RLI 278 6
March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
Children bring richness to life as well as notable effort. Luckily, children thrive on routine. If you can
retain order and predictability in your life, your children will respond well. And partners need to really
share the joys, sorrows, and effort of parenting. It helps to negotiate this before you have children.
Sharing responsibility for children is easier without stereotypes about who does what. Dads can go on
field trips or make cookies, but so can moms or grandparents. In dividing up responsibilities, find a way
to accommodate individual parent limitations; some can handle unscheduled emergencies, others can
do anything that can be put on a calendar ahead of time. And you can reduce your own anxiety about
balancing parenting and work by letting your own supervisor know the flexibility you need.
Luck has a lot to do with managing family and work. Serious illnesses or disabilities make balancing
work life with family life much more difficult. But, barring such exigencies, there are many ways you can
ease the stress of family life. They all require discipline. Set limits—on e-mail, TV, junk food, computer
games, and bedtimes—for the children and yourself. Our children sometimes pushed against these
restraints, but now that they are grown up, they claim the limits contributed to their own success in life!
We always tried to sit down and eat dinner together every evening; you can get a simple home-
cooked meal on the table in 25 minutes (half an hour of children’s TV works wonders while you cook).
And cooking simple meals (the only thing that most young children like) limits relying on unhealthful
take-out and fast food. You’ll probably eat a lot of broiled chicken, rice, and microwaved vegetables in the
early years. But you and your partner can have some quality time in the kitchen while the children are
otherwise engaged. Do work in some treats—wine at dinner for grown-ups, desserts and the occasional
soda on weekends.
Good child care is critical. If you are in a responsible position you are more able than many to pay for
good child care and elementary school “extended day” programs. When you move to a new town, tell
your realtor to look for these as part of your house-hunting process. After we asked a realtor to do this
for us, the firm began highlighting that as a distinctive service they provided. If you work year-round
you will need to find good summer camps—day camps for young ones and sleepover camps for older
children. You may have to line these up early in the New Year, when you are still exhausted from the
holidays, but the effort is worth it. When your children are old enough, encourage them to get summer
jobs. Working a low-level job gives your child a sense of reality, generates respect for people who work
these jobs year-round, and supplies pocket money.
When one of your children is old enough to babysit for those younger, cut some deals. Pay the older
one for sitting and pay the younger a smaller amount (perhaps 25% of the older one’s rate) for being good.
If things do not go well while you are out no one gets paid. It only happened once for us.
It is important to let your children be themselves. Avoid trying to relive your youth through them or
force them to be what you might have wanted to be. Letting your children have some autonomy also gives
them advantages. Children don’t need fully scheduled lives to grow up into good and resourceful adults.
Try to avoid too many sports, music lessons, or other “enrichment” activities. Children need downtime as
much as adults do. Do make sure your children know the importance of traits such as honesty, hard work,
and caring for others. Given this basic guidance, a little “benign neglect” encourages stronger and more
independent children.
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