Finding a healthy balance The single parent formula

You get home from a long day of work. You're tired and hungry and just want to put your feet up and relax, but you can't. You have to begin your other full-time job -- parenting. You have dinner to cook, homework with kids, and clean up duties to be done all within the four hours before bedtime.

As a parent, your job really doesn't end until the kids have been completely settled in bed. Single parents, by far, face more challenges in keeping up with the demands of family life. We don't have the luxury of time-sharing with a spouse in fulfilling domestic obligations, nor do we have the economic means to afford extra help. This often amounts to an overworked, sleep deprived, irritable mother who may unknowingly be exerting those same stresses on her children.

Why would a single parent want to find a balance in her life? Because creating a balanced family lifestyle will help her to find ways in coping with the chaos of single parenthood.

Balance can mean many things to different people. By definition, balance, as it pertains to lifestyle, is a physical equilibrium -- a mental and emotional steadiness. To achieve a balanced lifestyle one must develop a formula that produces a healthy mental, physical and emotional outcome. This is not always so easy to follow if you're a parent and it seems nearly impossible if you're a single parent like me. It can take years before you find your comfort level but it's all worth the effort.

For parents, "balance" is a formula including many more factors in the equation than it does for a single adult. The things you will juggle in creating a balance include kids, career, friends, extended family, extracurricular activities, and last but most importantly, yourself.

During my transition from being married with children to single parenthood, I experienced a great "unbalance" in every aspect of my Self -- emotional, spiritual, and physical. It took some time to understand the extent of the domestic responsibilities that I now had to assume on my own. It took about three years for me to achieve a comfortable balance.

What I can share is the process of how I achieved my balance. Not everyone will feel comfortable in approaching life this way, but sometimes it becomes a necessity when you walk a thin line between chaos and order.

1. Identify the priorities of your life:
Write a list of the factors that make your life complete, enjoyable and healthy. Don't feel guilty if you put yourself at the top of the list. After all, without taking care of "you" there would be no one to take care of "them" (the children). When you make your list, identify the obvious ones, like your job, for your economic survival. Then, list all other factors that satisfy the non-material aspects of your life, like developing your spiritual side and spending time with friends. These are all factors that contribute to a healthy mental and spiritual self. An example would be:

• Me and my well being (including mental, physical, emotional and spiritual)
• Children
• Hobbies
• Domestic duties
• Socializing with friends & extended family
• Career

2. List the various topics that fall into the categories of priorities:
To be clear on what you are trying to achieve, it's important to define the actual activities that make up the category of your life that you've identified as a key ingredient in creating balance. Be specific about the amount of time you could realistically devote to this activity on a weekly basis. For example, under HEALTH, you can list the following:

• Exercising 3 times a week
• Eating a balanced diet everyday
• Sleeping an average of 8 hours a night
• Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day
• Taking vitamin supplements every day

3. Rank the categories of priorities according to their importance to you:
Figuring out what is at the top of the list will help you to decide what factors takes precedence over the other when you are faced with a trade-off (which will happen often).

1 Kids
2 Me
3 Career
4 Friends and other family
5 Extracurricular activities
6 Domestic duties

4. Define how you came to the ranking of priorities:
By justifying your choice in ranking these priorities, you will feel less guilty when you have to make tough decisions. You may find yourself in a position where you want to be at your child's concert but the demands of your job are conflicting with your personal choice. As emotionally tormenting as this may be, there is a way to find a compromise that suits both parties. That compromise can mean telling your boss that you will come in to work earlier to finish the job or take the work home so that you can attend your child's performance. Defining your choices will help you achieve peace of mind more quickly when you are faced with this scheduling conflict.

Once you have your priorities straight, don't forget to make time for relaxation so you can recharge your batteries. As parents, we are accustomed to looking after everyone's needs and putting ourselves last. Remember to reward yourself and find the time, at the end of each day, to do something enjoyable and relaxing. Just for you.

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