Key learning outcomes:
- Develop a strategy in which you complete a task rather than aim for perfection.
- Determine the significant activities and events in your life, and ensure you give them priority.
- Recognise the various outsourcing options available to you.
- Establish a support network to help you through challenging situations.
Whether you want to work or you have to work for financial reasons, the good news is that you are not on your own. The reality for most families is that they have at least one parent who works. Therefore, juggling work and home life is a situation that most of us as parents have to face at one time or another. The other constant, no matter what you might hear, is that being a working parent is not all that easy and the “super mum” or “super dad” you might read about is as much a fictional character as Superman himself!
So that said, there are some ways that you can make life easier for both you, your partner and your children. Our top 10 list contains some tried and tested tips that we used or wish we had used while working full time and raising a family.
1. You are not an island
As a working parent you need to ensure that you have a support network. This does not necessarily include someone to help with the children or the shopping, but someone that understands when you just need to vent a little. By sharing some of your feelings and being open about your goals, you will build stronger relationships with those around you. Sometimes just talking about what you want or what is bothering you will help to clear up things in your own mind. You might find someone in your immediate circle of friends and family that fits the bill, or you may form a relationship with someone you meet through the children’s school or your work with whom you can have an open and honest discussion from time to time. If you are struggling to find someone that you think can offer you the emotional support you need, you may find that a professional counsellor may help, even if just to get you back on track.
2. Learn to outsource
Where possible, try to outsource routine chores and tasks. If you can afford it, get a cleaner in on a regular basis to do the basics around the house. “But they never do it quite like me” I hear you say. You are probably right, but in the worst case scenario, the bathrooms are clean and the floors are mopped, and it is better than having to do it yourself every weekend, sacrificing precious time with the family for a scrubbing brush. These days there are also a lot of outsourcing options that do not have to cost you any extra, but that can save you a lot of time and angst. For example, most supermarkets offer an online shopping service that can deliver the groceries to your door with minimal additional charges. We know working parents that could not live without this service; they store their regular shopping list online and then just have to click and check out rather than fight the crowds. Like a lot of things, it may take a little extra time the first time, but then it will save you so much time over the coming weeks and months.
3. It is okay to say NO!
We are not sure why it is, but usually the busiest parents tend to be the ones that are manning the BBQ at Saturday sport or volunteering as class parents. It is great to be involved in the school or local charity, but remember that your free time is precious and you need to ensure that you do not “bite off more than you can chew”. One trick is to never say “yes” on the spot when you are asked to do something or when volunteers are called for. You can always call up later and say you have thought about it, and yes you would be able to help. But remember, it is hard to turn around once you have said yes to say you have thought about it and have now changed your mind.
4. Embrace imperfection
The saying “perfect is the enemy of good” is attributed to Voltaire – certainly smarter than me. As a working parent this is a mantra worth repeating on a regular basis. For example, does it matter if the cupcakes you take to the school bake sale are made from a packet mix or bought from the store and not made from scratch? No, what matters is that your child went with something and chances are they were the first ones to be sold out because they looked so perfect! As a working parent you need to make some compromises, and there may be some times when you need to cut a few corners to get everything done. The important thing is that you got it done. Always think about what is most important and then make your decision based on this. For example, you can either make the beds or get the children to school on time. It’s annoying to come home to unmade beds, but your children will appreciate not walking into class late, so unmade beds it is!
5. Have a back-up plan
No matter how organised you are, there will always be some hiccups along the way. Working for yourself can give you some flexibility that you wouldn’t have as an employee; however, ill children or other issues can cause havoc with your productivity. If the children are in childcare or school, it is important to think about what will happen if they are sick and cannot attend. Some business owners think that taking the children to work is a good solution, but don’t forget if they are not going to childcare because they are infectious, then they are likely to infect your staff as well. Additionally, taking the children to work and expecting someone to watch them also reduces that person’s productivity and efficiency. Ideally, you should have a more structured plan. For example, is there a family member who can be on hand for emergency care or is there a nanny service that will be able to help at short notice? The key is to have a plan, and hopefully just like any insurance policy you will never need to use it.
