By Cindy Krischer Goodman
After giving her sons breakfast, Karin Bejerano dashes off to work as a high school dance instructor. Her husband, Andres, moves fully into dad mode, adjusting the boys’ shirt buttons, sticking lunches into backpacks, driving them to school and delivering their sports bags to their grandparents’ home for use later in the day.
The tag team system works for the Bejeranos as they ready for another school year and divide responsibilities that include supervising homework and shuttling Bryson, 13, and Trystan, 8, to extracurricular activities such as football and music lessons.
Today, more than 60 percent of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents, according to Pew Research Center’s 2013 Modern Parenthood Study. The new division of labor has dads just as stressed about juggling work and family life as moms.
Fathers like Andres are exerting the flexibility in their work schedules and carefully orchestrating business travel to participate in the balancing act that helps to keep their children on a productive path.
Experts say when couples work together to face the new school year, it not only benefits mothers who work but also has a positive effect on children academically and behaviorally. According to Detective Wayne Halick, a director of the Chicago-based Fatherhood Educational Institute, “Paternal involvement is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, deterrent to youth violence.”
Today, fathers monitor grades, volunteer in classrooms and participate in the organized chaos of involved parenting. In the Bejerano household, Andres, co-founder of Traxxis GPS, checks online to see what homework his sons have, what class projects are due and what grades they get as part of his weekly routine. Karin reviews the homework each night and ensures it goes into folders and into her sons’ backpacks. On Sunday night, the Bejeranos plan the dinner menu for the week, organize the ingredients and review the week’s schedule that, for now, includes football practice four nights a week for Trystan. (Andres is the team coach.)
“We each have a good idea of which responsibilities we need to handle. It has to be well coordinated to work with our job schedules and allow us to maintain our sanity,” Andres said.
Many couples underestimate the sheer amount of coordination involved in modern parenthood, until their child is unprepared for a test or gets to football practice without his cleats. Julie Morgenstern, an organizing and time-management expert, said back-to-school season means administrative tasks, purchases, homework monitoring, choosing activities and actual driving. When both parents work, she suggests dividing tasks based on each parent’s strength and work schedule.
“You’ve have to have a shared calendar, and you should have a family huddle every night.” Morgenstern said. The huddle teaches children executive organizational skills. Afterward, supplies should be packed, and all family members should know where they need to be the next day, she said.
Ongoing collaboration works well for some couples, particularly in an age where academics are intense and kids are pursuing multiple interests.
At the Ross home, Bonnie has the more structured work schedule as assistant executive director of the Broward County Bar Association. Broward County is home to Fort Lauderdale. That leaves Eric, who works from home for a food broker/marketing firm, more available to pick up Matthew, 15, and Mia, 12, from after-school activities and nudge them to get their homework started.
The couple relies heavily on their Outlook calendar, creating invitations and appointments to notify each other of who will attend a parent conference or pick up their daughter from soccer practice. With the school year starting, Eric has sent Bonnie an appointment on Outlook to notify her that he will be traveling for business next month, and she will need to take over some of his driving duties or ask friends for help. “It’s all collaborative. Every night, we go over the next day’s schedule,” Bonnie said.
The Pew study found working dads and moms equally reported “always” feeling rushed in their day-to-day lives. In my home, my husband and I are trying to avoid that feeling, planning for the new school year by having a conversation with our son about what high school activities he wants to get involved in and which require our involvement, too.
For families, the process of avoiding overscheduling can force tough decisions. With her husband traveling often, Karen Kleinman, a sales administrative assistant for One Beat CPR, has each of her two children in one after-school activity. This year, her son, Dillon, 13, chose baseball and her daughter, Jenna, 10, signed up for competitive dance. When her husband, Dave, technical director for Multi Image Group, is home, the couple divvies up the children’s pickups and drop-offs.
“He will meet me at the field and pick up my daughter or stay at the field, and I will take my daughter to dance,” she said. “Today, everyone is going in a lot of directions, and it’s really nice when you can divvy it up.”
Teaming up to tackle childcare has been crucial for Simone Drakes, who holds a high-power job as vice president of engineering at Avionica, a Miami manufacturer of quick-access flight data recorders. Drakes shares custody of her daughter with her ex-husband, Gamal Richards, and they amiably work together to balance their jobs with 9-year-old Leanna’s schedule. Leanna takes a bus from school to her dance studio, where she takes lessons and does homework. Drakes and Richards used to take turns one week at a time with ongoing tasks: picking her up, reviewing homework, reading, laundering her dance and school clothes, packing her lunch and dance bag and dropping her at school. Now that Richards travels more often for his job, they have arranged for him to take Leanna more when he is in town. Sporadically, Drakes travels, too, and if there is overlap, Drakes’ current husband pitches in.
Like many parents, a new school year means adjustments to last year’s routine. Drakes and Richards decided to cut back on dance classes and made more free time at the studio for Leanna’s homework and reading, an area where she has struggled. With ongoing adjustments, the carefully orchestrated system works for everyone.
“There is no way possible I can maintain the job I have and the hours I have without a support system in place,” Drakes said.
Meanwhile, Richards, a corporate trainer for State Farm, volunteers at school and the dance studio when possible. “Some nights I’m tired, but I have to give her my all. It makes my daughter feel good knowing her dad is involved.”
Beyond the benefit to the children, Morgenstern said there is a payoff to married parents who share the workload rather than having one person do it all: more “couple time.” Consider this as you confront the new school year, she said: “If you are doing it all, you’re taking time and energy away from your spouse.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life.