Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

No, I have not suddenly decided to move my site to Chinese, and no you are still at  But yes, the title of this post is a Chinese character.

What you see above is the Chinese character for “busy”.  You will see many references to the fact that this is made up of the following two characters.  心 traditionally means “heart” and 亡 is “death” or “killing”.   I am not jumping on the bandwagon that many references do that say this was done purposely and I believe it is just a phonetic reference but it is ironic that the result of being too busy in our lives can feel as if our heart is being killed and that is the focus on my post today.

As we pass our three year anniversary of being an official blended family and the children progress out of elementary school (only Peter remains in that pleasant nirvana lacking any semblance of the word busy) it seems that each year has ratched up the busyness scale.  Some of it certainly is a confluence of our work lives with our personal lives as new jobs have come into play and more involving projects.  In addition our volunteering activities have risen.  I have noticed more and more that my wife and I, rather than looking forward to the upcoming kidless weekends as an opportunity to partake in some couple activities, that we use a day or two to just veg.  This is the monster I am pushing against, the one that made me return to this focus on the Chinese make up of busy.

You see one of the other things I have learned in my Christian walk is that a family is only as strong as the parents that make it up.  We teach and have read many variations on the theme that not focusing on our spouse and taking those important times to reconnect and show each other that we are most important to each other can lead to problems.  It is in this manner that the busy in our lives can become the means to kill our heart, our heart to each other.  I am certainly trying to be careful not to over think this and move to the tendency of many to over react and create a bigger issue, but I want to not stick my head in the sand either.  I understand what is causing our move to just be, and we are still with each other, but I want to also not let it slide so far that it becomes the new normal, because I do believe that would begin to cause problems.  It would be a variation of those parents who place the kids at the center of their lives and do not nurture their love for each other and share experiences that bring them closer together and make them fall in love again every day.  I just do not want our lives to turn into two times; kids are here time, and kids are not here time and all we do is rest for kids are here time.  This is the insidiousness of busy, the evil that lurks within.

This is why it is crucial, especially I think in a blended family with all the added stresses I’ve shared here in this blog, to keep control over how busy, how heart killing, our lives have the potential to become.  We’ve all heard the phrase “no one ever said on their death bed that they wish they’d spent more time at the office”, but these days “the office” is getting replaced by so many other things like social media, smartphones, e-mail and volunteering for the myriad causes that we are pulled to.  I recently began volunteering for Learning Ally, a non-profit that provides access to audio learning materials for learning challenged students and adults.  I love the work, but like any love, if I let it get out of balance it can consume everything I give it.  This is where we need to keep God’s way in mind and use that to set our priorities.  I need to be careful with this new activity pulling on my time that I do not let it take away from time with my wife and create a tiredness in me from the busy, that my heart no longer focuses on what the Lord demands of me.  Everything we do is a balance of focus and I think the biggest sucking sound these days are our smartphones.  I push back against it all the time and it has caused an argument or two and I’m sure will cause a few more between my wife and I.  When is it OK to sit and watch TV or read together without putting the smartphone down and ignoring its addictive purr?  Research has shown that people can become addicted to that rush of seeing who contacted them, what message came over.  It has the same effect as doing drugs.  My wife and I do not agree on the speed in which we need to respond to this electronic leash.  I believe I much more easily ignore my device if we are in the middle of something and will not even refer to my work phone unless I know a pressing project is happening over the weekend.  Will this disconnect grow and create larger problems over time?  I hope not and I will work to try to lovingly make sure that anything I am involved in does not become the same, be it my volunteer activity or other leisure activities.  I regularly tell my wife to come let me know if she would like me to stop what I am doing and be with her, but she rarely does so.  I try to keep my time to a minimum in these individual pursuits.  Some might think that silly, but I have seen too many people drift apart because they all just did “their thing” and were busy.  What I do not want to do is become my parents in this area.

