“Parenthood remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.” – Alvin Toffler
Some 19 million children in the U.S. are being raised by single parents. And it’s not only single parents who face the challenge of juggling the needs of their children while trying to succeed in business. The majority of two-parent households require two working adults just to get by.
But the problem isn’t the children. And it isn’t the work. It’s us. We have put the children in charge of our lives. And they’re not up to the task. It’s time for the grown-ups to take back the responsibility of managing the children, not vice-versa.
That’s not to say this situation isn’t dicey — or that you’ll be able to adhere to the same exact routine that Michael Masterson (a male who has older children and a wife who has been their primary caretaker) follows and recommends.
But that’s doesn’t mean you should just give up.
Yes, your young children need you — but they don’t need your undivided attention 12 hours a day. They also need structure, and outside friendships, and to know that they can be safe and loved beyond the walls of their own home and the arms of their own parents. The bonus for taking a wider approach to raising children is that you get to have a life too.
In the end, modeling what it looks like to be a healthy and active adult does more for your kids than showing them a stressed-out but constantly “available” parent.
There are two key things that you can do to get ETR results, even if your situation isn’t just like Michael Masterson’s.
1. Be a slave to your routine.
Kids thrive on routines. Give them one and stick to it. It will take you a couple of weeks to establish it with them. But once you do, they will do a better job of adhering to it than you will.
2. Get help.
This is critical. People have tended to become isolated, and the nuclear family unit can be a lonely place for kids and adults alike. Most children, even babies, can withstand a four-hour stretch away from their primary parent. Many would argue that they need one.
If you can’t afford to hire someone or can’t find decent daycare, the good, old-fashioned kid-swapping method will do. Find another parent who’s in your shoes. You take her kids four hours a day; she gets yours the other four.
Of course, there is no one “perfect” schedule for everyone. Routines will vary according to job demands and family circumstances.
As a copywriter, I’m lucky to have a lot of flexibility in the way I structure my day. Even if your work schedule is more rigid, you should be able to pick up some ideas from the way I organize my work and family time.
5 a.m.: Adult wake-up time
5-7 a.m.: Adult planning and prep time
7 a.m.: Kid wake-up time
7-9 a.m.: Family planning/prep/play time
9 a.m. -1 p.m.: Kids go and have a life someplace; adults have focused work time
1-3 p.m.: Kids come home to nap or rest, depending on age; adults have less-focused, but still able to work, time
3-8 p.m.: Dedicated family time . . . no multitasking! This is when the kids get your undivided attention. When you cook and clean, they help. Eat together. Play. It will be enough for them. You’ll see.
8 p.m.: Kid bedtime/quiet reading time, depending on age
8-10 p.m.: Adult personal time . . . to read, relax, handle personal e-mail/phone calls
10 p.m.: Adult bedtime
Face the fact that you will get fewer productive hours out of your day when you have primary caretaking responsibilities for your children, especially if they’re not in school yet. Then learn to leverage your time.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s not impossible, either. With a few small lifestyle changes, and the consistency to see them through, you can do it.