As a mum of two and a Parenting Expert of 12 years, I have come to the conclusion that as the years have gone by parents' 'To Do' lists have stretched to stratospheric levels.
I am not by any means saying that parents did less a few years (or even decades) ago - indeed, I am deeply grateful for all those domestic props and gadgets that have made household chores so much less back-breaking than in my grandmother's day.
It's just that things have become more complex now, the work and social time lines have become blurred and blended. When you are balancing work and parenting, the demand to be 'always on' is incredible. And when you add in the pressure to keep up appearances (or just keep up with other parents), parenting can feel like running on a treadmill that never stops.
So it didn't shock me to hear from a new national report that the average UK parent carries out 23 household tasks on a typical school day, with 10 of those before they even leave the house in the morning. Sound familiar?
The new research from children's haircare brand Vosene Kids estimated that parents spend 2 hours 38 minutes every day (equivalent to 13 hours per week!) on jobs at home, with 17% spending over an hour each morning on home-related tasks before the school day begins.
This huge array of typical daily jobs includes everything from waking the kids (64%) to sorting through their children's calendars to highlight things like classmates' birthdays (42%) - not to mention the task of choosing the right present!
The problem is, all that juggling can lead to seriously frazzled parents. I can't help wondering if we are all just trying to do too much?
One in five working mums (19%) feels like she is working harder at home every day of the week than in her paid job. And many parents are working so hard at home that almost a third (29%) feel like they have already done a day's work before they arrive at their job. Surely that can't be good for us or for our children.
So, with that in mind, here are a few down-to-earth tips to avoid burnout, restore sanity and make every parent's daily life a little easier.
1. Don't battle the mornings
Battling in the morning is a lose-lose situation. You'll only get stressed and end up yelling. When time is short you are much better using motivation - ten minutes of play time if they are dressed on time, a trip to the park on the way back from school, or stars or stickers collected for good behaviour and rewarded with something nice. Rewards don't have to cost a lot - write them a 'parent cheque' for an extra story that they can cash in at the weekend.
2. Teach your kids to do it for themselves
Whether it's making their beds, preparing lunch boxes or washing their own hair, if they are doing it for themselves that will be one less thing for you to do. Invest some time during the back to school run-up in teaching kids to be independent. Get little ones to practise putting on their new uniform (they will need to do that after PE). Use a marker pen to put a big red spot on the inside of pull-up trousers and skirts to help them learn front from back.
3. Skills swap
If it's something the kids can't do for themselves (or they are just too little), be creative. Who else in your network of friends and family can help in exchange for doing something else? Could you swap a trip to the park with an extra child for help sewing name labels into school uniform from someone who actually likes sewing? If baking cupcakes is something you enjoy, that's great currency to leverage some school pickups out of a non-baking parent!
4. Dirty kids are happy kids
Don't stress childhood mess - getting grubby in the playground is great for children's development. If they are dirty, it's because they have been interacting interestingly with their environment (i.e. doing exactly what children should do). Leave them to it. Then dunk them in the bath at the end of the day.
5. Less is more
Buy non-iron school shirts (newbies take note!). Pyjamas do not have to be washed every day (seriously, there are parents who really do this). A PE Kit can be worn more than once. Does it smell? No? Then it's probably wearable. Especially if they are only going to get dirty again anyway (see above).
6. Double up for half the effort
If you are cooking or baking, make double quantities. Then put half in the fridge or freezer for another time. Even sandwiches for lunch boxes can be made in advance and frozen! Freeze mini boxes of fruit juice to double up as ice packs.
7. Prioritise fun
In the frenetic back to school rush, it's easy to lose sight of what our children really need from us. Your children would probably prefer that you juggled fewer tasks and more bouncy balls. (Or juggle lighted fire sticks in my son's case - that would really make his day!). Be sure to slow down, have fun and laugh. A lot.
8. File everything
Have one place where you put everything to do with school - newsletters, contact numbers, random letters about next year's school trip, the telephone number for the school uniform supplier for emergency PE kit orders... Knowing where you put it is the fastest way to find something when you are in a rush!
9. Get technical
You don't have to be at the school gate to link up with other parents. Make the most of social media to create member-only networking groups for sharing information, arranging play dates and locating lost jumpers.
10. Look after yourself
You know that bit on the aeroplane when they do the emergency evacuation spiel and tell you to fit your own oxygen mask first before your child's? There's a reason for that. Your children rely on you being healthy and well. So invest in your own wellbeing. Whether it's a gym session or a night out with friends, take time out regularly to de-frazzle and top up your resources. Remember, parenting is a marathon not a sprint.
Regular readers of my Thinking Parenting blog will know that helping parents keep a sense of perspective is my core mission. This post was written as part of a paid research project with the Vosene Kids Back to School campaign. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more tips and thoughts.
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