The situation with my parents is that they have never really had those shared experiences, those times to get away from the busy and reconnect.  They are now in retirement and struggling mightily on how to work with each other.  They also have been taking care of my 90+ year old grandmother with dementia for several years and are only recently discussing the option of long term care for her.  They argue and fight and my father retreats to his phone or computer and my mother goes shopping.  They have allowed the busy to kill their hearts.  They have never learned how to connect and communicate and in the circle of life it has now come to the point where my brother and I feel like we have at times become our parent’s parents, telling them to stop acting like children, to learn to play nice and to stop taking their ball and going home.  My brother recently had to tell my dad to stop being a baby.  I’d never think it would have come to that, but this is what I see that busy has done to their lives.  It has literally killed their hearts.  My brother and I have both gone through the pain of divorce and to hear our parents making comments and discussing things in that vein is something I do not think either of us ever thought we’d hear from them.  After forty five years of marriage they can almost literally not stand to be around each other and it is looking grim.  I hear my mother yelling at my father to put his phone down and listen to me on the phone or pay attention to what she is saying.

Could it ever become me having a similar argument with my wife?  I’d like to think not, but this is what busy can do.  We have gotten so used to always “doing” something that the pleasure of just communicating with our spouse seems like a waste. This is why I push back against always poking at the phone, or having to have the TV on when we sit down, or not being able to sit down because there is a napkin on the table or a cup on the counter.  All these things can be enjoyed or need to be taken care of.  I’m not saying let your house become a pig sty, leave the laundry to stink and never enjoy a TV show to check your phone; just be aware of what your focus is on and for how long or you might end up like my parents are at this point, only focused on what they are not able to do because of the demands of the other versus what they could do if they took time for each other.  If the focus on each other is there, it is easier to deal with the busy that must happen.  They need to focus on my grandmother, but right now they are focusing individually rather than collectively.  I’ve been there with my ex, getting to the point where I could truly care less what she did, I was just going to do what I needed to do.  I truly feel it was a tipping point, where the effort to come back would have been so gargantuan that it was not possible.  Maybe that’s why I am more sensitive to those things in my life now where I feel something can be too distracting, too busy.  Family, friends, gadgets, entertainment, work can all be the sources of damage to our heart, to our focus on our strong marriage, that bond with our spouse.  I hear a woman come to DivorceCare and discuss how her husband wanted a divorce because he felt she was too focused on the kids.  I hear a man come in and talk about how he spent time with his band and porn and it led him to poor choices that drove him to such guilt that he left his wife and is torn up about it now.  I hear how a woman cannot remove her focus from the relationship her ex has with their kids enough to move on with her life.  I hear how people spend more time at work, or at school, with an ailing parent or with friends and then wonder what happened with their relationship with their spouse and blame the other for not understanding.  While all these busies might be legitimate, taken too far, they became destructive, they killed the heart.  They killed the heart of their marriage.

We need to learn to let go, to put down the smartphone, move the ailing parent into long term care when it is too much, tell the kids we’ll be back in an hour once in a while, tell that friend who wants us to help with the fundraiser not this year, tell the group we volunteer with that we can no longer be the ‘go to’ person that picks up the slack for all the other volunteers.  The Lord made marriage for two to become one flesh to be the center of the family, which in turn is the center of His world.  The core of the family are those two people who joined themselves to each other and to God.  Every time busy pulls that center off balance, it is crucial that both partners talk openly about how to get back to center before too long, otherwise you end up so far off balance that you are like my parents or like all the people who do not know what hit them in divorce.  It is OK to say no for the sake of your heart.

Do not become too 忙.

So last night I’m getting ready to take the kids off to the ex’s as I prepare to head out of town to my best friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.  As I’m backing out of the driveway I’m going through the mental checklist.  Lawn mowed.  Check.  Kid’s off to ex and explained that they will not see me tomorrow after they get off the bus but before mom picks them up.  Check.  EZPass in the car. Check.   Dog…  oh crap, THE DOG!!!

In a panic, I realize that I had completely forgotten about what to do with the dog while I am out of town.   Now to make myself not appear like a total doofus here, I do have a few things on my mind.  I’m getting married in about three weeks and I’ve been working on getting a couple bunk beds ordered from different stores this week as well as doing my job, preparing for the honeymoon by calling some vendors out where we are going and a myriad of other things.  Look.  I’m really sorry I forgot about the dog.  I’m only human.

