Stress and the family unit
The two-income family has grown so much in recent years that it has almost become the norm. It's often not a question of "Does Mom work?"but rather, "What does Mom do for a living?"
Still, having both parents contributing to the household income means changes to the family dynamic are inevitable. This begs the question of how to balance it all.
Proponents of dual-income families say that in an economy where everything seems to cost more, it's a smart idea for both parents to work. This scenario may offer greater financial security, and protect against financial disaster should the "primary"earner lose his or her job. It has also been said that when both parents work, there are opportunities to split up responsibilities at home and lay to rest any lingering stereotypes about what's man's work and what's woman's work around the house.
Others say that it's actually a financial trap. There are arguments that the abundance of two-income families has driven up prices so that it is more difficult for individuals with one income to live comfortably. Plus, there's no guarantee that two incomes will provide financial security, especially when every penny is accounted for, as is often the case in two-income environments.
Regardless of the pluses or minuses of the two income situation, the fact that both parents work brings added stress to a family.
In a world where it has become so prevalent, families are learning to adapt. There are certain areas of life where it can be stressful or difficult to do it all. However, there are many strategies for staying sane while working and caring for a family. Here are a few tips.
Stay involved in school. Working parents may be at a loss as to how they can get involved with school or daycare happenings without compromising work. While not everyone can be "Class Mom"or a "Room Father"ask the teacher what you can do to contribute on your own time. Perhaps you can use business savvy to create a class Web site or weekly newsletter. Talk with your boss to see if one day a month can be taken so that you can volunteer time at school, with work hours made up on a weekend or with a flex time program. Find out if party planning can be done after work hours.
Avoid busy mornings. With everyone getting dressed and ready for work and school at the same time, mornings can be chaotic. The best idea is to do as much as possible the night before. Everyone in the household should lay his or her clothes out for the following day. Briefcases and backpacks should be stocked and ready to grab. Lunches can be pre-made and stored in the refrigerator. You can have the children do as much as they can to free up your time to ready yourself. This will help them feel important as well as give you a break. Make arrangements with neighbors to get kids on the school bus or participate in a car pool scenario.
Making the most of evenings. Set aside at least one night a week where the family comes together. This means no late work projects, sports practices, etc. Turn off the television and spend time together. On other nights, take the time to touch base with everyone in the house. Aim for family dinners together, even if it's a quick meal of heat-and-eat convenience foods.
Establish a routine. Kids (and often adults) feel most comfortable with a routine, especially when they know what to expect. Create a routine that works for you -- don't worry if it's not the perceived "right"way to do things. For example, maybe the kids can eat a toaster cake on the way to school if breakfast time is rushed. It's alright to let the kids watch a few minutes of cartoons in the morning if it frees up a moment for you to hop in the shower.
Get some help. You don't have to be Superwoman or Superman to get it all done. Sometimes it takes a little help. If the laundry is overflowing and you'd rather play with the kids on the weekend instead of spending the day folding clothes, drop it off at the laundromat to be washed and folded. Set up a kid swap with other working parents so that one day they take and entertain the kids and the next day you do, especially if work commitments call. Perhaps a grandparent or a neighbor can pitch in.
Make time for you. It's alright to set aside some time for yourself and your spouse. It doesn't always have to be about the kids. In fact, if your relationship is strong, it will carry over into the way you handle yourself with the children and promote a stronger dynamic and could help you focus more at work. Whenever possible, take moments to talk with your spouse or go to bed at the same time and enjoy private moments.
Of course there are more concerns than just the kids in the world of stress.
Finances can often be a problem. When people reach the end of the year to do their taxes they also find themselves saying "Look how much we made! Where did it all go."
Part of the stress families have is that it seems every penny is spent each time a paycheck is deposited. That's why a structured savings plan is important. Even with the thinnest of incomes there is a way to save something, anything. Even if you only put a buck or two in the bank each payday, the reserve you will have for an emergency (which is a stressful situation in itself) is satisfying and leads to at least some security.
