I used to think I was busy, and then I had a baby and realized that I didn’t know the meaning of the word. Since starting daycare in January, my daughter has had seven ear infections, bronchitis, food sensitivities, a severe allergic reaction, and a constant runny nose - all resulting in more than 20 visits to the pediatrician and three different specialists, a trip to urgent care, an ER visit, and surgery to have tubes in her ears. And, for the most part, she’s a healthy, happy baby. One doctor told me that on average, their first year in school (whether in daycare or kindergarten), kids miss 100 days due to illness. So, we’re probably right on par with every other family out there. But, wow - I was not expecting to juggle work and so many sick days. I am thankful every day for the team that I work with and for our core values - I don’t know how working parents survive without coworkers who live and breathe “Family is a blessing."
Missed work and minor medical issues aside, parenthood is exhausting. I wonder - Is it even possible for working parents to tame the chaos and find some balance between their work lives and domestic responsibilities? I’m far from alone in feeling the stress of being a working parent; according to the Pew Research Center, "Among all working parents with children under age 18, more than half (56%) say it is difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family.” While there are no silver bullets or tricks that work for everyone, my research for this post did uncover some useful tips that I thought were worth sharing.
8 tips for busy parents balancing work and life:
- Ask for help. According to a Forbes article article by Amy Morin, “when parents arrange for assistance that ensures their kids are being cared for, they’re able to be more productive at work.” I know this is true for me - I can always concentrate better at work when I know my little one is in good hands. This means enlisting family who may live nearby or who are willing to travel, dividing up parenting responsibilities between you and your partner, and finding friends and neighbors that you can trade favors with, like carpool or taking turns babysitting for each other.
- Flexible is better than fair. Balance doesn’t mean the time is split 50/50 between work and home. Morin points out that successful parents are constantly evaluating what needs their attention most and readjusting when things feel off-kilter in any area of their lives. Entrepreneur contributor Kim Lachance Shandrow offers these tips for asking your employer for a more flexible work schedule: be specific in your request, be positive about the benefit to your employer rather than focusing on reducing your own stress, and be realistic about what your role will entail when working fewer or different hours.
- Don’t neglect self-care. Get sleep, relaxation, and exercise daily. If you are burnt out and feeling frazzled, you won’t be as productive at work or effective as a parent. Shandrow recommends setting one evening a week to do something you enjoy, even if it is just for half an hour. Don’t forget to spend time with other adults - especially your partner.
- Plan ahead and set yourself up for success. Shandrow recommends preparing as much as possible for the next day at night after the kids go to bed; put out clothes for yourself and the kids, pack lunches, and prep for meals so that the next morning is less stressful. She also encourages preparing and freezing meals for the week on Sundays to make the weeknights less hectic. Use a family calendar to keep in sync about appointments and work travel. You might also try an app like Cozi to keep your family life organized.
- Automate when possible. Use online bill pay and set up direct debits when you can; use a budgeting tool like Mint so you can spend less time managing household finances. Sign up for Amazon Subscribe & Save to have cleaning products, diapers, formula, paper towels, toothpaste, and pretty much anything else you can think of delivered to your door at the frequency you require so that you spend less time shopping and more time with your family.
- Set boundaries. According to Shandrow’s article, “37% of parents find it hard to switch off from ‘work mode’ at home” because we’re constantly connected to work through technology. Turning off email notifications on your phone when you’re at home can help set some boundaries, and so can having a specific desk or office where you go to do work at home when you absolutely have to - that way you’re not tempted to check emails during dinner or other family times.
- Clarify priorities & adjust expectations. In an article in Fortune, Terry Lively states that "For working parents, the solution to finding more time could lie in adjusting expectations,” and recommends remembering the old adage, “You work to live, not live to work.” Parents who enjoy their careers may find that their work enriches their experience of parenthood and provides more balance and purpose to their lives. For other parents, work is a financial necessity and they’d rather be home with their kids. Clarify what’s most important to you and set realistic expectations for yourself both at home and at work.
- Give yourself a break. Don’t waste energy feeling guilty about the time you spend away from your children while you’re working. Instead, find a solution that works for your family and cut yourself some slack when you occasionally fall short of perfection. Agree on a flexible work schedule to maximize the time you spend with your children, arrange childcare near your workplace so you can have lunch with your child, or even just change your mindset to focus on the benefits that your working has for your family rather than on feeling guilty. As Morin says, "Successful parents focus their spare time and energy on raising the children – not wishing they didn’t have to work.” Shandrow echoes a similar sentiment, "To survive with sanity intact, we harried, guilt-ridden moms and dads have to let go of one big thing: perfection. Even the best jugglers drop the ball once in a while."
I hope these tips can help you busy parents out there. Balance, like anything, is a matter of perspective. Find what helps you feel less stressed, and do that. And if you figure it out, please share your secret with me!
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