Normally my ex takes him as she feels a sense of obligation to step in since we have the dog mainly because of her.  This weekend however, the kids have told me they are going to be at a hotel because she is redoing her kitchen.   She doesn’t have money to pay for her taxes, but she’s redoing her kitchen?   Stop.  Focus man, focus.  You need to figure out what to do with the dog.  I call her, and sure enough after I explain how I was not even sure I told her I would be out of town this weekend, she tells me that they will not be home so she can’t watch the dog.  That option has now vaporized for certain, if there was any possibility of it being real anyway.

My fiancée calls her normal person who watches her pets and children.  She works night shift so we may not hear from her for a while.  I contact the vet.  No we do not board.  Here is the number of a pet sitter we know maybe she can help.  Call her.  Leave message.   Started looking up boarding places that might not require an extensive pre-evaluation that I now do not have time for.  Thank goodness the dog is current on shots and other things.  Left some messages.  Pet sitter calls back.  She is booked.  Another option into the vapor.  Called my friend and talked to him about the possibility of the dog thwarting all our plans.  He suggests the vet.  Already done.  He suggests kennels.  I explain the evaluation process.  He goes on about how they normally just segregate them for an hour.  I explain I have done that before but, I guess in an attempt to appear more upscale, everywhere in my state requires background checks, gun permits, and DNA analysis before they will take your dog.  Sometimes they even need to take a paternity test to make sure that your dog has not fathered some cross breed with a cat or something.  If dog kennels ran Homeland Security we’d have no terrorist problems, I promise.

I talked to my parents.  I know they were trying to be helpful.  They suggested dropping him at my soon-to-be-in-laws.  I informed them they were two hours away.  I also mentioned that they do not have a dog.  They have a cat.  Who has not met my dog.  In fact my dog has not met any cats.  Probably a bad idea to have the first meeting of a new species be in a rush when heading out of town.  It works for drunk businessmen in Vegas, but probably not a good call for this situation.  There are other things I did not mention to my parents, such as not imposing on people who have plenty of other items going on, like their business and such.  We talked about the same things I talked to my friend about.   My parents do not have pets mind you, so the questions are a little weird.  Don’t they have places you can take dogs, like hotels?  Yes, kennels.  Called a few, all closed, have to wait until morning.  What about the doctor thing?   The vet?  Yes tried them.  Can you ask a neighbor?  Sadly, I am about as close to my neighbors as the rest of us.  I stand next to them with my child at the bus stop and say good morning.  I do know their names which puts me ahead of 90% of the population, but I’m still not comfortable enough with them to go knock on their door at 9 PM and ask them to watch my dog for the weekend.  My mom tells me that this is why she does not have pets.  I explain that is good, but not helpful right now.

At this point, I’m seriously contemplating taking the dog with us and sleeping with him in the car in the hotel parking lot.  That way I can avoid him taking a dump in the car.  And the probable citation or arrest for animal cruelty.  Not very helpful to drive across states to attend an event and find myself in jail for something.  If I was a Kardashian maybe that would work as a new publicity stunt, but I actually have to hold down a real job.  My friend thinks I’m nuts.  At this point I agree.

In the morning, I still have the same set of options.  No pet sitter.  No kennel.  No possibility of my homeless dog in a car.  I start calling kennels as they open and pleading my case, explaining that my normal option fell through and now I am having to find a place on short notice.  If you recall from earlier posts, I strive not to lie.  Ever.  It was tough finding a way to spin this one as I’m walking that borderline of lying by omission here.  With my friends I was brutally honest.  Yes, I’m a moron who has been planning to go out of town for over a month and just happened to overlook the dog situation.  With a business that I’m trying to take a dog they don’t know from a person they don’t know, I feel showing myself as a disorganized idiot who also shows now as a borderline degenerate pet owner does not play into my favor to find our puppy a temporary home for three nights.  So I tow the line of my ethics and working in doggie-kennel/border patrol/Homeland Security/cavity-searches-for-mouthing-off land and leave off the details.

I get one to possibly be interested.  Another is going to have to call the owner.  At this time my fiancée calls back.  Her friend will do it.  She’ll be here in an hour.  The weekend should be saved.   Unless I suddenly forget how to drive a car.  Hey anything’s possible.  After all I did forget I had a dog.