This also leads to the question of taxes. Is it better to have smaller paychecks all year by having as much held out for taxes as possible or is it better to take the deductions on a check by check basis and end up at the end of the year unsure whether you will have to pay or not?
Any good tax expert will say the best way to manage taxes is to adjust your paycheck withholding so your tax payments will match your tax liability for the year.
Filing a new W-4 form where you work can alleviate the worry of having to come up with a large amount of money every year in April.
And there are certainly key times you should file a new W-4. If a child leaves home and is no longer a dependent you should change it. Changes in home financing, changes in retirement systems, etc. are all good examples of things that might affect tax liability. The IRS offers an interactive withholding allowance calculator as well as work sheets with a W-4 form to help you figure out your tax life.
Many people like that big refund, look forward to it and spend it on things they normally can't afford. But think about it. Instead of getting say $1,200 at the end of the year, you could get an extra $100 a month in your check. If you aren't going to spend it, then save it somewhere, even if the interest where you save it may be low.
Some people also use that refund to pay off credit card debt. But if you had that money monthly and it was managed properly, you not only would have the debt to pay off, but you would also save the interest accrued on those high credit card debt rates during the year.
Done right, that could be another stressor removed.
Another area of stress is the expanded, extended family. Aging parents of both baby boomers and now the aging baby boomers themselves have added a whole new dimension to family complications.
Often some people who have small children themselves have to deal with aging adults who are either sick, having a hard time being independent or in some cases seem to be reverting back to childhood themselves. This is frustrating to many a middle aged person.
The fact is that people today live longer than ever today. When adult men's life expectancy was not much over 40 years of age, families didn't have to deal with older adults living until their great grandchildren were married. But things are different now.
Today, many adult find themselves taking care of their aging parents. The commitment they often make could last a short time or a long while. This can be a detriment to personal lives or children of the caregiver.
However it can also be a plus. Caregiving can bridge the gaps among familial generations. Family support systems can be strengthened as members learn to prepare themselves for their own aging. There are a lot of things that grown up kids can do to make the situation better and deter the stress.
First of all encourage seniors without giving advice. Recommendations from adult children is a problematic proposition and should be avoided. Even if it is asked for sometimes it can be sticky. Find someone from outside the family to give that kind of advice.
Come to grips with differences of opinions, values, habits, likes and dislikes with parents. There is often the well known "generation gap"between parents and children, regardless of how old they are.
Humor is a good way to relieve the stress that often comes with parents either living with older children or when they have to spend a lot of time together. Smile a lot. Stress hates grins.
Recognize that grandchildren and grandparents can have closer relationships with each other than either do with you. Some of this is due to the fact that neither generally has responsibility for each other. Because of that they can enjoy each other fully, without bounds.
Stress can also be lessened when expectations of what things will be like in the future are considered and discussed. What are the true abilities you have to take care of your parents. Be realistic. Be real about what you can expect from parents, listen to them and act on that communication, encourage them to be honest with you about their needs, desires and wants.
Probably one of the real ways to deal with the stress of aging parents is to understand that he process of aging should be separated from the person that they have been in their life or what they actually are. Remember that old age is not an illness, no more than puberty is. In puberty emotions run free as a person grows older and behavior is sometimes that of a 30 year old and a few minutes later that of a three year old. When people age things like more light in a room for them to see or read, a decrease in hearing so things have to clearer and sometimes louder, as well as differences in taste, smell, and changes in bodily habits are common. All these changes in the habits of individuals one cares for can cause stress.
People often find themselves feeling shackled as they try to juggle the multiple demands, stresses and responsibilities of their new responsibilities. These feelings can threaten not only their health, but marriages, occupation, relationships with kids, as well as financial security, because such activity usually costs money in one way or another.. Burnout is common. Symptoms may include: depression, constant fatigue, poor concentration, hostility or physical illness.
The answer is to keep your independence. Don't get too caught up in the older person's daily activities and be a good talker (explaining your day) while at the same time listening to stories about theirs.
Families do cause stress and it isn't all bad because things get done with stress in the picture.
But how you handle it, is what will make for a positive family union or one that is dysfunctional.