Work-life balance. Also known as the ever-changing, elusive mission of perfect alignment between your work and family life, this term often summons a deep sigh from working parents. As a single mother, I know this dance first hand and all too well.
One PEW Research Center survey found that 56% of mothers and 50% of fathers find work-life balance challenging, and it's no surprise that we feel our time and attention are so divided.
We are attempting to find that delicate equilibrium somewhere between the daily demands of work and family, the desire for success and fulfillment in our careers, while also being the best parents possible and fostering close and meaningful relationships with our children.
So how do you keep everyone and everything not just afloat but happy and thriving while shielding each from feeling the impact of the other, and without sacrificing either one? It is a tall order, but here are six suggestions to get you started.
No One is Perfect
First and foremost: give up on the idea of perfection and go easier on yourself. No one gets it right all the time and, despite best intentions, mistakes invariably happen, and things fall through the cracks. It may be forgetting to pick up supplies for your child's school project (due the next day, of course, because they forgot to tell you about it two weeks ago) or accidentally sending an email to the wrong person with a similar name.
We are all human, so let go of the "mommy guilt" and remember that parenthood and life are both a never-ending practice of flexibility and "going with the flow." Pick up the pieces as best you can and then move forward with the lesson learned. One of my favorite sayings is "progress not perfection" - it reminds me that as long as I'm always learning and striving to be better, that's the most I can ask of myself.
Make Order Out of Chaos
Get organized! This sounds like it creates more work, but trust me when I say it pays dividends in the end. We have all heard these before, but small changes like preparing for the day ahead by packing lunches, ironing clothes, making to-do lists, and packing school and gym bags do add up.
Place everything at the ready to grab as you go, and now you're another step ahead in the morning. Building an evening routine around homework, dinner, and family time helps maximize time together and creates a predictable cadence. If you're a two-parent household, divide, conquer and plan when you're alternating duties.
For parents with kids that participate in after-school activities or sports, or if one of you travels for work, it is valuable to create a family calendar that is accessible to everyone.
While a "village" of family and friends is essential, get creative and go beyond it. Some communities have exchange groups among families. They create a shared carpool schedule for school or sports practice, gather to cook in bulk and then divide up the meals; even weekend slumber parties or play dates for alone time and date night.
Look for areas that make sense to pay for services: hire a cleaning service, book a sitter for a few hours each week to run errands expeditiously, or use a grocery delivery service. Personally, Amazon changed my life once I discovered that I could order almost anything I needed from there. This eliminated most errands, which shortened my to-do list and returned valuable time with my son - a win-win!
Work at Work
Do your best to keep from working off-hours. Silence your phone and keep your laptop closed. While your job benefits your family in many ways, remember that quality family time and individual attention is just as, if not more so, important. If it's unavoidable to work at home, then find a beneficial time for everyone. On the occasions that I need to work after hours, I make every attempt to do so in that window of time after my son is in bed, but before "me time." It allows me to be fully present with him, and I definitely notice a difference for both of us.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Not just with your partner or co-parent, but also with your employer. Find out what their policies are on flex-time and working from home. Can you come up with, and agree upon, alternative solutions to making situations like school vacations and closures or unexpected sick days work for both of you?
Be realistic in what you're proposing, as well as prepared for some trial and error, and don't forget to be equally flexible. Once you do find an alternative, make sure your immediate colleagues are aware of your arrangement so there are no surprises and they also know what to expect.
Don't Forget You!
Make yourself and your needs a priority by living the adage of putting your oxygen mask on first. It's essential yet all too easy to dismiss. Not only does it lend to being healthier but also rewards you with extra energy and focus. What recharges your batteries? Is it exercise, a mani-pedi, massage, movie, or simply some alone time? Maybe it's that cup of coffee before the kids are awake when the house is quiet. Identify what those are for you, and then implement them one at a time to produce a sustainable routine.
While my situation is not unique - there are single parents a plenty - I have a somewhat rare circumstance of being the only parent 100% of the time. There are some additional challenges with that and, while it may sound daunting, one of the ways I make it all happen is because of my employer.
Since becoming a parent, I have always looked and worked for a company that was unique in its approach to structure and understood my role and priorities as a parent. My manager has a child in college now but has not forgotten the challenges and demands of being a working parent, nor the out-of-the-box ways to make it work.
Early on we developed a working relationship built on communication, trust and respect, which allowed us to find the flexibility and creative solutions that make it all work so well for both of us. It is not always easy to come by, but it's worth holding out to find it, and I'm incredibly fortunate and grateful to work for such a supportive and progressive firm.
In The End...
Some days you'll nail it, others you'll wonder how you made it to the end of the day with everyone and everything (mostly) intact. There are many more suggestions from varied sources, and I encourage you to find what's best within your family dynamic and go from there.
Let's be honest; it's never going to be perfect...however, we can do our best each day and cushion the more difficult times with a sense of humor along the way.