Working parents make up a little more than a third of the workforce in the United States. Many working parents report feeling stressed and overwhelmed, while others report high levels of satisfaction with both work and family.
While working and parenting are both demanding of our time and energy, learning to create a strong work-life balance can make a big difference for parents who work. This article explores 5 tips to help parents create a work-life balance that serves them in their careers and in building strong relationships with their family.
#1: Be Intentional About Transitioning Between Work and Family
One of the most important aspects of creating a better work-life balance is to become more aware of the transition between the two, and making the most of it to improve your focus. When our minds are in “work-mode” we can easily transfer the stress of the workplace to those we love at home.
Use these tips to make sure you are doing your best to put work out of your mind so that you can be fully present for your family:
Make the Most of Your Commute
While sitting in traffic or riding the train may seem like a waste of your time, it is actually a perfect opportunity to get yourself into the right mindset for both work and family. Get in the habit of making use of your commute to shift your focus so you can hit the ground running at work and home.
For example, some people use their commute to work to think through some of their goals at work for the day. By the time they are at work, they have already prioritized their list and are ready to jump into those easy tasks that can help build momentum for the rest of the workday.
On the other hand, the commute home is a great opportunity to practice “letting go” of the workday and transitioning attention to nurturing the relationships of your spouse and kids.
Transition to Home Like a Pro
Another tip for working parents to maintain work-life balance is to build some healthy habits around returning home. For example, some parents find that taking a shower and changing clothes as soon as they get home is a great way to mark the transition between work and family.
Habits help create space for your brain to change gears. While it might seem trivial, creating a ritual to transition from work to home can make a big difference in your ability to focus and be emotionally present for your family members, improving these critical relationships while also saving energy for all of the work that busy parents have on their plate.
Create a Dedicated Work at Home Space and Time
For some professionals, the boundary between work and home can be blurry. For example, sales professionals often have to respond to client needs even on the weekends and evenings. In addition, many workplaces are implementing new work-from-home measures to provide parents with flexibility or because of COVID 19 (and many of these changes will last beyond the pandemic).
One of the best ways to handle situations where working from home can’t be avoided is to preserve a good boundary by making a dedicated space and blocks of time to accomplish work tasks. Blocking time in this way can help you to maintain focus and combat some of those feelings of being overwhelmed that can come from having to constantly multitask between work and family.
#2: Maintain Clear Boundaries with Work at Home
Maintaining clear and healthy boundaries is not optional for working parents. It is a requirement of both the work we do for money and the work we do for love. Getting better at maintaining healthy boundaries is critical to succeeding in our careers as well as our personal relationships.
Schedule Quality Family Time and Work Time at Home
As discussed above, scheduling a time and place for the work you have to do at home is important. However, scheduling quality time with the family is also a critical aspect of building better work/life balance for parents.
When it comes to quality time, the activities you do with your spouse and kids are less important than the amount of focus and emotional presence you are able to bring to the table. For example, even a “weekend field day” where everyone does chores around the house can be a bonding experience when the whole family works as a team to accomplish shared goals.
The point is to be intentional about working with everyone’s schedule to find time to do things as a family unit rather than simply waiting for that magical convergence to happen, and then not being prepared to make the most of it.
Be Clear with Your Employer and Coworkers About Your Boundaries
Let your coworkers and employer know that your family is important to you and that you have limitations on the time you are willing to devote to work when you are off the clock. These conversations can be difficult, but ultimately, people who maintain strong boundaries with clear communication benefit both at work and at home.
Schedule Time for Self-Care
With so many people to be accountable to, working parents often report feeling stretched too thin. If allowed to go on too long, it’s a recipe for burnout. If you get to the burnout phase, both your work and family will suffer.
Make time to take care of yourself and participate in activities that bring you pleasure and help you stay fit and healthy. In addition, make time to invest in some close friends and extended family members so that you can maintain your mental and emotional health to improve your productivity at work and home.
#3: Implement Productivity Measures at Work and Home
While doing a deep dive into productivity measures is outside the scope of this article, it is important to mention here that productivity at home and work is critical to succeeding as a working parent.
Consider learning more about techniques such as batch processing, block scheduling, and organization to get more out of your limited time both at home and at your job.
#4: Discuss Options for Flexibility with Your Employer
In the last decade, research in human resources has shown that creating a more flexible workplace boosts productivity and helps to recruit and retain top talent. As a result, more and more companies are implementing measures to accommodate the realities of working parents.
If you have hit a wall after trying some of the other techniques mentioned above, and work-life balance still feels like an unattainable dream, it might be time to go to your manager or human resources department to see if there are other options available to you to accommodate your busy schedule.
It is important to approach such conversations with the right framework. Instead of asking to do less, see if you can frame your point of view as a win-win for the employer in terms they will appreciate. For example, you might be able to keep up with your clients better if you could spend one less hour in the day at the office, but add an hour at home in the evening to catch up with correspondences.
#5: Learn How to Say No and Ask for Help
Finally, all working parents need to master the art of saying no and asking for help. This applies to both work and family.
We all have real limitations on our time and energy. If we fail to draw boundaries around our limitations, eventually we won’t just fail ourselves, but also those who count on us to get the job done.
Saying no isn't something we should feel ashamed about. In fact, if we feel ashamed about saying no it can lead to issues such as resentment, passive aggressiveness, and defensiveness. All of these can be damaging to both work and personal relationships.
Instead, learn how to draw clear boundaries using positive and clear communication and you will find that people are much more likely to respect your boundaries and give you the room you need to succeed at what you are able to do. The same is true for learning to ask for help.