- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 26, 2004

As parents try to divide their attention between work and family, they often forget one important piece of the puzzle, the linchpin keeping it all together: themselves.

“The challenge for all of us as individuals and parents is to find the right balance in our lives in three main areas — as individuals and, if we’re married, as a couple and as a family,” says psychologist Larry Kubiak, director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center and president-elect of the Florida Psychological Association.

“If you cheat any of these, you will pay the price.”

Parents increasingly sacrifice personal time, however, instead working more hours and spending more time with their children. In 2002, fathers spent 1.3 workday hours on themselves, down from 2.1 hours in 1977, while mothers spent 0.9 workday hours on themselves versus 1.6 hours in 1977, according to a 2002 study by the National Families and Work Institute.

Giving up personal time in favor of spending more hours at work and with children can be a big mistake, psychologists say. By relaxing or spending time on a hobby, parents can de-stress, making them more productive employees and kinder parents, Mr. Kubiak says.

“I think people, honestly, they’ve got to get away from the kids, even if they have the best kids in the world,” says Ruth Peters, a clinical psychologist, author and contributor to NBC’s “Today” show.

Laura Henderson, a Silver Spring mother of three, says she learned she needed time to herself very quickly after she became a parent.

“If you’re not happy and well-rested, and if you don’t find ways to rejuvenate yourself, it’s going to be very hard to be an outstanding parent and spouse and give to others in your family,” she says.

Knowing this allows her to go for weekend runs with a friend and attend book club meetings without feeling guilty.

Without time to themselves, parents are more likely to be irritable, Mr. Kubiak says.

“If you spend three hours with your kids and two of them are spent being cranky, it’s not time well spent,” he says. “I’d much rather you only spend five minutes if those five minutes were positive.”

DC PTA President Darlene Allen says scheduling personal time while your child is busy at an activity, such as camp, can help a parent ensure he or she will be able to relax.

“That way, you know your kids are being taken care of, they’re having fun, so that you don’t feel guilty or worry yourself and you can actually enjoy yourself,” she says.

Couples also should spend time together without their children, says Mrs. Peters, who suggests saving money to get a baby sitter every other Saturday night or asking neighbors or relatives to watch the children.

“You don’t have to go out to dinner or go to an expensive place,” she says. “If you can finish a sentence without being interrupted, that’s a major accomplishment for today’s families.”

A parent should determine his or her favorite way to recharge and let his or her spouse and children know what it is.

“Give yourself permission and realize that’s what you need to be a functional human being and get others to buy into that,” Mr. Kubiak says.

By planning ahead and remembering the importance of recuperation, parents can enjoy their time apart from their children.

“The point is to remember to look out for yourself,” says Jodi Grant, director of work and family programs for the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit advocacy group. “I think it’s important to remember taking time for yourself will ultimately make you a better parent.”

BOOKS —

• “THE WORKING PARENTS HELP BOOK: PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR DEALING WITH THE DAY-TO-DAY CHALLENGES OF KIDS AND CAREERS,” BY SUSAN CRITES PRICE AND TOM PRICE, PETERSON’S GUIDES, 1996. THESE FORMER COLUMNISTS OFFER PRACTICAL TIPS BASED ON REAL-LIFE SITUATIONS INVOLVING ISSUES INCLUDING CHILD CARE AND PARENTAL LEAVE.

• “WORKING MOTHERS 101: HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE, YOUR CHILDREN, AND YOUR CAREER TO STOP FEELING GUILTY AND START ENJOYING IT ALL,” BY KATHERINE WYSE GOLDMAN, PERENNIAL, 1998. THIS GUIDE FOR WORKING MOTHERS INCLUDES INTERVIEWS AND STRATEGIES FOR CAREER DECISION-MAKING.

• “LIFE MATTERS: CREATING A DYNAMIC BALANCE OF WORK, FAMILY, TIME & MONEY,” BY A. ROGER MERRILL AND REBECCA R. MERRILL, MCGRAW-HILL TRADE, 2003. THIS GUIDE STRESSES THE IMPORTANCE OF DIVIDING TASKS INTO CATEGORIES AND MAKING DECISIONS BASED ON THOSE CATEGORIES.

• “THE INVOLVED FATHER: FAMILY-TESTED SOLUTIONS FOR GETTING DADS TO PARTICIPATE MORE IN THE DAILY LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN,” BY ROBERT FRANK, GOLDEN BOOKS ADULT PUBLISHING, 1999. THIS ADVICE BOOK ON ACTIVE PARENTING FOR FATHERS INCLUDES TIPS FOR SCHEDULING AND COMMUNICATING.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR WOMEN AND FAMILIES, 1875 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW, SUITE 650 WASHINGTON, DC 20009. PHONE: 202/986-2600. WEB SITE: WWW.NATIONALPARTNERSHIP.ORG. THIS NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION USES PUBLIC EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF WOMEN AND THEIR FAMILIES AND PROMOTES POLICIES THAT HELP WOMEN AND MEN BALANCE WORK AND FAMILY.

• AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION, 750 FIRST ST. NE, WASHINGTON, DC 20002-4242. PHONE: 800/374-2721 OR 202/336-5500. WEB SITE: WWW.APA.ORG. THIS ASSOCIATION OF MORE THAN 150,000 MEMBERS IS A SCIENTIFIC AND PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION THAT REPRESENTS PSYCHOLOGISTS IN THE UNITED STATES.

• NATIONAL FAMILIES AND WORK INSTITUTE, 267 FIFTH AVE., FLOOR 2, NEW YORK, NY 10016. PHONE: 212/465-2044. WEB SITE: WWW.FAMILIESANDWORK.ORG. THE INSTITUTE IS A NONPROFIT RESEARCH CENTER THAT PROVIDES DATA ON THE CHANGING WORK FORCE, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY.

ONLINE —

• THE ENTREPRENEURIAL PARENT (WWW.EN-PARENT.COM), A COMMERCIAL SITE, OFFERS ARTICLES, MESSAGE BOARDS AND OTHER RESOURCES FOR PARENTS WORKING FROM HOME.

• IVILLAGE (WWW.IVILLAGE.COM), A COMMERCIAL SITE GEARED TOWARD WOMEN, FEATURES A SECTION ON BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY LIFE FOR MOTHERS AT WWW.PARENTSOUP.COM.

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