TEAMWORK WITH CHILDREN; Busy Parents Find Balance by Planning

Article excerpt


Laura Henderson returned from a three-week business trip to East Africa 11 years ago and found her then-1-year-old twin sons, Christopher and Geoffrey, petrified that she was going to leave again.

"They cried every time I left the room," she says. "The next time they saw a suitcase, they cried."

Soon after that trip, she decided the amount of international travel required for her job as a regional manager for TechnoServe, a nonprofit international development organization, caused too much strain for her and her family.

"It was extraordinarily difficult," says Ms. Henderson, of Silver Spring. "I decided I didn't want a 30 percent travel job. That was too much."

For parents like Ms. Henderson and her husband, Peter, juggling full-time work and family is a daily struggle. Finding the right balance is the key to maintaining a sense of control, psychologists say.

After leaving TechnoServe, Ms. Henderson worked as an independent consultant, which gave her more flexibility. After three years, she began working for the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), a relief and development organization.

The position requires much less international travel than her job with TechnoServe, she says. However, even without the pressure of frequent travel, taking care of three children and working full time isn't easy for Ms. Henderson and her husband, who is director of the Board on Higher Education and Workforce for the National Research Council.

Accomplishing everything requires a lot of planning and scheduling, says Ms. Henderson, who also serves on the Montgomery County Commission for Women.

"I do sometimes feel overscheduled," she says, such as when her friends without children go out after work. "It would be another juggling act for me."

Instead, Ms. Henderson usually rushes home to pick up her daughter, Julia, 4, at preschool by 6 p.m., before charges for after-care kick in. Most of the time, she doesn't mind having to stick to a schedule, she says, because it won't always be necessary.

"I kind of somehow accept that this point in my life is quite scheduled," Ms. Henderson says.

Balancing work and family is a key issue couples such as the Hendersons confront daily.

The percentage of dual-earning couples increased from 66 percent in 1977 to 78 percent in 2002, according to the National Study of the Changing Workforce, a 2002 study by the National Families and Work Institute based on 3,504 interviews.

The institute, which conducts the study every five years, found couples also worked 10 more hours a week in 2002 than they did in 1977, combining for 91 hours a week.

As parents strive to raise well-rounded children, they often spread themselves and their children too thin, says Ruth Peters, a clinical psychologist, author and contributor to NBC's "Today" show.

The National Families and Work Institute found that along with the increase in combined weekly work hours, the amount of time married parents spend on child care and activities with their children increased from 5.2 hours per workday in 1977 to 6.2 hours in 2002.

Many parents put in a full day at the office, then spend the evening chauffeuring children from one activity to another, catching up on work while sitting through a karate lesson and grabbing a hamburger for dinner.

"If they're doing homework in the car every night, if it's become a steady diet of fast food," you could be trying to do too much, Mrs. Peters says.

In addition to work, parenting and volunteer responsibilities, more employees also are caring for elderly relatives. According to the National Families and Work Institute's study, 35 percent of workers say they have cared for a relative or in-law 65 or older in the past year.

While some parents enjoy this type of on-the-go lifestyle, others become overwhelmed and irritable, says psychologist Larry Kubiak, director of psychological services at Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center and president-elect of the Florida Psychological Association. …