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Powwow with Your Partner: Sharing the Load at Back to School

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Updated on Jul 29, 2009

With all of the shopping, errands and organization of the back to school season it's easy for tasks to be forgotten, or for one parent to take on more than his or her fair share. Add the resentment that can build up when one member of the parenting team feels like he or she is taking on the majority of the responsibility and you're on track for a meltdown.

"A lot of couples struggle with deciding if moms should do this or dads do that, " says Kathy Peel, author of The Busy Couple’s Guide to Sharing the Work and the Joy. "What couples really need to do is come together to develop a family management system." According to Peel, this can mean running your family like you might your own little business. "When I was a young mom I saw that business strategies would help me run my home better," notes Peel."So I started doing things like team building exercises and then figured out how to break up tasks into departments which in turn reduced stress and made things run more smoothly." Consider your spouse your partner in the "family business", and together focus on how you can manage your brood as a team.

Create a List

As a first step, Peel suggests couples work together to create a list of every single duty and task that must get done to keep the house running. Sure, it's going to be a long list, but you can start by compartmentalizing tasks into the "departments" of your life including:

  1. Home and property: cleaning, car maintenance, laundry, etc.
  2. Food: grocery shopping, cooking, etc.
  3. Family and friends: your responsibilities as a parent, a spouse and a friend.
  4. Finance: paying bills, setting budgets, doing taxes, etc.
  5. Special events: coordinating birthday parties, holidays, vacations, etc.
  6. Time and scheduling: getting the right people to the right place at the right time with the right equipment.
  7. Self management: taking care of yourself physically, sharpening your mind, nurturing you spirit, etc.

Divvy Up the Tasks

After you've created your master list of to-dos, it's time to divvy it up. "As a couple, delegate and volunteer to complete tasks according to time availability," suggests Peel. "You don't want to delegate according to gender or anything like that--you just want to be smart about who does what."

When divvying up tasks, Jamie Novak the author of The Get Organized Answer Book, suggests having adults become "specialists" in particular areas. For example, "make one adult in charge of everything electronic," says Novak. "Make sure the kids know that if it has batteries or beeps they should get help for it from the adult in charge of electronics." Having one parent focus on all of electronics, permission slips, filing, or whatever the task may be helps maintain an evenly divided workload. Of course, if the grocery duty parent just doesn't have time to go to the store for milk, the other can step in, but try to set boundaries and stick to them.

Don't Forget: Kids Can Help Too

After the parents have met to create the list of household tasks that must be completed, the whole family should meet to discuss who'll do what. There is a lot the children (yes, even young ones) can do to help out at back to school time and beyond.

"Family management isn't about mom and dad doing everything," notes Peel." Get the kids involved by talking with them about the new routines, new bedtimes, homework policies and more that you want to set in place for the school year." After this initial meeting, Peel suggests meeting once a week to talk about what's working and not in terms of getting the to-do list done. "It's too easy to let systems slip by the wayside if you don't meet regularly to check on them."

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