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Organization is key, say single parents, two-income families

Daily balance of work and family takes commitment

How do busy moms and dads balance their work and family responsibilities? In many marriages today, both spouses work full-time, and the number of single parents who have to be both mom and dad has increased dramatically. How are parents managing to not only balance work and family responsibilities, but also find time to be involved in volunteer activities to make their community a better place?

The successful balancing act doesn’t just happen. It takes being organized and planning ahead.

“If I didn’t write everything down, there would be no way I could keep up,” says Debbie McBride, president of Delta Design Group in Greenville. “I keep a very thorough, detailed calendar. Every day I prepare a list of things I need to accomplish that day and that includes personal or professional. Sometimes while you are taking care of business matters you can also take care of something personal. I find myself rushing to meet with a client and, once I’m finished, maybe stopping by the dry cleaners on the way back to the office. You definitely have to reach a balance or it will drive you crazy.”

McBride said there can be a natural tendency to want to take care of business before family. So she believes it takes a conscious effort to put the family first, especially if you are a single parent.

“Ten or 15 years ago corporate executives were mostly male, and they had a wife at home who would balance the checkbook, do the grocery shopping, take trips to the dry cleaners and attend all the Little League games. The executive could consciously focus on one thing: business. Now with many couples both working and sharing responsibilities for children, it has become easier to manage both family and work. Men are starting to help more. I’m a single parent of two, and I have male friends I see taking on much more responsibility on the home front. And that is a good thing.”

Single mom Liz Helwick, Liz Helwick Commercial Real Estate, Gulfport, says the balancing act has gotten easier now that her children are older — 24, 18 and 16. When they were younger and she was just starting out in commercial real estate, it was much harder. One reason she picked the profession was the flexibility it provided to work her schedule around child care. Summer vacations from school and times when the children were sick were the most difficult.

“I remember one summer I actually worked out of my house the whole summer, and that was hard because the kids were always in and out,” Helwick said. “It was good for them, of course, but it was hard for me. But I always felt like they were my first responsibility. I wanted to stay at home with my kids. I didn’t choose a career. I was pretty much forced into it. I admire parents where one of them can stay at home with the kids. It is an admirable thing to do.”

Helwick advocates employers being sensitive to the needs of working parents, and puts that into action at her office. Her 24-year-old daughter brings her 10-month-old baby to work except for the two days a week when the father is off work and cares for the baby. Helwick also allowed another employee to bring her baby to work.

“Some work places frown on that,” Helwick said. “But I don’t think their heart is in the right place if they don’t want a baby at work. It is not good to put a child under a year old with a caregiver all day long. When they are little and are going to sleep a lot, you can work around them. I don’t think it takes away from the professionalism at all.”

Helwick has a sister who takes her baby to work at Stennis Space Center, which has a day care center. Workers can see their children during lunch or breaks, making it possible for mothers to continue breastfeeding.

An increasing number of single dads are facing the same issues that have been common for single moms for decades. Paul Kossman, an attorney in private practice and a part-time city prosecutor in Cleveland, has had custody of his three sons for a decade starting when they were toddlers.

“It is a blessing to live in a small town where I work two blocks from home, and one block from their schools,” Kossman said. “I can go home at a moment’s notice to transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer, stir a pot of slow-cooking food, do some cleaning during lunch, or do a little bit of grocery shopping. I work so close to home that it helps.”

Kossman admits, though, that sometimes he feels like a rubber band stretched so tightthat is about to break. Having paid support services would be great, but is too expensive for most working parents.

“If you are not able to hire a full-time maid, a full-time cook and full-time tutoring services for your children, things can be very challenging,” he said. “One way I do it is I don’t carouse. I am at home every night with my children except occasionally on weekends. I nose into their business at school, try to keep up with their social lives, and keep index cards for my children’s friends so I can track them down. The fact of the matter is that parenting takes vast amounts of time away from my professional life and, therefore, I immensely respect working mothers. I do spend less time at work because I spend time meeting the needs of my family. And I’m sure I’ve paid a price professionally for that.”

Kossman believes it is important for single parents to have a social life, even though that can be difficult in a small town especially with young children to care for. He joined a support group to combat the isolation.

“It is not a healthy way to live with three little toddlers and no social support, and I had sense enough to know that,” he said. “I joined a religiously- based single’s registry, and that has helped hugely to have very pleasing relationships. I would encourage any religious entity to maintain a discretely and tastefully administered single’s registry and to hold single’s weekends and other events. I’ve been able, with the help of religiously-inspired entities, to get a little social support. I wish all groups concerned with nurturing human beings would spend a little time nurturing the older single folks in their midst.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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