Often, we juggle because we think it is enabling – that we need to accomplish all these tasks in order to create the life we want. But then we can find ourselves so busy creating the right conditions for life that we have no time for enjoying it.
Sometimes it’s a case of conflicting priorities. As parents, we want the best for our children. But in trying to shoehorn too much into limited time we can squeeze out other essential family ingredients.
And sometimes it’s just hard to switch off from professional mode. When we spend all day at work honing our efficiency, planning and analytical skills, it can be difficult to step out of that role and take a different approach when we get home.
If you really want to readdress your work-life balance, you will need to do some uncomfortable thinking. You’ll have to challenge deeply held beliefs, question the things you regard as givens and prioritise according to your own goals (rather than other people’s). Here are a few ideas to start you thinking:
Decide what’s important
If you find that getting through the things on your ‘To Do At Home’ list means not spending time with your children, it’s time to have a long hard look at that To Do list.
For each task, ask yourself some key questions:
- “Does it need to be done now?”
- “Does it need to be done by me?”
- “Does it need to be done so well?”
- “Does it need to be done at all?”
Prioritise ruthlessly: cancel, delegate, park for the future and banish perfectionism. Share household tasks fairly. Teach your children to be independent and expect them to do things for themselves (this is good for their development as well as freeing up your time).
If you can’t find anything on your To Do list to cross off, then try some outcomes-based thinking to benchmark your current work-life balance. Get another piece of paper and write down your big goals for family life (no more than three). Things like “Raise my children to be happy and successful” or “Create happy memories”. Then, brainstorm a list of activities that would directly contribute to achieving those goals. How much of your time do you currently spend doing those activities? How many of the tasks on your To Do list are making a direct contribution to those big goals (and how many are getting in the way)?
Separate work time and family time
Develop good transition routines between work and home. Rituals such as reading a novel on the train or changing clothes when you arrive home can help you switch modes. Try not to arrive home thirsty, hungry or stressed. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly. If your head is swirling with unfinished work tasks, write these down: then leave the list in your briefcase for the next day.
Children need emotionally attuned and responsive parents. To transition, focus for a few minutes on being fully attentive your children. With young children, a great way to do this is to immerse yourself in play. Spend 15 minutes wholeheartedly playing ‘Snap’ or ‘Mario Kart’ or ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’ and not only will you be having fun and building a relationship with your child, you’ll also be improving your own wellbeing.
You will have other things to do when you are at home too, but try to remain available and responsive even when otherwise occupied. Be alert to ‘turn to’ moments when your child asks for your attention. If they approach you, stop what you are doing and pay full attention. Remember, it’s not the quantity of time you spend with your children that matters, it’s the quality of the moments you share with them.
Simple, good enough parenting
There is no such thing as a perfect parent and aiming to be one is not good for your children. Accept that you will make mistakes and you will never know whether the decisions you made were the best ones.
When it comes to behaviour, set a few simple ground rules (e.g. “Speak kindly”). Praise, reward and encourage the behaviour you want to see and follow through with fair, consistent consequences when you have to. And don’t sweat the small stuff.
Have realistic expectations of yourself, your partner and your children. Hold regular problem-solving sessions (both as a family, and as parents), making sure to focus on practical solutions and small achievable changes. Remember all children make mistakes: that’s how they learn. And all children will be good at some things and find other things more difficult.
Parenting is much easier when your own needs (for support, friendship and recreation) are being met so make sure you find time to look after yourself and de-stress. Exercise, good food and an all round healthy lifestyle will contribute to good work-life balance, make you a nicer person to be around and will also set your children up for a healthy happy future.
Good luck and I wish you a happy work-life balance!
This post was originally commissioned by PA Consulting Group as part of a programme of support for its working parents.
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©Anita Cleare 2015