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It’s a familiar story for many people, especially if you are a working parent of young children – you’re stretched too thin and no matter how hard you try, you still can’t keep on top of everything. I know how it goes: you’re a good parent, you give your children breakfast, drop them off at nursery or school, then you’re off to work, then you collect them on the way home, perhaps you fit in a drop-off or collection at an after-school club, then you make dinner for everyone, then the children need a bath and bedtime, then you get round to the chores, then you get to go to bed exhausted. And there are still a hundred and one things you haven’t done – the dripping tap in the kitchen is still dripping, you’ve still got to clear out the drain gully, the ironing won’t do itself, etc. The best bit is that no matter how many tasks you do, there will be five more to take their place. Add a toddler (or two!) into the mix, and you find yourself having to do it all while looking after children who are too young to be reasoned with. Yes, it’s exhausting and there sometimes seems no end in sight. I know how it goes.
So what can you do about it?
Remember that if you’re struggling to do it all, it means you’re a good parent: you do it because you care about your family and you love your children.
Remember that you’re not alone. Anyone who has tried to juggle full-time work with raising a child will know how tough it can be.
Remember that you are succeeding. Every day, your efforts are paying off. We’ve all read horror stories about neglected children and parents who don’t care about them – well, the reason you’re reading this article, the reason you’re worried that you might not be doing a good enough job is because you’re motivated and you care. You are an excellent parent. The parents who don’t care are the bad ones.
Remember that all you have to be is a good enough parent – not a perfect one. In the 1950s, a paediatrician called Donald Winnicott developed the idea of the “good enough” parent: his research showed that for a child to grow into a healthy, balanced adult, they need parents who demonstrate unconditional love and who run a household where the child feels safe enough to express his or her emotions (which means that when your toddler has a tantrum, it’s because he feels safe with you). Above all, being a good enough parent means your child will spontaneously play. Abused and neglected children don’t play – they become withdrawn and closed off.
Remember, if your child is creative and playful, you’re being a good enough parent.
In his 1971 book Playing And Reality, Winnicott said of playfulness:
“It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.”
Notice that he says “child or adult” – not just “child”. It is important that everybody has time to be creative and playful. A life filled with achievement targets benefits nobody. Of course, goal-setting is important if we want to progress in life, to make meaningful achievements, but when it becomes all we do, then the joy of living simply fades away.
So how can we as adults be playful and creative when we are faced with a daily onslaught of seemingly insurmountable responsibilities?
Remember to prioritise: Which tasks are important? Which are urgent? Do the highly urgent tasks first, then work your way down the list.
And I hear you say with exasperation, “But it’s all urgent, and it’s all important! I don’t know where to begin!” That’s a line of thinking that leads to a stressed-out, over-stretched existence.
Remember that when you’re stressed you can’t think straight, and when you can’t think straight, you’re more prone to getting stressed out.
There is a quote (anecdotally attributed to Albert Einstein) which succinctly expresses the principle of Occam’s Razor. It states:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible – but not simpler.”
The implication is that life as a working parent is inherently difficult – but that people have a habit of over-complicating things, thereby making difficult things even more difficult.
When we pause and take stock of our circumstances, things inevitably become clearer. By way of demonstration, I invite you to do the following very quick and simple experiment, right now:
1.Put your hand on the nearest simple, ordinary, everyday object – a pen, for example.
2.Spend one minute looking at it. Notice everything you can about it.
3.If at the end of three minutes you find yourself thinking, “This is stupid, it’s just a pen!” (or whatever you’ve chosen), then you’re not trying. Do it again. Look at it really look at it. What about the texture? The material it’s made from? Where does it come from? What’s it like to live there? Etc, etc.
Isn’t it astonishing what you notice about something simple and ordinary? What thoughts it inspires when you take the time to really look at it? Isn’t it remarkable that nothing of what has sprung to your mind could have been predicted before you picked up the object?
Remember: If you pause for only a minute or two while you’re stressed, strung-out and overloaded, and take time to really notice what’s going on, you will most probably start to perceive your situation in a different light – you will begin to get perspective. How important or urgent is a particular task, really? What would be the worst that could happen if you postponed it? Is there another way you could do it? Or is there something else that you could be doing instead, which might help the situation? What tells you that something is important or urgent? Is it because you want to please someone else? Or is it something that truly needs doing?
If you can consider your responsibilities with a broader perspective, then you can discover what must be prioritised, what can be put off, what really matters and what doesn’t matter so much.
Remember: if you can effectively prioritise your life, things will get easier (not easy – just easier). You may even find yourself with a little time each day to relax, to be creative, to play. And that’s got to be good for your relationship with your children. You don’t have to do-it-all, all-the-time. Less really is more.
15th June 2017