“Parent” is the most important title we will hold and role we will play. Most of us often get caught up in the day to day routine of the hectic lifestyle we’ve created only to find ourselves complaining about how we can’t keep up. As the kids become older we juggle more and if you’re like me then you’re referring to the calendar on your phone multiple times a day to remember where you have to be next.
Being a parent is demanding enough on its own, but when you are a working parent you take the chaos to another level. Careers are more intense and jobs have become competitive and cut throat. The stress and amount of work that needs to be completed in an 8+ hour workday is physically and emotionally draining. I hear more parents say they feel like they’re coming home and starting a “second shift.” We have to get dinner on the table, pay bills, drive the kids around, get things ready for the following day and then hit repeat. There is always something that has to get done and always somewhere to be!
The million dollar question I always get is “How do you manage everything?” And my response is “I try to keep my priorities straight.” For me, sacrificing or putting my career on hold was not an option. I love what I do and it gives me motivation. By no means do I have a cookie cutter job. Managing a 24 hour mental health program, being on-call for crisis, running a small private practice and being a wife and mother to three feels like a circus at times. But I won’t compromise any of it.
I also know there is a small window of opportunity that I will have my kids fully in tune and willingly wanting to spend time with their parents. Unfortunately, the reality is once they begin to reach their teenage years they won’t think their parents are as cool. The goal is to have our kids always feel supported and comfortable to come to us. There are only so many years that we have to shape them and give them the understanding and importance of valuing family relationships.
So how do we work on improving our lifestyle? One of the most important things to keep in mind is we have a CHOICE in the decisions that we make.
1. A major qualm is having an employer that is not “family friendly” meaning there is often guilt attached to requesting a day off or having to call out to take care of a sick child. If you are putting in the work and meeting the employer’s requirements, you should feel comfortable enough to communicate your needs. Together you should be able to come up with a common ground of understanding in these types of situations. People often don’t want to stir the pot due to fear of what the response will be, but do you really want to be feeling this way each time a situation at home arises?
2. Maintain boundaries between work and home. Learn to compartmentalize and make the most of your time. When you’re at work, you focus on work. When you’re at home, you focus on your family. Many people have deadlines that need to be met and will argue this is not possible. In that case you need to decide a time frame when it would be best to complete the rest of your work from home without compromising too much quality time with your family. When there is a blur between the two environments it can become frustrating and stressful. This feeling can often trickle down to your family members if they begin to absorb your tension and are not able to get some undivided attention from you.
3. Families are spending time together, but it’s not often quality time. Being present in the same room doesn’t qualify for being present and connecting with one another. We’ve all been guilty of this and if you look around when you’re at a restaurant or park, you will quickly notice how many people are on their phones and if you can get a good look you will notice they are often browsing on social media. Let’s put the Ipads and phones down and have real conversations with our family.
4. Have a tradition and maintain consistency. It gets hectic and unfortunately we don’t have hours on end to spend with our family, but if you set aside specific times each day or even each week you and your family know to expect quality interaction. For example, dinner is expected to be the most ideal time to gather everyone and catch up with each other’s day, however, nowadays parents are working at different times and kids have activities they have to be at. Well, there are a ton of other things you can do…catch up before bedtime, game night on Friday evenings, walks, breakfast on the weekends. If you make it happen, it will happen.
5. Self-care! Managing a family and work is exhausting, but you have to be sure to maintain your own optimal mental and physical health. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing recreationally, make sure you do it. Once again, there is the argument of there isn’t any time. You need to make time…wake up early, go to bed a little later, during a break at work, etc.
6. Don’t give up your social life. It may slow down for a few years, but there is no need to sacrifice friendships and adult conversations. Manage a system with your spouse where you can agree to having a date night once a month or take turns going out with your friends. If you are a single parent, this is more difficult to do, but not impossible. You can secure a babysitter or family member to watch the kids for one or two evenings a month while you get some “ME” time in.
7. Maintain structure and organization by using a calendar. Color code between work and family events. Pre-planning and prepping your meals can help with time management.
8. Get your kids involved when you’re running errands. Take them with you to the grocery store, let the help with the laundry and empting the dishwasher. These are some of them best times to start up a conversation.
9. When one vacation ends, start planning the next. We start discussing our next vacation when we’re still on one. It doesn’t have to be anything lavish, just a simple getaway. It will give you motivation and something to look forward to.
10. Take pictures, capture memories and look at them often together.
As many new parents would, during the first few years of parenthood I experienced a tough time. I found it difficult to give it my all at work and home. There was a feeling of being overwhelmed and judged in both environments. Soon enough the realization came that this wasn’t beneficial to anyone and changes needed to be made so I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture and how I needed to allocate my time. I slowly restructured my way of thinking and working.
Balance is a difficult thing to do, but with trial and error you can make it work and meet everyone’s needs.