Now my latest book, ‘Getting a Grip on Parenting Time: 86 commonsense lessons from the trenches’ is out, I’m getting regular requests to run time management seminars for young parents. The most recent one was a Zonta-sponsored one at Mangawhai Heads, an hour or so north of Auckland last Tuesday, in the midst of the worst weather most New Zealanders have had for some time. (For anyone reading this column after its initial publication, it was when the tag end of Cyclone Debbie came visiting, after wreaking havoc in Australia.) I was inspired by how many drove through floods and slips to get there.
One of the common queries of nearly every parent I talk with is how to juggle all your family’s activities. This week’s article, Lesson 38 from the book, gives one solution that changed my life when I was a burnt out and exhausted young mother. I also shared it with Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon show a couple of weeks ago. (You can hear the full 20 minute interview here,)
Lesson 38: Hire a school girl for the hell hour
My fifth child was a baby and I was at the doctor’s. That was a fairly regular occurrence; the whole gang arrived in exactly nine years (to the day!). After he’d finished with Jimmy’s examination, Dr Forbes, himself a father of six, turned his attention to me.
‘You’re looking a bit peaky,’ he commented.
‘I never seem to get enough sleep, and there’s always just too much to do,’ I replied with a sigh.
And then he dished out some of the best advice I ever had as a young mother:
‘Hire a schoolgirl for the Hell Hour.’
We were a one-income family and a very small income at that. Money was scarce and the only way I could make ends meet was to take in boarders. However, his advice was appealing so I counted my pennies and rearranged the priorities. A couple of enquiries uncovered Leonie, a helpful 14-year-old from just along the road.
For the next six months, while the current baby was small and I was in that particularly overwhelmed state, Leonie hopped off the school bus every afternoon at our place instead of hers. She would grab a sandwich for afternoon tea and then work solidly for an hour – for about the hourly rate she would have earned working at McDonald’s. Once things eased a bit, she reduced to a couple of times a week for another year and then returned to five nights a week when the last baby arrived.
It was fantastic. She did anything I needed: bringing in the washing; bathing the bigger kids; peeling potatoes; picking up toys; even the ironing. And so I had my first big lesson in leverage and delegation. An extra pair of hands was the life-saver I needed.
Many parents, and especially mothers, frequently feel really frazzled – there is so much to do that it seems you never catch up and, more importantly, you often feel as though you’re short-changing your little ones on quality time.
It’s also great for the contributory dads who aim to get home early enough to be involved with their small children’s bedtime. Some of the routine tasks will have been handled and they’re more likely to arrive home to a calmer house and a less exhausted wife.
And there’s another factor in today’s families that few women of my generation had to worry about. Many modern women hold down a full-time job outside the home or, as in the case of two of my families, the wives are working in their family businesses, a building company and a farm. Somehow that all squeezes in around the domestics, child-rearing and a raft of other activities.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop for a moment and consider the following:
- Could you use the help of a student?
- A cleaner for two to three hours a week/fortnight will get all the basics done faster than you, because they’re focused on one thing
- Have you ever thought of sending out the ironing? See if you can find a local ironing service that picks up and drops off from your house. (Or buy wrinkle-free linen and garments.)
- If you can’t afford help on a weekly or fortnightly basis, consider hiring a home or garden ‘spring cleaner’ as needed for big jobs like cleaning the windows and oven, chopping back trees or unclogging the gutters.
- What about a reliable student to run bigger kids to after-school activities?
- Lawns aren’t your thing? High school kids are always looking for cash.
Maybe you feel like you can’t afford it. Consider this:
- How would it feel to come home to a clean tidy house?
- How would having more time improve your family’s quality of life? What else could you do with that free time?
- You may even save money in other areas. For example, Louise found hiring a cleaner for three hours a week meant that she had more time to cook and spent less on take-away food.
There are always variations on this theme, of course. I’m a great advocate of making older kids responsible for their share of the chores so they learn to be responsible adults. Maybe some of their pocket money is linked to satisfactory performance of certain home tasks. But when they’re little and you’re trying to do everything, get help. It’s not being weak – it’s being realistic.
We don’t need to do everything. Super-parents are often exhausted and burnt-out. We’re in this for a long time, not a perfect time.
[Excerpt from ‘Getting a Grip on Parenting Time: 86 commonsense lessons from the trenches’ You can get the book from our website, or ask your local bookshop to get it in for you. Tell them that all my titles are now being distributed nation-wide by Bookreps.
If you’d like a seminar for your school, PTA or parents’ group, in any region of New Zealand, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I travel extensively for work so your request may well fit in with existing travel plans.