6. Manage your guilt
It is important to acknowledge that things are not going to be perfect all of the time; in fact, potentially they will never be perfect any of the time. You will find that there are times when you feel that you should be devoting more time and effort to work, and likewise times when you feel that you are neglecting your family duties. Yes it would be ideal to have everything fit into neat little boxes, but the reality is that it is unlikely to happen. So long as you are doing the very best that you can, then you need to be satisfied with that. These days having a stay-at-home parent is likely to be the exception rather than the rule for most children, so the key is to manage the situation to the best of your ability.
7. Adopt big rock thinking
There is an excellent time management tool that we outline in this section of the website called “Big Rock Theory”. The theory states that unless you deal with the important things in your life first, it can be very difficult to fit them all in. Basically, we get so busy with all the day-to-day tasks and activities that before we know it our days, weeks and months are filled and there is no time left for our true priorities. This theory is an excellent tool to use when you are a working parent. Get a large yearly planner and start to mark off all of the important dates and activities. If you plan an annual family holiday, mark the dates out as early as you can. It does not matter if the trip is actually booked or not, the key is blocking the time out. Then add as many key dates as you can, such as birthdays, anniversaries, school sports days, and the first and last day of school for each term. By doing this you will ensure that no matter what happens, these key dates are saved and locked in, and everything else fits easily around these key commitments.
8. Routines are essential
It might sound boring, but routine is the key to being a successful working parent. It can be tempting to laze about on the weekend, but smart working parents use some of this time to get organised for the week. Cook some meals that will allow you to prepare dinner in a rush during the week if need be, stock the fridge and cupboard with lunchbox goodies and snacks for when the children are hungry after school and organise the school uniforms in advance. All of these little things will combine to make a more stress-free and enjoyable week.
The thing about children is that while they might seem to rebel against it, they actually thrive on routine. This is particularly true for younger children. If you can get you and your family into a good routine, it will save you a lot of time and angst in the long run. Setting and keeping up a good routine can be hard work, but we promise that the results will be worth it. Think about setting up an “ideal week” for your family. We outline how you can do this in the article of the same name, which you will find in this section of the website.
9. What about me?
One thing many working parents comment that does seem to suffer is time for them themselves or with their partners. It is essential that you find some time to do the things that you enjoy and that make you feel good. For example, if exercise is something that keeps you sane, it is essential that you make time in your week for this. If you live with a partner, try to set a routine where you exercise on alternate days or nights while the other one watches the children. If you are a single parent, try and work your weekly routine to include exercise during the day or arrange early or late care just a couple of days a week to allow you to accommodate some exercise.
If your couple time is suffering, think about setting a regular night aside as a “date night” for you and partner. It does not have to be a big and expensive night out; even a quick bite to eat at the local cafe or a movie can give you the space and time that you need to feel ready to face another day. The key is to organise it in advance and ideally on a regular basis; for example, you could try arranging a regular babysitter on a Thursday night once a fortnight. You should organise and lock in the childcare, otherwise busy schedules, unexpected client meetings and phone calls or other commitments will keep cropping up and interfering with your plans.
10. Nothing is forever
The one thing about children that we can never change is that they do grow up. It is one of those things where you should be careful what you wish for, because time does fly and before you know it they will have flown the coop. It is good to think of your working life with children as seasons, with each one bringing with it some joys and challenges. As the owner of Absolute Best, I have spent most of my working life as a mum, juggling family and work commitments as best I can just like everyone else. Parents of small children often ask me if it gets easier. My answer is always that it does not get easier, but it is different. As a mother of now grown-up children, one of whom has been studying overseas since he was 18, there are still challenges, still urgent phone calls for help and juggling work commitments so I do not miss an important event for one of the children. For example, our family big rock planner is currently filled in 18 months in advance to ensure we will all be there to celebrate our son’s graduation in the United States. My best advice is to not forget to enjoy every moments, don’t forget to laugh and take lots of photos!
Like anything, you need to find what works for you. We suggest trying to implement one or two of the above tips, see how they work and then try some more. Don’t forget we answer a member question every week in our newsletter. If you have a question we have not answered here, please do not hesitate to contact us on email@example.com and we will do our best to help.
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