Admit it.  You could not spend the day today not looking at your smartphone within moments of when it buzzed, beeped, chirped or cooed you to its attention.  You e-mail popup came up on your screen and you stopped what you were doing to go read that.  Or maybe you were in the office talking to someone and the phone rang…. And you picked it up.  The ability to be connected has morphed into something dangerous, the NEED to be connected.  The fact that this is a problem is nothing new, as this medical finding from 2009 explains; there are health effects to this addiction.

And fool yourself, not, it is an addiction.  I poke at my fiancée all the time as we sit together watching TV in the evening on our weekends together.  Her Blackberry buzzes and within seconds it’s out and she’s looking at it.  This past weekend I succumbed to it myself as the kids were with my ex, but they kept texting me, and stupid me, I kept checking.   In hindsight I’m not sure why I did this other than my fiancée’s Crackberry habit is rubbing off on me.  And it worries me. 

A little background.  I work in technology, but I fight every day against the pervasiveness of technology in our lives.  I have never viewed it as a good thing.  It has its benefits.  I would certainly rather fix a computer problem at the office my logging in remotely rather than going back to the days when my pager went off and I had to drive an hour into the office just to restart a failed app in 30 seconds and then drive an hour back.  Technology has its place, but why do people feel that it is THE place.

The struggle, nay, irritation I feel with technology interrupting things comes back to something simple.  Common decency to those around us.  I will give you a scenario with a phone.  I have always made it a point when someone was in my office and the phone rang to let the call go to voice mail.  Over time I noticed people asking “Why didn’t you get that?” and my answer was and is simple.  How do I know that whatever will be discussed on that phone call is more important than what I’m discussing with whomever is in my office?  I don’t so it is rude to assume that the other person should just wait.  I have voice mail.  Don’t think it’s rude?  Well next time when I’m talking to you and a stranger walks by, I will just turn to them in mid-sentence and start a conversation with them.  You’d feel pretty crappy wouldn’t you?  Well how is answering that phone different?  It’s not.  I don’t care what semantics you toss my way, it’s all just an excuse to satisfy your addiction.  As Lady Greenfield so eloquently summarized it, “small babies need reassurance that they exist.”  And you thought you grew up.  She further states, “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

So now we have these chattering, buzzing devices, and we do the same thing in company.  We take calls in restaurants.  We sit with our families at dinner and pull out the device.  I’m pretty sure if we weren’t worried about breaking our electronic pacifier we’d use them in the shower and bathtub.  When will we see that this is not really a good way to engage in the world? 

I understand that the expectation from your job or social circle may be that you will respond.  How was that expectation created?  Most likely by you.  When we start a job, people adjust to what you do.  The fact that it is a requirement is many times a fallacy that we create.  It makes us feel needed and important.  I respond to after hours messages at a set time, usually right before I go to bed, or many times the next day, yet I still get responses from people thanking me for responding quickly.  My work iPhone stays in the briefcase at home.  I check it on my schedule.  I subtlety prod my fiancée to do the same, but it’s not working.  On vacation I check messages once in the morning and once at night just to keep up with the flow.  I set this expectation before I leave.  I drive my time, not the other way around.  Somehow, I am successful in the world, so I submit the connectivity need is a fallacy.  Your employer wants you to get things done, not just babble on incessantly every moment you are contacted.  The best way to get something done is to focus.  And how can you focus when every time the little device on your hip wants to be touched, you do?  And more importantly, what do the people around you think about how important they are in your life if you just drop what is happening and engage an unknown message on your device(s)?

So I make a very concerted and conscious effort to stay detached from these things as much as possible.  If your child is sick, you have a key deadline at work AND you know you will need to respond, or something else that requires constant attention is going on, then again the technology is invaluable but otherwise it is just a means of unneeded distraction.  I also work hard to make certain those around me understand the value of this “connected on my terms” lifestyle.  My teenage daughter does not regularly respond to her cell phone.  In fact, there are days in lays on the counter and never goes anywhere with her.  She uses it as it should be, as a tool.  If something is going on and she knows she’ll need it she takes it.  If not, it easily slips her mind in much the same way I do not  obsess over what my hammer is doing at any given time.  When I need a hammer, I use it, but other than that I don’t think about it a whole lot. 

