Being a working parent can benefit you and your family. A commitment to both work and family can give you a lot of satisfaction in both areas of your life. Both roles carry a big responsibility and sometimes it can feel tricky juggling these commitments.
There is no magic formula for getting the work-family balance right. You, your situation and your family is unique. A good balance can look different to different families. Talking things through can help you work out what is important to you and help you work out solutions.
There is no ‘perfect’ work-family balance but these tips may help:
- Set your own priorities - Sometimes we place too many demands on ourselves and what can be achieved in a certain space of time. When you work and have a family your energy and resources will be spread more thinly. If you try to maintain perfection in every area of your life, you are likely to end up feeling frustrated and exhausted. Try to focus on what is important and lower your standards in other areas. Trying to maintain a perfectly presented home is a particular challenge, especially with small children. A bit of dust on the furniture or crumbs on the carpet are not going to harm anyone. You can use the extra time to rest or spend with your family. Time spent with your child will be a better investment than time spent cleaning. If you have a fulfilled family life, you’re likely to be happier at work too.
- Develop a routine that’s right for your family - Developing a routine can help your child know what to expect, and help them feel safe. This will also benefit you and help you plan and manage your day better. Your routine could include getting things ready the night before like making packed lunches and laying out their clothes and your own. It may help young children to have a sheet with pictures of their daily routine and who will be looking after them. This might be especially useful if you have an arrangement of different carers on different days.
- Find the right childcare for your child – Make sure you leave your child with someone you trust and where your child will have a good experience. Let them know about your child, family and any changes regularly, so that they can tune into your child’s feelings and needs.
- Think about the drop off and pick up routine in childcare or school - These are two key points in the day which can cause ‘pinch points’. Try to set aside enough time to settle your child when you leave them in the morning and to discuss any concerns you may have with the care provider. If you take time to settle your child they are less likely to become upset which will also reduce your anxiety. Similarly when you pick up your child take time to find out about their day so you know what to expect when you get home. Your child may not give you many details of their day and may be quiet on the way home – don’t worry. It’s not uncommon for children to have quiet time after a busy day at childcare or school. Like adults they may need a bit of time to process things that have happened that day.
- Have a back-up plan – Try to have a plan of what to do if your child gets sick or there is a problem with childcare. This will help reduce pressure and worry for you.
- Make the daily switch from work to home – Try to separate home and work in your mind to help make the switch between work and home easier. When you are at home try to leave work distractions at work. When you are at work don’t dwell on worries about your child. Try to be present in the moment, whether you are at work or at home. It may help if you have an activity which helps you mark the move from work to home. This might be listening to music during your journey home or changing your clothes when you get in.
- Remember to take time to praise your child and yourself - Try to encourage yourself with positive ‘self-talk’ and try to ignore your ‘inner critic’. For example “I’m pleased with the way I handled things. It was good I stayed calm”. When you praise, you are teaching your child about their worth, how to be proud of themselves and raise their self-esteem. If you notice the behaviours and qualities that you like, love and want to see in your child, they know to be proud of these and repeat them.
- Notice the positives - If you’ve had a tricky morning before breakfast don’t write it off ‘as a bad day’. Try to look at the day as being made up of smaller parts. The trick is not to look at the day as a whole, in that it’s not a good or bad day. Try to think about the parts that make up that day and focus your attention on the positives.
- Do less and focus more – Try to simplify family life by reducing the number of commitments you make and outside activities your child takes part in.
- Set aside time that's just for you - It is very important to take care of yourself. When you are a working parent sometimes the first thing to go is time for yourself. Try to set aside time for you – from sitting down and enjoying a whole cuppa without interruption, watching a TV show, going for a walk or taking an exercise class. Regular ‘me time’ will help you feel more balanced and less stressed.
- Talk to your employer – You could look at your employment options and the hours you work. Does your employer have any family friendly policies which could benefit you? The charity Working Families (external link) provides legal advice for parents & carers: Tel: 0300 012 0312 or fill in the advice contact form. There is also information about flexible working on Gov.uk (external link).
Working when you have a young family can be very demanding, but also very rewarding. Time spent with your child can often put work pressures into perspective. Time at work can help give you another perspective to make time at home more enjoyable.