As both a working mom and as a manager of other working parents, I am sensitive to the issues that working parents face around wanting to be both exceptional parents and ambitious professionals. Recently, an article in the New York Times called “Mom: The Designated Worrier” caught my eye and inspired me to share some of my thoughts on working parenthood.
In this piece, the concept of the “concerted cultivation” of our children is referenced with regard to kids’ extracurricular activities. How overscheduled and overtaxed working parents are when it comes to keeping up with these activities is addressed a bit in the piece. Of course, it’s unquestionable that many working parents – and not just moms, but dads, too – are overwhelmed with the demands of their jobs alongside their jobs as parents. It’s exhausting to keep up with a full-time professional schedule plus after-work needs as we assume the roles of chauffeur, #1 fan, finder of sports equipment, scheduler, meal preparer, and more. Personally, I’m no stranger to these challenges. A single mom when my son was young, I worked at a start-up and found myself lucky to have my parents both nearby and willing to help me when needed. Whether you’re a single parent or a family with two working parents, the question remains: how do we manage these challenges so that we’re able to retain our professional ambition without exhaustion and without sacrificing our kids’ opportunities?
Well, for starters, sometimes we need to admit that even if we can do it all, we don’t have to do it all. Thank goodness we’re in an era of technology where “do it for me” apps abound. Grocery and meal delivery, driving services (including kid-centered ones like Boost), and more are right at our fingertips. Services like Care.com offer ways to find pre-vetted, quality childcare, whether for daycare or for afterschool help. With the availability and increasingly low-cost of outsourcing options available, it is possible for working parents to find more time and sanity in their day. This leaves much more time for quality family time absent the mile-long to-do list.
About that to-do list, though: reassess it often. It’s important to be clear about your family’s priorities for kids’ activities. For example, do you really need to enroll your child in the traveling soccer league that requires 4 hours of driving every weekend versus the local, fun league at a nearby park? Is your family over-invested in enrichment activities, perhaps at too early of an age for your kids; and, if so, what’s your end-goal? Sometimes families need a lot of afterschool activities for childcare, but, sometimes, that begets a lot more work, too, in the finding, packing, and transport of related equipment and tools. If kids’ activities are running roughshod over family time, which is parents’ only downtime from work, it may be time to ask if the benefit to the kid outweighs the cost to the parent. It’s important to remember that parenting is not a competition. What works for your family – and what is necessary for your and your child’s long-term happiness – is totally unrelated to the family next door, or to the worker in the next cube and how he or she is managing his or her family. No parent, working or not working, is as good of a parent when he or she is so stressed by a web of obligations that constant unhappiness results. And unsurprisingly, lots is being written these days about how kids, too, are overscheduled and overstressed, just like their parents. Maybe we all really do need to do a little less of this “cultivation” of childhood, for everyone’s sake.
Taking a fresh look at what you do and need to do to maintain a happy household is just as necessary as cleaning out your closet every once in a while or taking a critical eye to the weekly meetings you’re signed up to attend at work. Sometimes we need to outsource or to delegate. Sometimes we need to cancel, reschedule, or change things around. We know in our gut when things are out of whack. And it’s in these times, too, when, if we have one, we need to turn to our partners for help. I remarried, and now my husband and I share a refreshingly equal partnership. In our house, it’s my husband who mostly takes care of grocery shopping while I do most of the meal preparation; we share the clean-up. We don’t always strike a perfect balance, but we work together to craft a life with which we’re both comfortable. Working parents have a lot to consider, and I urge all of them, myself included, not to self-sacrifice so much that the worrying takes over the joy of it all.