Here, you can read about the worries you can experience as a working parents and how you can tackle them. But the employer also plays an important role.
“You choose, you lose” is a common expression, but does it have to be the same for the work-life balance? After all, choosing in favour of one is not choosing against the other. We must strive to replace the old “or... or” mentality with “and... and”.
Lack of time
One of the biggest problems when your children are going to school, is a lack of time. Plannings for work and school often don’t correspond, you don’t have time in the evening to help with schoolwork, and that excursion falls right on the same day as your big project at work.
How can you tackle this lack of time without conjuring 30-hour days out of your magic hat or endangering your sleeping pattern?
Maintaining the work-life balance
A good work-life balance is a win-win for both employers and employees. After all, a balance between your job and your personal life leads to less absenteeism and stress, and as an employee, you’re more involved and more positive towards challenges and obstacles.
There used to be ‘natural networks’: parents, friends and family who could take care of the children from time to time. But because everyone has to work longer, these natural networks exist less. The key word for parents who want a work-life balance is therefore flexibility, from both employee and employer. Employees need to have a say in how much, when, and where they work. And in many places, this should be possible, because the Coronavirus situation has shown how much is possible in terms of working independent of time and place.
Try not to ask your boss for more flexibility, try to sell it to them. Be specific and focus on the mutual benefits of flexibility.
Take your time to evaluate the situation. Talk to your partner about the work-life balance. Try to make some small changes, like one partner starting and ending work early. Test out these changes for maybe two weeks, and then evaluate how you feel about them
Engagement in school
When it comes to school activities, it’s hardly ever the right time. A good way to fulfill your responsibilities, is by establishing priorities: decide which activities you and your child think are most important, and try to be engaged in those. But make sure to stay realistic: you can’t go to every school excursion, you can’t be home every holiday, you can’t accompany them to every hobby.
Communicate all of this clearly with your child and try to explain which things you have to sacrifice and for which reasons.
Also in terms of schoolwork, it is not always possible to follow everything. That' s why it' s important that your child learns to learn. The more independently your child can work for school, the less time you have to spend explaining new things. Ask the teacher about possible 'learning to learn' programmes, show your child from the start how to learn to work independently, and gradually reduce your influence, and finally, plan a fixed time each day when your child can ask questions about more difficult lessons, instead of you constantly helping.
When summer ends, be prepared for your child going to school. Which books do you have to buy? Does your child need a new calculator? Is the school bag not too worn out yet? If you leave all these questions until the first day of school, you will soon be swamped. That' s why it' s important to look ahead at how best to prepare your child's return to school. Make a list of all the necessities that can be purchased in advance (binders, books, pencil case, lunch box, ...) and make sure they are all ready at least a week in advance. This will save you a lot of stress and time on the day itself. Also make sure that the transport to school is already fixed. Does your child use public transport? Then make sure you have all the necessary passes. By bike? Check all tyre pressure, brakes and lights. Also make sure your child is well acquainted with the route to and from school. A few quiet summer days are the ideal time to explore.
Before and after school time
Working parents better avoid planning meetings and important assignments at the start or end of a day. Rather, plan them in the middle, ideally between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. With a child, you can never be 100% efficient, so it’s a good idea to give yourself some breathing space for any unforeseen situations raising a child entails.
Use the same skills you need at work when raising your child. Someone with organisational talents can work well with schedules, fixed routines and time management.
Discuss with your child early enough what the day will look like. For many parents, it' s not easy to be ready for work at 4 p.m., let alone pick up their child from school. So think about your options: Is your child old enough to stay home alone? Does the school or municipality offer after-school care, activities or clubs? Are there other places such as family, friends or neighbours where your child can go? If you know about this in advance, you don't have to worry about it when the time comes, and your child can even have a say in it. If you have planned this in advance with your child, you’ll be calm and collected, even during the sometimes stressful schooldays.
A creative parent can easily transform a problem into a challenge and can change all available we-time into ‘wow-time’. Think back of which memories had the greatest impact on you. Do you remember the neatly ironed clothes and the home cooked meals, or rather playing football in the park and tackling those pesky multiplication tables together? Try to prioritize creating beautiful and educational memories.
Routine, routine, routine
People are creatures of habit, because a fixed planning provides certainty. This is definitely useful for parents of children attending school. Make sure your child gets up, has breakfast and leaves for school at the same time every day. Maybe schedule an hour or two after school for your child to do his/her homework while you follow up on some e-mails or read reports.
During holiday breaks, it's a good idea to start this routine (especially getting up, breakfast, going to bed, ...) a few days before school starts, so that you and your child can get used to it. The summer break for instance, relaxes the daily structure, which can make the return a difficult one. By rebuilding this structure on a gradual basis, you avoid complaining and a bad mood.
Keep on talking
Talk to your children about what lies ahead of them. In this way you not only give them a sense of maturity and control, but also give them an idea of what they can expect. If you're on the same wavelength, it's also easier to discuss and plan for changes in routine or activities afterwards. Also try to talk to your child about school: what was it like, what did you learn, who did you see? This will make you look engaged and interested. On the other hand, talk about your working day, so that your child gets an idea of your responsibilities and daily schedule.
Second, discuss your situation with your boss and colleagues. By bringing up personal events, your boss will be more open to let you work a little more flexibly or to let you leave earlier.
Your colleagues can also offer interesting perspectives, so ask them how they deal with the work-life balance as far as their children are concerned. This way, you might learn things or get some inspiration to make your own routine and approach run smoother.
Organisation, planning and communication are without doubt the key words for a healthy work-life balance. Make sure that these elements become your priority, both at work, in your private life and in your child's school life. As author A. A. Milne said, “Organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it's not all mixed up.”
Patience and delegating tasks are also crucial when raising your child. You can’t do everything yourself, and you don’t have to. Just be selective and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to outsource some tasks. Share your responsibilities with your partner and use a schedule. That way, both parents are on the same wavelength and both get their fair share of parent time.
The right work-life balance is not a one-way street. The employer also plays an important role. Here are some tips for employers:
- Be engaged in your employees’ parenthood. Even an informal conversation about the children’s lives gives employees the feeling that their situation is taken into account. Make sure to consider them in internal communications too, such as policy updates or meetings.
- Ask working parents what they need. If the employer takes the initiative, employees are more likely to talk about their needs and wishes open-heartedly. Open communication and flat hierarchies are important here: the flatter the hierarchy, the more an employee has the feeling that the employer is open to communication, the more the employee is willing to discuss a proposal.
- Use technology to let employees work more flexibly. That way, parents can do their jobs as well or better than before, without interrupting their family life.
- Invest in employee benefits, such as flexible working hours, working from home or training general-purpose staff. A happy employee is a productive employee.
- For working parents in large companies, additional facilities for household tasks are a huge benefit. Some large companies, for example, have a day-care, services for groceries or ironing, or satellite offices.