The secret to life

Local parents share how they balance work and family

Even the strongest of couples can be overwhelmed with the demands of work and a family. The ever-elusive "American Dream" can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the components of our individual dreams.

It is not difficult to set out on our lives with pure intentions and high aspirations, only to wake up buried under the rubble of that dream.

What is the difference between those who allow the pursuit of that dream to bury them and those who manage to either achieve the perfect balance of work and family, or maintain their sanity and perspective in the pursuit of it?

Just do your best

Dan Castricone, father of three from Tuxedo, holds numerous professional positions. He runs his own Allstate insurance business in Nanuet, fulfills his role as an Orange county legislator and has his own radio show.

Castricone is also the Chairman of Tuxedo's Republican Party, president of Tuxedo's Sons of Italy organization and manager of his son's Little League team.

How does Castricone find a way to juggle all those roles? "We do our best," he says. His golden rule is to respect his wife Marie as the keeper of the calendar.

Learn to say no to invitations

Marie Castricone is a substitute nurse and runs a volunteer program that provides backpacks full of food for children in need to take home each weekend.

Castricone says Marie is also the manager of his time, in that he realizes she has the entire family schedule pinpointed. He makes it a policy not to commit to any event without first checking with Marie's master calendar. 

If Castricone was to accept every invitation or commit to every event, he would be out of the house every night. But being a present force in the lives of his children, Daniel (16), Samantha (13) and John (10) is a priority. "It's important that I'm home and my kids see me and that I know them and they know me," Castricone says.

Career versus motherhood

Rachel Neuhaus, mother of two from Chester, has made her own adjustments to life as a wife and mother. Neuhaus was a domestic policy legislative aide and director of government affairs in addition to her jobs as a principle lobbyist for Hudson Valley's builders association.

Eventually, Neuhaus and her husband, Steve, welcomed two daughters into the world. Neuhaus was faced with a maternal dilemma every working mom can identify with... should she entrust her babies to someone else's care while she focuses on work or should she sacrifice her own professional life to be a full-time mom?  

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Weighing the pros and cons

The pros and cons of all moms whose maternal instinct wages war with professional ambitions are plentiful.

  • Income vs. quality time
  • Intelligent conversation vs. nursery rhymes
  • Clean clothes vs. puke-stains    
  • Hot coffee vs. not enough coffee

These are clearly the extremes of this conflict, but the emotional power of the maternal instinct is strong, and can render a woman incapable of recognizing the possibility of a reality somewhere in the middle.

It’s never an easy decision

For Neuhaus, her decision was to shelve professional aspirations in favor of maternal ones. She and Steve reconfigured the household budget, agreed to make the necessary changes to accommodate that budget and plunged together into life of single-income parents.

Neuhaus acknowledges the strain their decision has put on her sanity as well as finances, but, "It works for us," she says.

Recently, Neuhaus started her own small business, Thumbelina Children's Accessories in Sugar Loaf. She describes her new business venture as a, "one-woman creation station" and a "beautiful, chaotic, creative mess."

Neuhaus works with her sewing machine at her kitchen table to design and create children's clothes and accessories.

It has not been easy for Neuhaus to create a new business and keep track of the needs of three and a half year-old Emma and one year-old Charlotte as Steve's heavy workload continuously commandeers his time.

Between his position as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves, his role as Chester's Town Supervisor and his current campaign for County Executive, it takes a dedicated effort to ensure family life does not become a casualty of Steve's professional life.

To prevent a family life melt down, Neuhaus capitalized on opportunities for her to bring the girls to Steve's work appearances.

In addition, they make it a point to share at least one meal per day together. Sometimes, this means Steve wakes up early to linger over coffee with his ladies before leaving for his day. Other times, they do their best to catch a bite with each other on the fly.

Do what’s best for your family

The decision on how to parcel out our time is a personal one, with different considerations for each of us. For those who are unable to leave their jobs in order to be stay-at-home parents, the decisions are different than those who do have that opportunity.

Regardless of our situations and our personal choices, we all have to do what we feel is best for our families.

Neuhaus sums up her feelings and demonstrates how to cater these choices to our individual lives when she exclaimed, "It is our priority to raise polite, personable, Christian children with an understanding of diversity, but most importantly of service.”

Neuhaus went on to say, “Steve's sacrifice of time from the home, will pay off in teaching our children the importance of serving your community. The rest, I hope I am addressing in our lessons at home.”

Neuhaus believes if all her children take away from their sacrifices is putting their dishes in the sink, and throwing an occasional please and thank you along with their toddler demands, she knows I she is doing her job.

 Barbara Allen is a freelance writer and a mother of four from the Hudson Valley.