy Eating Falls by the Wayside

Any parent who’s busy chauffeuring multiple kids to different activities after school knows how tempting fast food can become. Fast food, however, leads to less healthy food choices. French fries and hamburgers — the staple combo in most fast-food joints — cannot help your child thrive nutritionally.

When families are overscheduled, they tend to go for easy and quick meals. When rushed, many of us make poor food choices because we aren’t taking the time to think about a meal’s nutritional value and a balanced diet for our children.

5. Family Mealtimes Become a Thing of the Past

When we are taking our kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities that fall during dinnertime, the family often misses out on sharing a meal at home.

This is true in our own home. There are certain nights of the week that we have practices, and so we either eat together early (if possible) or eat separately, depending on what our schedules allow.

There is so much value in having family dinners. It provides an opportunity for family members to discuss their day, including their work and school activities. It is a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can truly focus on communicating with one another and catching up on what is happening in each other’s lives. When a kid’s activities are scheduled every evening, then that family time at the dining table gets lost. Dinnertime becomes a thing of the past as we overschedule kids and ourselves.

Try learning more about family time here: How to Maximize Family Time? 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Immediately.

Solution

Assess our schedule during the week to ensure that there’s always time for dinner with the family. Make it a point to establish a dinnertime schedule for the evenings that you do not have prior engagements scheduled. Remember: the time that you have with your kids under your roof is fleeting. Before long, they will be grownups and start living on their own. You need not dismiss or minimize the opportunity to bond with your children over meals.

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Having family mealtimes also allows you to make excellent food choices. This way, parents can create balanced and healthy meals and teach their children about the importance of eating good food for their bodies.

How to Turn Things Around?

1. Fix the Displaced Ambitions

Parents with overscheduled kids often mean well. They want their children to succeed, so they give them every chance to make it happen. They sign them up for various lessons, sports, and activities that may help the kids find success in life.

In other cases, the parent probably didn’t get such opportunities when they were young and felt that they missed out on many things. Hence, they provide those missed opportunities to their kids during their own childhood.

Carla is an example of such a parent. Carla always wanted to take dance and ballet classes as a child. She heard her friends talk about dance classes and performances, and they would even bring recital photos to school, showing their beautiful, detailed costumes. Carla wanted to be in those dance classes and learn ballet and have the opportunity to perform in a beautiful costume in front of an audience. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to give her that opportunity.

When Carla gave birth to a baby girl, she had visions of her little one growing big enough to take dance, ballet, and even tap classes someday. She was looking forward to dressing her daughter in dance costumes and watching her take lessons and eventually performing in recitals. When Carla’s daughter Anna was old enough to enroll at a dance class at four years old, she was thrilled. However, after a few months, it became clear that Anna was not enjoying these classes. She would cry before every lesson, begging Carla to let her stay home and not go to class. Her daughter had no interest in learning to dance.

In truth, it happens to many parents. They would enroll their kid in an activity that they wanted to do as a child but never got to try. Unfortunately, a parent’s interest is not always the same as that of their kids’. The child may humor mom or dad for some time and do the activity out of compliance. But if the child does not enjoy it anymore, they will eventually make things clear to their parents.

Parents should listen to their children. If the activity is something that they do not enjoy doing, ask the children what they think they would like to do, and then eliminate activities that they are not into. Similarly, teach them commitment by finishing a program, but don’t enroll them again in the same class if they absolutely do not want to do it.

Let the kids try different activities at a young age. Sometimes they don’t know if they like something until they try it out.

2. Try Clinics of Camps Before Committing

Don’t enroll your child in three sports at the same time to see which one they like or excel at. Doing so will make your kid overscheduled. Instead, you can use the summer break or preseason camps or clinics to try a variety of activities they are interested in.

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As an example, all three of my children said that they wanted to do lacrosse. We had already tried soccer, and it was not successful for two out of three of them. They would rather chase butterflies down the field or play tag than actually participate in their games. Therefore, before committing to lacrosse and spending a great deal of money on their gear, I signed them up for a sample clinic. It was a one-day program that intended to expose children to the sport and see if they would perhaps enjoy playing it. I was surprised to find that the three kids enjoyed lacrosse, so we signed up for the season. It was nice to be able to see them try out the sport in a clinic before committing to an entire season.

Most towns and cities have parks and recreation department. This is often a good place to check for clinics and camps for various activities. Our local department even offers art and dance classes. Most of them meet between two and four times total, so the children can get some exposure to the activity before signing them up at a private facility for a more long-term commitment.

3. Take an Inventory of Your Weekly Activities

Often, we do an activity without reflecting on how much we are already committed to doing each week. Before we commit to any more activities, we must be willing to look at everything that each family member does. Every child’s commitment is another responsibility for the parent as well. Parents must take children to and from each practice, so you need to consider the drive time for any activity.

For instance, if each of my three kids signed up for three different activities each week, I would be running myself ragged. Three activities for three kids means taking them to nine activities during the week. That doesn’t include the games that will likely be scheduled on the weekends. Three activities for every child, therefore, is too much for our family.

If some practices overlap on the schedule, then you need two parents or responsible adults to transport the children to different locations. Before you sign them up for multiple activities, you need to factor downtime, stress levels, and your ability to take them to each activity in the equation.

Consider the following before your kids can commit to various activities:

  • What is the time commitment for the child each week? Do they have enough energy and stamina for the activities? Do they get enough downtime daily to prevent burnout?
  • Is practice time required outside of their scheduled team practices and games?
  • How long is the travel time for you as a parent, along with wait time during practices? Do you have time allowances for these activities in your own schedule?
  • Does the activity time conflict with other activities on the schedule? Will it eliminate family dinners on a regular basis?
  • Does the child really want to do the activity?
  • What is the motivation for signing up for the activity?
  • Is this activity or commitment going to cause a great deal of stress on the child or other family members?

Check out these time-management tips for parents: 10 Time Management Tips Every Busy Parent Needs to Know.

Get The Kids Active and Involved!

Despite everything, it does not mean that you shouldn’t sign your child up for different activities like sports, music, dance, karate, etc. They are all great activities that can help children develop a variety of valuable life skills. The goal is to enroll them in things that they genuinely enjoy and avoid overscheduling kids by not letting them sign up for too many activities at a time.

More Tips for Scheduling Kids’ Activities

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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