The other impact we risk is the biggest danger.  Rudeness in one thing, but lack of time dedicated is much larger.  We create what one writer coined “Work Induced Attention Deficit Disorder”.  Can you ignore your email to finish reading that 20 page white paper you are in the middle of?  If not, you have WIADD.  When you are in a meeting, are you focused on that, or are you devices keeping you occupied?  WIADD.  This seems funny and trivial for a time but answer some hard questions.  Can you honestly say your ability to focus on a topic in depth has not diminished?  Do you feel something is missing if you have not gotten an e-mail or call or text in a while?  What patterns in your life have changed due to your need to respond and be available?  I know people who will not go to a movie because it is too long to be away.  Away from what?  We are creating our own isolation, by pretending we are connected in a meaningful.

The impacts of this are occurring now and we should ask ourselves what they are.  Is being constantly distracted and only partially paying attention really an improvement?  I for one, think not.  Problems are growing increasingly complex and focusing on them half heartedly only until the next e-mail, YouTube video or ringing phone catches our attention are not going to allow us to solve them well.  Coupling this with a “handle once” process is another best practice.  Focus on a task individually and when you open that e-mail respond and move on.  Do not file things for later processing.  Don’t pretend you can read e-mail and be in a meeting.  You can’t.  It requires some disciplined changes in your time management, but it will create more ability to get things done.

I agree with those folks who want to grab their spouse’s device on vacation and throw it overboard.  I cheer them when I see it.  It’s distracting and rude to those around us.  Exceptions occur, but we need to work to keep them as exceptions.  It is getting too common just to accept it as a daily way of functioning.

Another helpful tool

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Kids, Parenting, Time Management, Tools

Another challenge for parents especially as the kids get older is scheduling everyone’s time.  I think we’ve all been there.  You had a terribly stressful day at work and just want to come home and veg out for a bit.  You warm up the leftovers everyone eats and you crash on the couch and a child comes over and taps you on the shoulder, “Uh Dad, we need to be at my school program in 15 minutes, remember?”  You scramble around and get them there five minutes late and it kind of works out, and you vow you’ll eventually get all this stuff figured out.

If you are like me, you have a calendar in the house, your work and personal calendar on your smartphone, computer or day planner and little pieces of paper on the fridge with various items.  It can work for a time but you double book things because you have multiple sources.  I feel bad when I forget something for the kids.  It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m busy and forget, but they only see the fact that Dad forgot again.  Luckily in my case Mom does it too, and worse, but that’s no excuse in my book, so I set out to find a remedy.

Last summer I found a website,, that is designed just for this.  It’s free and lets you pick a color for each person in the house and one for everyone.  No one is out of middle school yet, but I’ve got one going to high school next year and I have talked with enough of the high school parents to know the schedule ratchets up like crazy even beyond the nuttiness I have had until now.  If not for something like this, I’d probably get my kids booted out of stuff because they’d be missing lessons, or practice, or concerts or other things.  They are in newsletter, the school play, various bands through school and outside, and I’ve got volunteer things like Divorce Care and such to coordinate around.  Next school year will be even more fun, especially once we combine the two households and have even more schedules to work with.

I guess some schools coordinate with the website and have all their holidays and events just available to connect to your family calendar, but my kid’s schools do not, so I can’t comment on how that works.  The site also mails you the weekly schedule on Sunday and each member of the household can get it to their personal e-mail and can get the family or just theirs, so as the kids get older this is a real help.  The site also has mobile apps so as your family gets more phones they can check the schedule that way.

A final feature that is neat is you can journal and make notes about things and then at the end of the month it will e-mail this out in a newsletter, so you can update family and friends with what is going on.  In addition you can share your calendar with people outside your family in various ways, so if there are other caregivers or you want to give you ex a view if you are on those kinds of terms, it is all possible. is not really designed specifically for divorced parents, it works for any kind of family.  I do think the logistics of all the things with visitation and such are more difficult to control.  I really like it for the fact that I can enter the visitation schedule and then when I hear about an event in the summer I can quickly see if I have the kids that day or not.  Same type of benefit when I plan business trips, is I have information in an easy to use place.  Any busy person can use some time management tools and I have found to be a great find for our family.

Daaaad, what’s for dinner?!

