With the start of the school year, Miami attorney Valerie Greenberg has been settling into her new routine — leaving work promptly at 5:30 p.m. and zooming across town to pick her daughter up from high school volleyball practice by 6 every weeknight. Her son will hang around after school and wait. For now, the physical benefits for her daughter outweigh the stress it puts on the family, Greenberg says. "As a single working parent, this was the best compromise for all," she said. But they are still squeezed. "Any change can throw us all off."
As school kicks in and kids sign up for activities and lessons, the logistics for working parents can get complicated. Parents regularly drive themselves over the edge trying to make their work schedules mesh with their children's extracurricular activities. It's not hard to hit your breaking point when working 40-plus-hour weeks and trying to get your child to a 5 p.m. team practice three or four nights a week.
Even while grass roots groups are calling for time out from scheduling kids from breakfast to bedtime, we as parents see the benefits of extracurricular activities. They include increased self-esteem and leadership skills, lower obesity and an appreciation for teamwork. We've seen how developing a talent has the potential to turn our child into the next Serena Williams.
Here are a few tips you can use when trying to juggle your work schedule with your children's extracurricular activities.
Gauge your flexibility at work: Your employer may be willing to make an arrangement with you, even if it's temporary, to allow you to get your kids to practices if you come in earlier. But this usually involves a conversation in advance; otherwise you may get a reputation as a slacker.
Consider proximity: The more activities kids can do at school, the easier it is on working parents. Get a schedule of team tryouts from your child's school. Also, many day care centers have started to offer dance or martial arts classes during the day, so that parents don't have to take off work to shuttle the kids to classes.
Enlist multiple children in the same activities: This is a no-brainer for time-pressed parents whose kids have the same interests. If not, maybe a little encouragement and compromise will do the trick.
Let them choose: Mandee Heller Adler, a Hollywood, Fla., college admissions consultant, says children inevitably are more successful when they choose the activity rather than a parent. "If it's something they really want to do, they are more likely to figure out on their own how to get where they need to be."
Find a carpool: This is when networking with other parents pays off. When asked, most working parents are thrilled to split driving duties.
Do the activity with your child: For many years, Greenberg took martial arts lessons with her two children. All three earned their black belts. "I was able to get exercise, too. It made scheduling a lot easier," she says.
Look into online activities: Your child might want to take cooking lessons by watching online videos at home.
Lose the guilt: "Parents don't have to be at every practice or show," says parenting expert Laura Gauld. Sometimes, stepping back has its advantages, she says. "Someone else steps up and can turn out to be a good mentor for your child."
Gauld says a child is over-scheduled when he or the parent loses the joy of the activity.
I know where over-scheduling leads. After spending months running from fields to courts with kids playing different sports, I've sat on the bleachers at a basketball playoff game, secretly hoping a teammate would miss the shot at the buzzer and bring my son's season to an end — at last. Inevitably, next to me is another parent who feels the same way.