When I was pregnant with my first child, I planned to stay home with him until he was in kindergarten. I would work only very part time so I wouldn’t be completely out of touch with my field. We rearranged our finances and prepared a budget so we could stretch one paycheck further.
Within weeks of our child’s birth, the Great Recession hit and the economic uncertainty that roiled the country for those long years played out daily in our home. I ended up working nearly full time since my children were small.
Balancing work and family life has never been easy, but there are great resources out there, useful tips, and good reminders that few children have ever been harmed by eating leftover pizza for breakfast.
Flip the Feelings
Feelings of guilt are a serious problem for many parents who work, especially mothers who feel the social pressure to stay home. Here are two reasons to rethink work and give yourself a break:
- My own attitude changed a lot when I learned that fewer households than ever can run on one paycheck alone. Turns out, most families have two working parents because they need two incomes to pay the bills, just like my family. All those articles about “Mommy Wars,” and arguments over whether working or staying home is the better choice are for a very small number of people.
- A 2015 Harvard study showed that the children of women who work benefit greatly from Mom’s job. Boys who grow up with working mothers chip in more with housework and childcare as adults, and are more likely to support their partner’s career. Girls with working mothers grow up to have more equal relationships that are less abusive, and to make more money themselves.
Build a Support System That Works for You
Too many of us are racing to day care centers in different parts of town, or trying to make it to every track meet and ballet practice. We pay fines for picking up children late, we spend too much time in the car, and we’re frazzled and frustrated. Remember that none of us is an island — we really can ask for help and share some responsibilities.
- Divide tasks: If you have a partner, do everything you can to make sure both of you are taking part in the after school shuffle. It’s easy to take on extra duties to make life easier for your hard working partner, but you are also depriving your partner of important time with your children.
- Rely on family: If you have available grandparents (or other trustworthy relatives), give them a chance to be a big part of your child’s life by taking on the piano or swim lesson duties. In our family, grandparents love having their own special corner with our children. Their effort help us out, but also gives our children a chance to develop deep and lasting bonds with another generation.
- Use your community: If you need to take pressure off of your commute in the morning, ask a neighbor if your kids can ride or walk to school with their family. Your children learn the value of cooperation and independence, and you can return the favor in other ways and on other days.
Turn Off, Tune In
When you have a big project at work, a deadline, are part of a sales team, or have a work crisis that needs attending, it can be hard to put down the phone or step away from the computer.
More and more research indicates that it’s absolutely one of the most important things you can do. Your children need your attention and you need time to decompress from the demands of work.
These two books will help convince you why it’s important to unplug from work and teach you how you can plug into your children more completely, even if just for a few minutes every day:
The Big Disconnect: Protecting Children and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair
Dr. Steiner-Adair interviewed more than 1,000 children and found that they are just as frustrated by their parents’ obsessive use of technology as parents are with their kids. She offers tips for convincing the whole family to put the devices away and come together.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle
Turkle spent time in homes, schools, and workplaces to see how face-to-face interactions can transform relationships, solve problems, and give everyone the connection they really crave.
Make Time, Even a Tiny Bit, for Yourself
Too often, when you read about how to balance work and family, the advice includes “take care of yourself” as an afterthought to a long list of other things you must be doing. Or it puts the advice at the top of the list while seemingly ignoring the real and unending demands of life for a working parent.
Here’s the thing: You don’t need to figure out how to rearrange the time-space continuum and come up with two more hours in every day. I try hard to remember that I just need a few minutes every day (sometimes more, sometimes less) that are completely in my control.
I like to work out but get frustrated when I don’t have 90 minutes to get to the gym and do my thing, shower, dress, and get home. Then I remember that’s why sidewalks were invented. I can get in a 20-minute walk, protect my health, and not feel resentful that I haven’t gotten any “me” time.
Stop Measuring Yourself Against Others
For every perfect Pinterest parent, there are thousands (millions, really) of us who are making it work every day, somehow.
Work-life balance isn’t about figuring out how to do it all, or figuring out how to do it just like the mom who makes character cupcakes for every school event. Work-life balance is the balance that works for you and your family. Sometimes my kids eat leftover pizza for breakfast because I just couldn’t drag myself through the grocery store the night before, and I’m glad I didn’t. We all think it’s funny, we all enjoyed the time we weren’t fighting our way through the store, and most importantly, we ate that pizza together. Twice.