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Balanced Parenting vs. Over Parenting
I've had a handful of moms ask me lately, "How do you do it - Juggle motherhood and working from home?" My answer, "Throw out the word 'juggle' from your vocabulary." Juggling is a rare talent performed by street performers on piers in San Francisco, and even the truly gifted, eventually drop a ball. I don't attempt the juggling act, since I'm not willing to drop balls, instead I simply put one down before picking up the next.
Let me give you an example. I started writing this article while my son was napping and my daughter was watching Sesame Street. Before I finished, my son woke up and I put my handy digital writing tablet down and went to get him. After cuddling him for a few minutes, I placed him in his highchair, skinned an apple and cut a few slices for his snack before handing the red delicious to my daughter. Then I sat down at the table next to my son and started writing again. I finished five days later.
Purpose Behind the Work
But how I work from home and take care of two children is not what these moms really want to know. What they really want to know is the same thing I really want to know from my friends who work full-time away from home, "How do you do it?" really means, "Don't you feel guilty when you're not taking care of your kids?" For me, the answer is yes, sometimes, I feel guilt. But even greater than the guilt is the purpose behind the work. For the full-time working mom who has to make money to sustain her family, the purpose is clear, but for me it's a little less concrete since I don't make money...yet.
I write for three reasons: to eventually make money to subsidize our budget, to use my education and talent in a fluid way that might have an impact on our culture and because I can't not write. It's a passion. But you know what I've found, by pursuing my passion in a disciplined way, there is more balance in my home.
Parenting with Purpose
Balanced parenting allows parents to pursue their own interests, over-parenting keeps moms and dads in bondage to their children. A recent study came out showing the negative effects of over-parenting. The results showed parents who hover, raise children who lack independence and a "can-do" attitude. This phenomenon of "helicopter parenting" isn't something new, in fact it goes back to the very first book of the Bible, when Rebekah, favoring her youngest son Jacob, became obsessed with his life.
Rebekah believed God had chosen Jacob to lead their family, but I guess God wasn't moving fast enough for her, so she started manipulating the situation. She heard her husband Isaac telling their oldest son Esau to go out and hunt game and then make an exquisite meal for him, saying during their feast, he would pass on his blessing to his son Esau. This blessing would mean Esau would control the families estate. Now Isaac was old, and going blind, so when Rebekah heard this she thought this was her chance to secure her son Jacob's future. She went and found Jacob and ordered him (he was a grown man, probably in his 30s) to go to the field and bring her back two goats. He obeyed and get this, Rebekah prepared the meal. Have any of you ever done your child's homework?
Rebekah, like most of us, thought she was doing what was necessary for her child to succeed and didn't perceive the consequences for her meddling. Her plan essentially split the family in two. Esau was so angry he wanted to kill his brother. So what does Rebekah do? She gets involved again, this time sending her son off to another town, where he lived in exile for the next twenty years waiting for his brother's wrath to subside.
I can imagine the many tear filled nights Rebekah might have spent separated from Jacob. It's easy to lose our moral compass when it comes to our children, that's why I think we need to explore other interests besides our adorable cheeky faced offspring. Sometimes our children need to fall to learn how to walk, they need to get in a fight on the playground to learn how to negotiate and they need to fail in order to learn how to triumph. By protecting them, we're only prolonging these life sustaining lessons. And as one preschool mom with older children said to me at teacher orientation, "the problems just get bigger." I think if Rebekah had a higher purpose for her own life, she wouldn't have been so easily consumed with Jacob.
Once we've decided to be balanced parents, the "how to" pursue our goals in work or hobbies becomes simpler. Imagine a filing system of folders with red tabs meaning priority, yellow tabs meaning important, green tabs meaning when you get time and blue tabs meaning down the road. My husband and children are red tabs; These folders are always out on the table with daily goals inside these folders to enjoy at least one healthy meal together, engage in reading with each child, roll around on the floor and play one game. Work and hobbies are in folders with yellow, green or blue tabs depending on the assignment. No matter the color code, these projects have to be worked around my children's needs, but not necessarily their wants. On occasion, as work deadlines near, yellow tabbed folders land in the priority pile and my kiddos mommy and me time gets pushed back until the assignment is finished. It's not perfect, and that's why it's called work.
For me this system is figurative, but for many of my friends who are planners, they have monthly calendars, daily agendas and down to the minute reminders on their digital devices. This would stress me out, so I prefer to keep it simple by waking up daily and dedicating the day to doing all that I can in 24 hours, well at least it feels like 24 hours. I keep a mental list of priorities that I move around based on whatever comes up. I know it doesn't make sense to others, but when I do this, I exceed expectations for what I can accomplish. It's when I start planning and over-committing that I fall flat on my face and miss deadlines. I have to recommit to my purpose often, and sometimes accept defeat when I miss a deadline, but at the end of each day, it's what's in the red tabbed folders that matters most to me.
Sometimes I wish there was a mom app that would replace false concepts we've all accepted as truth. Wouldn't it be fun if we could click on "find," like in word processing programs, and type in "juggle," and then click on "replace" and type in "balance." We're not juggling our children with all of our other responsibilities, because we can't afford to drop them, but sometimes putting them down is what's best for them, and taking up our interests is what's best for us to maintain balance in our family.
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