Parenting at High Speed: The Great Balancing Act

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David and Susan Zola are the parents of three children under 5. They have been married 10 years, and both are currently working as full-time professionals in the field of education. Their presentation was intended to provide food for thought for parents who juggle difficult jobs and the demands of raising young children. Shopping, exercise, car-pooling, and laundry are among the many family-related activities that have to be properly balanced with careers and an active home life to meet individual and family needs. The Zolas have developed a model for "parenting at high speed" that helps them maintain a healthy family system. This article presents the main points of their presentation.

For the Zolas, a family is a set of interactive relationships, and these relationships come with needs. Their concern is with balancing individual needs and the needs of the relationships within the family. The Zolas suggest that parents work together to identify these needs and make a plan to meet them. They teach that every human being has at least four basic needs:

The Need for Belonging: fulfilled by loving, sharing, and cooperating with others
The Need for Power: fulfilled by achieving, accomplishing, being recognized and respected
The Need for Freedom: fulfilled by making choices in our lives
The Need for Fun: fulfilled by laughing and playing

Sometimes these needs overlap, and sometimes they compete with each other. Here is how the Zolas meet some of them within their own family system:

Need for Belonging: Both David and Susan have brought rituals and routines to their marriage; some of these are religious traditions. They have also developed work routines. For example, they always make an effort to have the wash done by the end of the day. They make sure the dryer is empty by 8 p.m. and the dishwasher is empty before they go to bed. In addition, they have each developed individual routines for exercise to maintain fitness. The Zolas have also created their own extended family to help support their children, with friends and neighbors that help them celebrate family rituals. The Zolas feel their children respond well to routines, and they recognize their importance in shaping their daily lives.

Need for Power: The Zolas recommend that parents establish early, and maintain, high expectations for behavior and learning. They also recommend that families celebrate the many milestones in their children's lives. For example, they celebrate when a child learns to walk, or when one begins preschool. It is also important to recognize the professional needs of the parents that fulfill their need for power.

Need for Freedom: The Zolas believe that it is parents' responsibility to make decisions at work that create flexibility at home. When more choices are available, more freedom is present. They also recommend frequent re-negotiation of home chores and schedules so that maximum flexibility can be encouraged.

Need for Fun: The Zolas acknowledge that humor plays an important role in everyone's life, and they encourage families to make time for amusement and to be together in the outdoors. Time is recognized as a valuable resource in the Zolas' model, and time for fun is part of the family plan.

Since each need is equally important, they all must be reasonably satisfied. Sometimes, however, the four needs seem to conflict with one another. It is important to look at how these needs are met from a child's point of view. The Zolas recommend making a list for the children in the family, as well as for the adults, of the four basic needs, and then identifying how these needs are being met. Balancing the needs of the family and each relationship within that family is a big challenge. However, through constant communication and re-negotiation, it can be possible.

For more information

Brooks, Jane B. (1994). Parenting in the 90s. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.

Keeshan, Bob. (1994). Family fun activity book. Minneapolis, MN: Fairview Press.
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