Thriving As A Family When You Live In The Fast lane

It is extraordinary times that we find ourselves in. Change is now an entrenched way of life. Most of us don't blink when new piece of technology comes out. Just the other day I read about the death of the desktop computer. The big lump of plastic and glass that used to sit on my desk has been replaced by a laptop. Email is quickly making those twentieth communication icons, the telephone and the fax, redundant. The way we live, do business, even shop is undergoing rapid change.

Living successfully is now about keeping up, staying ahead or staying on top of things. It is hard work. Business is constantly asked to grow or reinvent itself so employees are always learning new skills to improve productivity or just to keep up. There is little opportunity to rest or time to stand still and smell the metaphorical flowers.

More and more we live our lives in the fast lane with one eye on the road ahead and the one eye in the rear view mirror sort of glancing at the scenery as we leave it behind.

For many adults life has few margins for error. Whether you have children or not life is about timetables, structure, routines and being organised. You miss an appointment at work or your child becomes sick and your whole day can be thrown out.

The language of the boardroom and the battleground is now common place - words like bottom lines, tactics, strategies are now common when we talk about relationships. Relationships like life are now something to be managed rather than lived.

Whether you have kids or not life is hectic these days. Those with jobs are working harder and longer hours. According to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures about 30% of the workforce spend 50 hours or more at work, which is double the figures for 1984.

The number of couples where both work has increased to the point where working couples are the norm rather than the exception as they were in the 1950's and 60's. Working and parenting has unique demands with one or sometimes both partners working a double shift - first at work then at home caring for kids.

Life in the fast lane means we parent and partner differently than our own parents which can be the source of a great deal of guilt. The ghosts from the past are extremely strong.

Despite the fact that many couples today live in the fast lane or even out of step with their own parents they can still have fulfilling relationships with their partners. It takes effort and creativity to nourish your relationship. The following seven ideas may help you and your partner stay together as you live your life in the fats lane.

1. Ritualise times together.

We all know that it is important for couples to spend time together to kindle a little romance or just to stay in touch but finding the time is the challenge. We may have good intentions but never get around to putting those intentions into action. The solution is to have some ritualised meeting opportunities that always happen barring a catastrophe. Meet for a coffee once a fortnight, have a regular weekend without the children or a regular time at the movies, which is just for you. Plan your activities around your meeting time rather than your meeting time around other activities. Oh and don't talk about the kids. It is couple time, not family time.

2. Swap your dreams and aspirations.

You need joint dreams and goals to work toward but you also need your individual dreams and aspirations. But you need to check with your partner every now and then to make sure you are both moving in the same direction. Recently my wife told me of her dream to take some time-off work to travel around Australia with our family. It came as a shock because they were counter to my dreams and aspirations, which largely revolved around work. My wife and I are now working toward a plan that will accommodate both sets of dreams.

3. Give your partner the space to grow and do things as an individual.

We all need self-nourishment if we are to be effective partners and parents. We need to time away to have a break or to pursue a part of life that doesn't belong to our family. My wife goes to gym regularly while I enjoy being a member of a number of voluntary committees. Neither of us know much about what the other does at their activities and to be truthful neither of us cares too much. But we both accommodate each other by minding the children and keeping our diaries free to allow each other the chance to maintain our separate interests.

4. Support each other as parents.

The notion of teamwork is important when raising kids. Parents can support each other in the following ways:

* Recognise that parents and children have different needs at different stages. Mothers have a need to bond with babies and dads tend to be a support act at this stage. Boys have strong need to build strong relationships with their fathers around the age of six and again at the age of thirteen. So mothers may need to stand back a little and make sure that fathers and sons have the chance to spend time together.

* Keep talking to each other about kids and what is happening in their lives. Sometimes it is easy to overlook that they are growing up or perhaps having difficulties. Keep each other informed.

* Share the discipline and caring roles. As many parents tell me it is hard work being the 'bad guy' all the time. Give each other break by taking individual responsibility for different areas or times of the day.

* Understand your own and your partner's family of origin and its impact on parenting. Make an effort to accommodate your partner's parenting style even though it may be different than your own.

5. Have regular down-times to build the Emotional Bank Account that you share with your partner.

Shared enjoyable experiences create those fond memories that strengthen the bonds between people. When couples first go out they spend a great deal of time building their emotional bank account - the memories are special and the emotional bank account bulges. But we also make withdrawals when we are critical, argue or neglect to attend to each other's needs. The bank account can easily go into overdraft unless we spend some time replenishing it. This is what down-times are all about. Taking the time on a regular basis to do little but enjoy each other's company and make some deposits in your joint emotional bank accounts.

6. Keep work and home separate.

We can be at home but our heads can be at work so make sure that you leave your work behind when you come through the door at night. Some couples have a regular clean-out opportunity where they talk about their respective days for ten minutes or so then they leave it behind.

7. Work out household tasks according to common sense and availability rather than sex roles or income.

It is amazing how many households still organise their domestic tasks around traditional sex roles - men's work and women's work. Let's move on and break down these rigid divisions even though we may be going against our families of origin. The three parenting roles of domestic helper, carer and provider are now up for grabs.

There is little doubt that staying together in a fast-paced life takes work and commitment. But it can happen. It is a matter of taking control of your lives together and being a little creative about how you live. We are all social pioneers as we learn to live and love together in the 21st Century.

Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.

For further ideas to help you raise happy children and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids newsletter and receive a free report Seven ways to beat sibling rivalry.

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