Posted: December 22, 2011 in Kids, Time Management, Tools

There are many things that become more difficult when you are a single parent.  The kids still need to eat and get places, but there is no one there to help.   I found myself looking for tools that could help me with some common issues and I wanted to share a few that work for me.  These can all be used by any family, so don’t feel that if you have two adults in your household that you still could not benefit.  The driver for me to seek these tools out was my current circumstance, but I will likely keep using them in the future.  I will introduce some other tools in later posts.

The first chore that consumes the day is eating.  Many families resort to pre-packaged foods, but they cost more.  Someone has to pay those worked for dicing, chopping and pre-cooking all those frozen meals.  That rotisserie chicken at the supermarket did not cook itself.  The food in restaurants and fast food establishments comes at a premium too.  At time as a single parent I have no choice.  If I have to take the kids to a meeting and have twenty minutes between work and leaving to get them there, I cannot make a meal no matter what I try.

I struggled even with the times I could however because I could not find a solid recipe source.  Many sites are more geared to the foodie, like Food Network or  Even kid-tested recipes usually fell flat.  I could only cook a chicken breast and cover it with something, be it spices, BBQ sauce, cheese or ranch dressing so many times before even I was starting  to wonder if all I knew how to make was chicken, but it worked and they ate it, though not always with enthusiasm.

I came across recently and it has been a hit in our household like nothing else I have tried.  It does cost a bit, $15 for three months which works out to $1.25 per week.  What you get for that is worth much more than that.  The sites claims have proven to be valid for me.  The site not only gives you different recipes for each day of the week, the main meal for each day (there is usually a breakfast or brunch item you can use on Sunday), but also provides a grocery list separated by grocery sections, such as produce, dairy/refrigerated and frozen.  The items are also noted with which meal number uses them.  At first blush this appears to have little value, but in my case for example, on Thursday nights and some weeks on Wednesday I do not have enough time to cook a meal, so I do not use all seven meals each week.  I remove the one or two I think would not be a hit, and then I can easily cross off the ingredients on the list for those meals.  Very little thought involved.  It’s a HUGE benefit for a single parent.

The other thing I like about it, is a goal of the site is to get kids to be a little more adventurous with their eating, so the recipes are not just variations on mac and cheese, they are real meals.  The intent is to not create a bunch of picky eaters, which we as single parents tend to do by making the same things again and again.  I actually find my kids excited to find what’s for dinner because they have found it is neat.  Sure some days are not a hit.  There was a turkey au gratin recipe the week after Thanksgiving for example that used the leftover turkey, but it was basically flavorless.  Even I did not want to eat it.  I would say 90% of the time though things are quite good.  They also do not really repeat recipes a lot and there is a lot of variety.    They have a slow cooker recipe each week and then usually a hearty soup, for example.

They also drive to make it affordable and a time saver, so you will find in some cases you will cook a little extra chicken in one meal and shred it to use in the soup recipe.  They also state your grocery bill will be lower, and that reuse helps.  If you have one of the stores in your area, like Wal-Mart, Kroger or Publix they also tie the recipes to what is on sale that week so it saves even more.  I spend about $70-80 a week on the ingredients, which is about $50 a week less than I was when I was just winging it.  In my case it’s a no brainer because it pays for itself in cash that way and it saves me time.

I let the kids score each meal on a scale of 1-10 and have been keeping track of things.  Some meals like I said, get a score below five from everyone.  I have learned that none of them can tolerate too much spicy food yet, so I try to substitute ingredients, but at times I think that might cause some of the flavor failures.  I think that may have been what happened with the turkey.  I substituted mozzarella for swiss forgetting the mozzarella is a relatively flavorless cheese.

I have tried other things including buying books on kid-friendly recipes and looking them up on the internet.  I have had a much, much higher success rate with E-mealz.  At least once a week I get my eight year old to tell me the meal is awesome.  That was pretty rare before.  We are currently trying to use the system at both houses so when we all are together it’s not a total change for them, but I’m honestly not sure how often my fiancée prepares something from the program.  For our little clan, this discovery was terrific.  One other thing is they do have restricted diet menus too, like low carb and gluten free so do check them out even if you have special dietary needs.

One of the biggest impacts you face as a single parent that hits you square in the nose very quickly if you have school age children or any children that are mildly involved in anything is how scheduling figures into your life.

