'Enough Time' is the Biggest Challenge for McDonald Family

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With three kids under age seven and two full-time jobs, Beth and Jim McDonald have their hands full taking care of their kids. A strong marriage bolstered by "brutal honesty and complete trust" and a commitment to a 50/50 partnership allows them to meet most of the demands of their young family and ensure their kids have what they need to succeed.

Still they have some major challenges. Beth just quit her full-time job as an art director to become a freelance artist. Money will be tight, but they are hopeful that family life will be less stressful, and Beth will be happier. Both worry a lot about making the mistakes they feel their parents made while raising them.

"I want our children to feel really adored," says Beth. "I want them to know they are truly loved by us - not just by hearing it but by feeling it," says Jim. They also are committed to sharing their children with their extended family. Jim's parents and brother and sister-in-law live just minutes away. Jim's mother is active in the daily care of the McDonald children, and Beth and Jim trade baby sitting with Jim's brother and his wife. All of the cousins attend the same school, and the McDonalds' son, Terry, says his best friend is one of his cousins.

While their life sounds idyllic by some standards, Beth says the stress of working full time made it impossible to meet the emotional needs of her kids. "When I was home, I wasn't present," she says. "I knew the kids wanted more from me, but I couldn't give it to them. I felt like I was running on fumes." A little more than a year ago, the McDonalds ran a screen-printing company together, imprinting Beth's designs and selling the clothes to retailers. They say running their own business was even more time consuming and stressful than two full time-jobs. Last year, after closing that business, Jim was able to participate in sports with his kids for the first time. "I want them to have something going for them," he says. The director of a summer camp for junior and senior high school kids, he feels being involved in sports is crucial to youth social development and goal-setting abilities.

Beth, on the other hand, is more interested in involving their children in arts and cultural activities. "I want to share with them what I'm passionate about," she says. "I'm not a baker; I don't play games." After years of feeling a little guilty and defensive about this, she feels she's accepted her "mothering style." Exposed to the varied interests of both parents, the kids are finding many opportunities to discover their own interests and build on their individual competencies.

Beth also has accepted that her husband can be just as good - or an even better parent - than she is. "A father is just as, or more important, than a mother," says Jim, "especially for boys - they need a strong role model." Before taking a breath, he adds, "fathers are just as important for girls because they make their future choices about boyfriends based on their relationship with their dad. If you're a good dad, they'll have higher standards."

Although some might consider Jim rare in terms of his commitment to fatherhood, he says most of his friends are just like him. But Jim points out there is a big difference between his generation and his father's generation. "Because he traveled a lot for his work, my father wasn't involved in home life much - my mother handled 90 percent," Jim estimates. "With us, it's a joint effort.

"No male role model or a bad male role model - both are bad scenarios," Jim says, pointing out that men face a lot of challenges in this society, especially related to not expressing sadness or disappointment. Not being able to express their feelings until they're bottled up and build like a pressure cooker is the reason Jim thinks so many men have trouble with anger, causing many marriages to end in divorce. "Women have the economic freedom today to decide not to put up with it," he says.

Working on themselves individually has been one of the reasons Beth feels Jim and she have been successful at staying together. "Most of my friends are working on hurts that occurred during their childhoods," she says. "We have our own issues, issues with each other, as well as with the kids, but we want a marriage that is what it's supposed to be.

"We want to show our children a real working marriage. They shouldn't have to live in a house that's all an act and be crippled as an adult. Sometimes I worry about how our parenting will affect our kids. "When they grow up, I just hope they'll say 'my parents weren't perfect, but they were pretty cool."
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