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Young Professionals Scramble to Juggle Work and Family

Democrat and Chronicle Media Group, 2/2/11
Erica Bryant

Sarah Clark, the local regional director for U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, knows a little something about juggling.

She serves as the senator's eyes and ears in 12 counties, representing her at numerous meetings, planning her local events and relaying messages from thousands of constituents. Clark and her husband also have three children under the age of 6.

"I take every day as it comes," said Clark, of Rochester. "In the morning, I try to get everything organized in my head, at least for the day. If you leave the house without your plan, you are throwing yourself into the fire."

While she may juggle more than most, many young professionals are looking for ways to balance work and family — and managing their joys and stresses.

For many, that means negotiating the division of labor between parents who both work. Sixty-four percent of mothers with children under 6 worked in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"When our parents were rearing children, the expectation was that the woman would do everything (child-related) and the man wouldn't have competencies. There was no conflict," says Darci Cramer-Benjamin, licensed marriage and family therapist at the Children's Psychiatry Clinic of Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo, and past president of the New York Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. With more women in the work force, Cramer-Benjamin recommends that parents divide household tasks according to each person's strengths and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

"There is a giant range of what's OK. If the diaper isn't fastened just so, the baby is probably going to be fine," she said.

Dorothy Madden, founder of the organizational business Organize It!, has a variety of tips for new parents who want to minimize chaos. She advises assigning a home for everything in one's living space and planning simple menus for the week or month. Making lists is also important. "Things in our brains weigh us down and cause us to lose sleep," she said. "Write things down."

She also advises new parents to have reasonable expectations.

"When the baby first comes home, choose one household task per day to accomplish. There is certainly more than one task that really needs doing. However, if you choose one thing, you can really work toward getting it done and feel you have accomplished something."

Lisa Bump, who has a 3-month old, says parents shouldn't "sweat it if dishes pile up or laundry piles up." Sleep can be more important. She and her husband try to get household chores done on the weekends.

"It takes teamwork and communication," said Bump, director of TLC Adventures in Child Care's Rochester location.

Trisha Coyne, co-director of TLC's Victor location, said she and her husband have had success with a system in which the first parent home starts dinner, helps their son with homework and lets the dog out.

Besides the nuts and bolts of balancing work and family, there are also emotional and psychological considerations. Lindsey Short, licensed family and marriage therapist, says that parents today face a glut of conflicting information on the Internet and in magazines and books. And they can be disheartened by images of ideal parenting that suggest that "you should look like a model two weeks after you give birth. You're supposed to be finding time to spend with your kids, but you're also supposed to be making gourmet meals, having wonderful date nights and going to the gym."

Even the much-hyped date night can be a source of stress for tired working parents who don't feel like dressing up, picking up a baby sitter and then driving somewhere in the snow. Date nights don't have to be a big to-do, says Short.

"It can be a half an hour at night spent talking about something other than the baby. Watch a show together, play a video game. Just reconnect."

With three little ones, Clark advises new parents to get as organized as they can and to enjoy what can often be a crazy ride.

"They're going to grow up really fast," she said. "When I talk to parents of older children, they always look back and miss these days."

Reprinted with permission of the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group, Rochester, NY