Being a working parent isn’t easy. When you become a parent, work life balance becomes less of a desire and more of a necessity. Achieving a balance with work, and making time for children, can seem elusive at the best of times. Deadlines and pressures at work aren’t understood by children and sometimes, they might not be understood by partners either. Whatever the reason, work can present an obstacle to our primary responsibilities and commitments as parents: spending time with our families. The guilt we experience when that occurs is typically in tow.
As a teacher, work life balance as a parent is incredibly difficult to achieve. When I was a trainee teacher, I was told by an experienced colleague that work life balance didn’t really exist in the profession. That’s quite an indictment of the profession and based on my own experience, I would somewhat beg to differ. Nevertheless, I can see where they were coming from as it’s certainly limited during term time. Teaching can be relentless in the pressure and constant demands that exist far beyond the parameters of the school day. So, I’m acutely aware of the difficulty in making time for children.
Actively make time for children
I do the nursery run en route to and from school. I often leave nursery lamenting at the fact that when I collect my son, we’ll only have a couple of hours before he goes to bed. It’s far from ideal and can leave me feeling like an absent parent for our inevitable reliance upon childcare. Yet I know the balance of childcare and time spent with our children is a reality for most parents.
Consequently, I’ve accepted that work life balance as a parent won’t fall into my lap. It’s something most of us will need to secure rather than stumble upon.
That’s easier said than done but it is possible. Time with our children isn’t always going to be forthcoming within the context of work. So it’s important that as parents, we consider how we can change that.
Before becoming a parent, time was a commodity that I arguably had more of. Unless I had plans, working late was less of an issue. I didn’t have to rush off to make it to nursery on time. Moreover, I didn’t have to ensure my evening schedule didn’t compromise our bath time and bedtime routine. Generally speaking, my time was my own.
Now, that’s different. I need to be more conscious of my time during the day so that I’m able to maximise my time with my son. If I have an early start at work, the aim is that in turn I’ll make sure I have more time with my son in the evening. Conversely, having a less hurried morning with him means I have less issue with working later as the compromise.
The same goes for the weekends. I typically have to work on weekends. But I’ll wake up early enough, and work at a pace that certainly isn’t laboured. It is essentially a race against time before my son wakes up. Once he’s up, work becomes secondary. There will be instances where I still have to continue working. But I always endeavour to ensure that doesn’t compromise my parenting.
Prioritise work and know when enough is enough
It’s important to prioritise in any job. Recognise your non-negotiable and time sensitive tasks as distinct from those that you’d like to complete but aren’t currently essential. As much as most of us would like to stay ahead with all we have to do, the reality is that won’t always be possible.
As working parents, there will always be competing demands on our time. And when it comes to work, there will be some demands that we can’t ignore. On the other hand, others that can wait. If the opportunity cost of pursuing the completion of our to-do list is time spent with our families, the latter isn’t something we should allow to slip through our fingers if we can avoid it.
When I work on the weekend, I’ll get to a point when I tell myself “enough is enough” as we could all work indefinitely. However, as parents we need to develop the self-discipline to pull ourselves away from work when we know we risk neglecting time with our children as a result.
Family time is sacrosanct
While my wife was on maternity leave, I knew I was missing out on experiences with my son while I was at work. It meant time spent with my son in the evenings was sacrosanct. I would ensure I was home for bathtime and subsequently put my son to bed. It’s something that still continues now that he’s a toddler.
That time became protected. My schedule was planned around my son and any deviation from that would have been an aberration. It meant my evenings were built around spending time with my son. The same goes for eating as a family. It’s an opportunity for uninterrupted time that can easily be lost if we don’t consciously protect it. And we should programme it into our daily schedules wherever possible.
Plan your family time
Planning days out with our children can help to redress the balance, or lack of, between work and parenting. Advance planning doesn’t leave family time to chance and mitigates waylaid plans occuring. There are many free attractions that can make for a day out without the interruptions of work and day-to-day life that we can all benefit from.
During the winter months especially, many of us feel compelled to spend more time indoors. Which can mean our time with our children isn’t as punctuated by going out as it might be when the days are longer. Getting my son ready to go to the local shop in his winter coat and accessories can sometimes take longer than the five minute walk to the shop itself. It’s therefore easy to find yourself spending an increasing amount of time indoors.
Staying at home can mean it’s not as easy to occupy children as it might be going out. Although rainy day activities at home can still provide an opportunity to spend quality time with children. It’s easy to fall into the trap of checking work emails or catching up on work when we’re home but that’s at the expense of time with our families and it’s something I’m guilty of. But as parents, we need to reduce the extent to which work can provide a distraction from our first job of parenting.
The reality of finding work life balance as a parent isn’t easy. It can take effort on our part and an awareness of how we allocate our time. Nonetheless, it’s a necessary consideration as we maximise our time and effectiveness within our role as parents.
by Arion Law