I’ve been following your blog with interest and love its message. I have a full-time job but I love to dance, and I’d love to pursue my dream of teaching dance and maybe one day owning my own studio, but I’m a single parent with two young ones, and I find it so hard to find the time to do anything other than work and look after my children. I’m too tired in the evenings to even think of anything apart from making dinner and helping with my kids’ homework, and I don’t want to steal any time from them – they’re growing up so fast. My only real free time is when they’ve gone off to bed, and then I find myself making our packed lunches and then watching TV or surfing the net to unwind. I feel like I have to choose between being fulfilled (and selfish), or unfulfilled (but a good parent). So frustrated! Help!
There are few people in this world as busy as single parents, so it’s not surprising that you’re struggling to find time to do anything other than that most important of jobs – and, of course, the other one that you get paid for!
There are broadly two approaches that can be taken to your problem (and you’ll probably want to take both of them). Firstly, we need to find ways to help you make better and more fulfilling use of the free time you do have; and secondly, we need to help you to manufacture some more free time (yes – it can be done).
Let’s take the first of those options. I’m dying to ask you a question: do you dance? I hear you say you love to dance, and that you’d love to own your own studio and teach dance to others. But I also hear you say you haven’t got time to do anything other than work and care for your kids, and that when you do have free time, you haven’t got much energy left to spend on it. So I’m wondering: when do you take the time to dance, just for dancing’s sake? If this is something that’s lacking, I’d recommend putting that right before you attempt to do anything else.
It’s important that you don’t sacrifice your talent at the altar of ambition, and it’s also important that you create an environment where your dreams can feel safe enough to come out of the shadows. If you’re not making time to do the thing you love to do in the first place, you’ll find it hard to conceive of how you can take things even further in that arena.
The good news is, you don’t have to make a single leap into dance-studio ownership – and in fact, you shouldn’t. You’d miss the fun of the journey that way! A first step should be to build dance into your daily life. It may be a better way to unwind than watching TV or surfing the net – so could you dance in the evenings, after the kids are asleep? And when you do surf the net, you could make it a virtual “field trip”, by finding out the options available for training to teach dance, and also how other people have done it. Routes into this field could be more varied than you thought, and in any event, you’ll be gathering useful data.
When you’ve carved out some more free time, you could explore the option of joining a local dance class (perhaps finding a child-minder for one evening a week to free up some time to do this, or maybe doing it at weekends?) A further step could be to find out if your dance class needs a volunteer teacher or teaching assistant. You’d be making time for something you love, and building valuable experience too – all for a pretty reasonable investment of time.
As for creating more free time, here are a variety of options to consider, and I invite you to suspend the voice in your head that says “I couldn’t do that because…” until you’ve really given each one of them a fair hearing:
- If you currently do a weekly shop, could you have it delivered to your house instead? Yes, it costs a little more – but if the return on your investment is a couple of extra hours in the week, that could be very worthwhile, particularly if you use the time wisely in the pursuit of your dream;
- Are you getting enough help? The single parents I’ve worked with often feel that because they already have to shoulder a huge amount of responsibility, they may as well “do it all”. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to have some capacity left over, so they cease to even think to build it in to their workload, and this leaves them exhausted and frazzled. Maybe friends and relatives could help with at least some childcare responsibilities? No, you’re not being selfish in requesting this - they’d probably feel privileged to be asked, and anyway, why deprive them of the experience of helping someone who needs it? And if you’re worried about “stealing” time from your kids, ask yourself this: which would they prefer, a full-time Mum who’s often tired and low in energy, or a Mum they don’t see for an extra hour or two a week, but who’s much livelier and happier when they do see her? In terms of other help – could you pay someone to do the housework for you? If not every week, how about once a month? It could make your chores that much easier to manage in-between times.
- Can you take some shortcuts? Could you prepare everyone’s packed lunches at the same time as cooking the previous day’s dinner? Yes, you’ll have to be more focused in the kitchen, but it can be a great use of the time you’ll have to spend there anyway – and yesterday’s leftovers make a terrific packed lunch, in my experience! You might also like to consider designating one day “take-away day”. Treat yourself and the kids to one evening a week when food is delivered to you. Even with fast food, there are healthy options if you look around, so don’t let a prejudice against take-away food put you off (and anyway, you can eat extra healthily the rest of the time). By freeing one evening of preparation time and washing-up time, you could carve out a significant block of time for other important activities – and that could include a more leisurely meal with your children.
- Can you cut some responsibilities out of your life? Not those connected with your children, obviously – they’re clearly too important – but are you shouldering any other commitments you can let go of, at least until you’ve managed to build some more free time into your daily life? Who are you doing favours for? Who could manage just as well on their own? Could that friend you give a lift to the gym get there under her own steam (and save you some valuable time in the process?) Take some time to think seriously about this. Most of us spend a significant amount of time every week doing things that we don’t really have to do. Now is the time to put responsibility for yourself and your dreams first. It’s not as difficult as it sounds - the people who care about you will understand, especially if you tell them why you’re doing it.
Finally – and most importantly – I’d love you to consider the part your children can play in helping you to realise your dreams. It’s entirely possible that you’ve fallen into the trap of just seeing yourself as being responsible for their welfare, and forgotten that they might feel very much the same way towards you. It’s not uncommon for the children of single parents to feel acutely protective towards the adult who’s looking after them.
You don’t say how old the children are, but I’m guessing school-age because of the packed lunches. Do they love to dance? Could you teach them as a practice for the days when you’ll be teaching others? Are they computer literate? Could you ask them to research dance teacher training options for you on the internet? And to what extent do they already help round the house? If they’re old enough to work in the kitchen unsupervised, could they sometimes help with making the evening meal and preparing the packed lunches (including yours)?
Don’t ever underestimate how important it is for children to feel like they’re making a contribution. I have extremely fond memories of helping my parents around the house as I was growing up. I helped with the housework in order to earn my pocket money, which meant that not only did I feel that that money was my own (hard-earned!) cash, but I also felt that I really was contributing to the smooth running and comfort of our home. That was a nice feeling – and I’m still a whizz at housekeeping!
I was never any good at DIY, but my Dad was, so I’d do what I could to help him – like painting a fence he’d built or mended (perhaps after I’d broken it!) It gave me time with him that I might not have had otherwise. I was even able to help my Mum in her job as a music teacher, by providing the voice-over for some music quiz tapes she made for her classes, and illustrating the covers of the workbooks she wrote to accompany them. It made me proud when she told me that her pupils were intrigued when they heard my squeaky little voice on the tapes and kept asking “who’s that??”. I felt almost famous.
Share your dreams with your kids, and you’ll be inviting them to share theirs with you. And most of all, get them involved in helping to make your dreams real, even in the smallest of ways. You’ll create quality time in all your lives, and you’ll find yourself moving forward even quicker than you thought possible.
The very best of luck, and stay in touch – I’d love to hear how you get on!
© Brian Cormack Carr, 2010
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