Sure, when you were married, the kids had the same issues.  The difference is that it is amazing how much having two adults to work around the logistics really makes things easier.  This seems to me, at least, to be one of those exponential situations.  Removing an adult and becoming the sole person tall enough to reach the pedals in the car and actually be able to use the steering wheel somewhere else other than playing in the driveway, does not make scheduling twice as hard, it is at least four times as hard.

Things that were not a big thing, the drop-ins, suddenly become live grenades thrown into the middle of your family life.  One of the kids missed the bus?  You used to be able to talk to another adult and divide and conquer.  Now if you already had your schedule planned out, this drop-in can kill you.  For many years you knew you could not be in two or more places at once, but this new reality suddenly captures that fact in magnificent glory, frozen in the klieg lights outside the camp known as “your life”.  No longer is it something known but not really manifest in your life.  It surfaces like an alligator in the quagmire of your daily schedule.  You know it’s there under the surface, but when it pops out everyone scatters in a panic.

The nuances of this new reality are many.  Most of us never really understood that there tends to be a balance in a marriage of two people who may work, but one of them has a lighter schedule, or in some ways is more flexible.  Susie wants to join the art club and get picked up at five?  One of you was able to do that.  Two of your kids have two events on the same night about a half hour apart?  You could split them up.  Now you may find that you can’t get to the school at five, so they cannot participate.  Studies have shown that children of single parents are significantly less involved in activities due to the conflicts of scheduling.  The two events may now not be within sufficient driving distance for you to be able to make the trek without a transporter beam, so one of the kids must drop out.

Another change to the logistics with the schedule is that you may now need to bring all the kids with to activities that before they did not come to.  Joey had martial arts and then Susie had music lessons, but there is not enough time to get home, or enough money to pay for that extra gas, or any other myriad number of issues.  Now Susie sits through Joey’s class and Joey had to doodle while Susie toots away.  This introduces added stress into your life since invariably at least once in a while Susie just really does not want to go early, or Joey’s tired and just want to go home but has to sit for an hour.

So what can you do?  Here are some strategies that work for me.

“Open” nights — I look ahead for the week and determine which nights are “open” and make sure I have them in the back of my mind as magic buckets I can fill with the beans of reality that fall out of God’s basket of disruptions to keep us humble.  You think you have this week all laid out?  Well, ha!  Here’s an extra shopping trip you need to make because they need an outfit for the band concert this weekend.  Knowing you have Thursday open helps make those things a minor annoyance rather than a full-fledged fire drill.  If you look at this strategy as something impossible because you have no open nights, then you need to really focus on the next one and free your family up.

Enforce limits — The kids may not like it in this go-go world society has created, but as a single parent you may need to tell them they cannot participate in every activity on the school and social calendar of a tween.  I promise, there is enough research out there now, to show us this hyper parenting does nothing to help our kids be more successful adults.  If anything, I think it hinders their ability to be creative.  With no free time, kids have no idea what to do when they just have two hours to themselves.  They whine and moan they’re bored.  Have each child pick one activity a semester or year, or whatever time section makes sense for you, and then that’s all they do as a formal, structured weekly or every other week activity.  It’s tough in the beginning especially if you were an active household, but the inner peace simplifying brings to your family’s life is a Godsend.

Get kids to step up —  If your kids are still under five, this may not be an option, but for anyone else, it should be a goal to have your kids share some of the burden of their schedule demands.  If you only have time to get from work to have them pile into the car to head to practice, then it is perfectly reasonable on that weeknight that they need to eat dinner on their own before you get home.  Too difficult?  Then it’s too difficult for me to get you to your activity and you will need to not continue.  You’ll quickly start to see which activities really matter to your kids and which ones were just wasting everyone’s time.  It also teaches responsibility to your kids, and that there are consequences to our choices in life.  One of our jobs is to raise children who become functional adults, and most of us do not have a personal valet following us around and doing all the mundane tasks for us so we can just have fun at the party.  Learning this early prepares them for life in the real world.

So I hope this helped you see that your situation is shared by almost every other single parent out there.  We have to make tough choices every day with what we do with our time.  Being a single parent just amplifies that need.