The Pragmatic parent
Dear Pragmatic Parent: My husband and I have two daughters, ages 6 and 4. They’re both in ballet class, and my older daughter also takes piano and Irish step dancing classes; my younger daughter is in gymnastics. They take swimming lessons, too, and when I complain about running them around everywhere, my husband says it’s my own fault for signing them up for everything. What do you think?
Stressed-Out Chauffeur in Orland Park
Dear Stressed-Out: Husbands are often helpful in highlighting the obvious, aren’t they (you drive around too much because you signed up for too many classes)? The real question is, why did you do it?
You have good intentions. You know that by exposing your kids to a variety of activities you can cultivate their skills and self-confidence. Outside the confines of the classroom, the girls can beat boredom as well as build friendships and muscles.
Just because you have the resources and time to do it all, though, doesn’t mean you should. Examine why you feel obligated to join. Do you think your family’s being lazy if the kids are just playing with Legos? Do you have Olympic dreams for your girls? Are you feeling pressure from other moms to join the team? (So much for teaching our kids not to feel peer pressured.)
Consider signing up for a different type of class each session—but limit it to one. After "trying on" various activities in their early years, the girls will naturally gravitate toward the ones that match their talents.
If you’re feeling crazed, chances are your girls are, too. Watch for signs of overload and stress, like headaches, apathy and excessive worrying. As the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, play is part of a child’s healthy development and kids of all ages need downtime. Schedule some free time in order to find some balance. Instead of class, why not pack a picnic one afternoon, sans any structure? We need to enjoy our kids while we can. As we’ve heard, it will be over before we know it.
Dear Pragmatic Parent: About half of the moms in my neighborhood work full-time like me and the rest are stay-at-home moms. My next door neighbor Jane stays home and volunteers at school all the time. She’s constantly trying to rope me into serving on committees, which will require time at the school that I just don’t have. I want to help, but I’m about to blow my top!
Unwilling Volunteer in Hinsdale
Dear Unwilling: Jane sounds like the über-mom who permeates many of our Chicago suburbs, always standing at the ready with a plate of warm cookies and a smile. But beware of her façade: This lady’s a planner—and she’s got plans for you.
Given the description of your neighborhood of working and stay-at-home moms, Jane might not understand why you choose to work. As a result, maybe she thinks she’s doing you a favor by including you in the school mayhem … or is subconsciously trying to make you feel guilty for working. Don’t let her do either.
Kindly explain to her that, while you appreciate her thinking of you, you don’t want to trouble her to find things for you to do. You know how busy she is, after all.
If you feel bummed out that you can’t participate during the day but want to help at the school, consider finding other ways to do so. Do you excel at numbers? Be the PTA treasurer. Are you a wizard with computers? Spruce up the school’s outdated Web site. There are probably plenty of ways to volunteer in unconventional ways.
But that’s your decision, not Jane’s.
Dear Pragmatic Parent: One of my neighbors was desperate for a babysitter, so I gave her the name and number of our kids’ usual sitter, Sandy. The last four times I’ve called Sandy, she’s been unavailable—because she’s sitting for my neighbor. I’m angry because it’s hard to find a reliable sitter who my kids love—and now mine’s been snatched. What should I do?
Sitter’s Been Snatched in Western Springs
Dear Sitter’s Been Snatched: No doubt about it, your neighbor crossed the line. You did her a favor, but now she’s intruded into your territory. It isn’t polite.
You probably don’t want to be equally impolite by putting Sandy in the middle of this and forcing her to choose between families. While you could get all passive aggressive on your neighbor and stealth-book Sandy for every Saturday night of her life (or at least until your kids are old enough to baby-sit themselves), a pragmatic parent favors the direct approach.
Rustle up some new sitter sources and supply a list for your neighbor. Hand-deliver it (with or without a bow) and explain: "I’m glad I could help you out—and I figured you’d like some other sitter names so you don’t inadvertently schedule Sandy for a time when we need her. The survival of my marriage depends on our date nights!" (Putting hand to forehead and being overly dramatic will make her laugh—but also prove your point to back off.)
If she doesn’t take the hint and continues to call Sandy without asking you first, learn from the experience. In the future, keep other sitter’s names under lock and key—sharing only when accompanied with the caveat that you maintain first dibs.
Submit YOUR QUESTIONS Pragmatic parents are practical and value a no-nonsense approach in solving their daily dilemmas. While they respect well-intended theories, they are short on time and save all of their patience for their kids. They value a tell-it-like-it-is viewpoint to push the small stuff aside and focus on what’s really important: Creating a happy home life and happy kids. Ask your question (we’ll just print your location) by e-mailing email@example.com.
Jill S. Browning is a mother of triplets living in Downers Grove.