It is never easy balancing the responsibilities of work, raising children, keeping up with schoolwork, and running a home — all at the same time. As a single parent, there is no tag team. There is nobody to take the kids to the zoo while you try to get the house cleaned, or lay down because of a fever. It’s just you. If you don’t do it, chaos ensues.
There are those rare, perfect days when everything seems to get done cheerfully, but the majority are spent in a massive juggling exercise. Knowing how easy it is to miss a ball or two, how do you set priorities when everything seems important? Here are a few suggestions.
For most people, their work is predetermined. Your job has set hours that must be met. The remainder of the day is yours to prioritize. First, think big picture. Of all your responsibilities, which one will you most regret while on your death bed? I suspect most of us won’t lie there thinking, "If only I had floors that shined every day" Let’s assume the thing you most want to succeed is being a good parent. Then, that becomes your first priority. Get out a piece of paper and list what that means to you. At a minimum, you want your children to grow to be respectful of other people, hardworking, and honest. You may have other goals for them, such as learning an instrument, or getting involved in politics. Whatever your dreams for your children, both temporal and eternal, if you hold to a particular faith, write those goals down, as well.
Next, list out the responsibilities that need to happen for survival. Unless you are in very fortunate circumstances, you probably have to earn a living. You also have to keep up with household chores. I mean, it’s great if you and your toddler get to spend an hour playing with puzzles, but if no one has any underwear, you’d better be running a load of laundry at the same time! Make a list of things like laundry, meals, grocery shopping, paying bills, cleaning bathrooms, all of it.
Finally, make your fun list in two columns. The first one is “Fun things to do with the kids”, the other is, “Fun for Myself”. For the children, depending on their ages, it could be things like, going to the zoo or the ice cream parlor, going shopping, a movie, the park, or taking a vacation. You’ll know what to put for yourself. Mine would include, playing the violin, doing a mandarin lesson, reading, going to the symphony, a movie, or taking a walk. Everyone is different.
When you pursue each one will depend on the moment. Each day you spend with your children, you should be covering things from the first two lists. Your children need you and the home must run as smoothly as circumstances allow. Let’s say you are in the middle of a much-needed cleaning of the bathroom, when your children start screaming at each other. You could ignore it and keep cleaning, letting them fight it out. You could go shout at them to be quiet and get along so you can finish your work, or you can realize your first priority is raising them. If your bathroom is spotless, but your children are malicious, you’ve failed.
Without resentment, stop cleaning and spend time helping them learn how to love and serve one another. Not only, are you going to have a more peaceful home, you are helping shape the type of people who occupy our society. How many times have you dealt with people at work or the grocery store and wished their mother had taught them basic rules in civility?
Now, some of you may be wondering, when do we get to the fun list? Come on, admit it. The fun list teaches our children something, too. Just like every single parent, you’re multi-tasking. List 3 is our reward for a job well done. For your children, pick something on the list. Tell them what needs to be accomplished in order to enjoy this well-deserved treat. When everyone pulls together they get to enjoy the reward. For yourself, try to hit something on your list at least once a week, even if you can only spare 15 minutes.
I realize not all children are created equally. At first, you will have some children who work hard and some who don’t. Only the children who work hard, appropriate to their age, get the reward. As you don’t have a spouse to stay home with the lazy child, arrange ahead of time to have a friend be a backup sitter for you and wave goodbye as you head out for fun. Make sure your friend is not going to be a fun sitter. Let them know it is a punishment.
As you go about your day, not everything will get done. With a list of priorities, at least you’ll know in your heart the most important things were accomplished. That, in itself, brings some measure of peace.