- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

For many families, it's living on one income. For others, it's nightmarish commutes. For some, it's trying to blend step-families. For just about every family in the Washington area and most likely across the country it's the daily battle to keep all the plates spinning.

Whatever the cause, and despite reams of books that have been written to deal with the topic, stress seems to be a part of every family's shared psyche. As a service for Family Times readers, several families across the Washington area agreed to share their particular "hot-button" stress issues and what they do about them.

'We scream a lot, cry a lot'

Cheryl Gavigan of Columbia, Md., faces a bit more stress than the average family member in the Washington area. She is going through a divorce and has full custody of her two children, Amanda, 15, and Sydney, 4.

Amidst all this, she works full time selling display ads for a local publishing company.

"I can only go so far," Mrs. Gavigan says. "I don't always get to spend the time I want and need with my children. That's my major, major struggle, all the time. Something has to give all the time, and unfortunately, it's things at home. Unfortunately, it has to be that way. I have to work; I have to pay the bills."

Mrs. Gavigan considers herself luckier than many single parents because one of her children, at least, is able to take care of herself.

"She's becoming more independent all the time," Mrs. Gavigan says of Amanda. "My time with her is just invaluable. If we don't make it a priority, we won't see each other at all."

On the other hand, having a teen-age daughter when money is tight creates its own level of tension, she says.

"I can't always afford to buy her what all the other girls are wearing who are coming from two-parent households," Mrs. Gavigan says. "They're still able to provide for their kids. I know what she's going through a bit, because I was brought up in a single-parent home, but my mother has always done extremely well, and I was one of the lucky ones.

"[Amanda] needs to be able to do what she wants to do on the weekends, so she's working, too. She has to, in a sense, if she wants to be able to go to the mall and go here and there. I just can't keep shelling out."

The result, Mrs. Gavigan says, is a kind of "spillover" tension that affects both Amanda and Sydney. They both sense the pressure she is living under, and it shows.

"They're living a much more stressful life," Mrs. Gavigan says. "We scream a lot, we cry a lot. There's a lot of stress. It's that way all the time. Sometimes we find ourselves going, 'Hey, we haven't fought for two days. Isn't that great?' We recognize [days] when there hasn't been an argument, but they seem few and far between."

Mrs. Gavigan says the saving grace for her and her daughters has been the presence of nearby family members who are able and willing to spend time with one of her daughters so she can spend time with the other. She also has a fairly understanding staff at work that she says has been "extremely supportive, whatever my needs are."

One-income blues

Many families are struggling with the decision to live on one income so one spouse can home-school the children or just spend more time with them during their formative years. The resulting stress in their lives is just part of the price they're willing to pay in such a high cost-of-living area.

Doug and Diane Shade of Glen Burnie have four children: Danielle, 12, David, 9, Danny, 5, and Dustin, 4. Mrs. Shade home-schools them all, and the Shades live on Mr. Shade's salary as a heating and air-conditioning repairman.

"Things have gotten easier as the kids have gotten older, but I find myself as the teacher, the disciplinarian and the mommy," Mrs. Shade says.

"All of those are different roles, and finding an even balance can be difficult when you have as large an age range as we do," she says.

The Shades do it because, as they say, "You only get one chance to do it right."

To make it all work, they "tag-team" as many of the household chores as they can.

"A lot of times I come home and there's a stack of laundry Diane hasn't had a chance to get to," Mr. Shade says. "So we tag-team and help each other out. There are things all of us like to do for ourselves, but sometimes you have to put that on the back burner. There's a trade-off, but that has a lot of positives."

The Shades also cope by finding time for regular dates with each other apart from the children.

"We would like to go out once a week, but reality hits, and it doesn't happen," Mrs. Shade says. "But when it does, it's great. My husband surprised me recently. I woke up and there were little poems all over the house that he had written, and they all had something to do with the next poem. When you put them all together, they were inviting me to dinner at the Olive Garden, so that's where we're going Saturday."

More families seem to be choosing to make the sacrifices that come with living on one income. Bill and Linda Ables of Arlington were so sure it was the right thing to do that they gave up the income from Mrs. Ables' promising career as an optometrist so she could stay home with their 11-year-old son, Christopher.

"We both agree that quality of life is more important than anything," Mr. Ables says. "We'll miss the extra income as a safety net, but it was great."

"Some classmates that I went to school with for all those years were surprised that we decided to do this, but I have absolutely no regrets," Mrs. Ables says. "When I look at Christopher, I see such a limited window of opportunity" to influence him, she says.

'A matter of prioritizing'

Dee Nickerson of Beltsville pauses for a moment to ponder the question: What causes the most stress in your life?

"It's such a broad range," she says with a chuckle, "but to me, the biggest cause of stress is trying to get everything done."

She and her husband, Kim, have two children, Maalik, 6, and Nia, 4. Both parents have steady, well-paying jobs Mrs. Nickerson works for the Census Bureau in Suitland, and Mr. Nickerson is the minority fellowship assistant director with the American Psychological Association. Like many middle-class families in the area and across the country, the Nickersons find that 24 hours just don't seem to be enough in the day.

"We divide up the household chores and responsibilities pretty evenly, and that helps a lot," Mrs. Nickerson says. "But still, with working and trying to get everything done … There are always extra activities to be done that the kids might be involved in. It puts a strain on getting things accomplished, especially once you get behind."

The fact that Mr. Nickerson travels frequently, sometimes for a week at a time, puts more strain on Mrs. Nickerson.

"It's just physically impossible to do it all," she says. "When he's gone for a week, I just have to put some things on hold. Maybe it will be doing laundry for that week. Maybe it will be putting extra touches on a room. Something has to wait. My hat is off to the single parents who have everything together."

Double trouble

Jennifer and Eric Wayne of Chantilly can sum up all of their problems with stress in one word: twins. About 18 months ago, twins Max and Tucker were born. They joined a family that already included a 2-year-old at the time, Sydney, now almost 4.

"What causes us the most stress right now is the twins' age," Mrs. Wayne says. "Twins bring on a whole host of issues. You can't just get some teen-age girl to baby-sit them all, and the logistics of going to a restaurant are terrible sometimes. There never seem to be enough highchairs. There are just a lot of things that the average person doesn't think about."

Like the other parents interviewed for this article, Mrs. Wayne was quick to add that, overall, she feels incredibly lucky and fortunate with her life and her children, but she says twins brought a sudden and unexpected twist to her and Mr. Wayne's life.

"People think it's cute when they see the twins carrying on in a store or restaurant," Mrs. Wayne says. "Everybody thinks twins are just the greatest anyway, and they are. We wouldn't trade them or even the problems they cause for anything in the world.

"But people just don't realize sometimes how much stress they can cause. You can't run errands like other people. You have to get everybody out of the car just to do simple ordinary errands. Sydney is starting to cling to me constantly. People just don't realize what it's like."

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