For working parents, life is a non-stop juggling act. You’re constantly pulled in two opposing directions. Some days, a school play, sports match or sick child means leaving work early. At other times, a late meeting, a deadline or overseas travel means you don’t see enough of your family. Whichever way you lean, another area of your life seems to get neglected. And with that come feelings of guilt – either that you are not showing adequate commitment to your career, or that you should be spending more time with your children.
The notion of a work/life balance – where your career does not encroach on your personal life, and the demands of parenthood don’t pull you away from work – is an ideal all working parents strive for. But is it a realistic aim? Does anyone achieve this perfect, harmonious balance? Cayman Parent asked three working Cayman mums to share their strategies and advice. – Natasha Were
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to balancing work and family, but some arrangements will adapt themselves better to your life and work style than others.
“My previous job gave me no flexibility at all”, Georgie Loxton recalls. “The hours were fixed, but I didn’t have to work much outside those hours. Now, my days are really flexible. I can leave work at any time and pick up the kids from school or from a club, and I can be there at their concerts – but I never log off. I work in the evenings and at weekends and my mind is always on it. But I like it better this way”.
For others, the opposite may be true. Leaving work at 5pm and not being expected to take calls or respond to emails after hours can translate as being able to give their full attention to their family when they are at home. Everyone is different: only you can figure out the best work arrangement for you.
Remember, you’re not superwoman and you can’t do everything yourself.
Take it from Maria, business owner and mother of eight. Delegating is the way to get things done. There is no reason the kids can’t help with simple chores around the house and, she points out, it teaches them to be responsible and cooperative at home. “Every evening at family worship, we discuss being a team, and how everyone doing their duties helps to ease the burden. I even delegate tasks to my children’s friends when they come over”, she says. Just as important, is being comfortable with sharing the workload with your partner, Anaick opines. Regardless of whether he is the main breadwinner, caring for children is a 24/7 job that is best met when both parents are hands-on.
Success means different things to different people: for some it may mean heading up a particular project, for others winning an award or achieving a certain level of income. Or it may mean finding a job that gives you the flexibility to take time out when needed.
“Don’t judge your own success by comparing yourself to others”, says Anaick. “There is no correlation between the two. Success is relative and subjective. On some days mustering the energy for my own workout in a hospital room, when my son was hospitalised, was a success. On other days, launching a new fitness programme is a success”. So figure out what success looks like to you, then start working towards that goal.
For ‘momtrepreneur’ Anaick, spending time with her son in the crucial early years is her priority, even if it means turning down new business opportunities. Instead of taking on as many clients as she has time for, she’s keeping numbers down and aiming for exceptional service. It’s a question of quality, not quantity.
Learn to say ‘no’ at home and at work. Prioritise and choose which events or meetings it is productive or essential for you to go to – and politely decline the others. The same goes for social engagements. Don’t feel obliged to accept every invitation, instead choose those that will be enjoyable and fulfilling.
Everybody knows the benefits of regular exercise and a healthy diet – but finding the time is always the challenge. Carving out a few precious hours for yourself is not selfish though – it’s the opposite. If you are not in good health and good spirits how can you take care of your family?
For Georgie, exercise is a huge coping mechanism. “My CrossFit sessions are in my diary and are non-negotiable”, she says. “that one hour is purely dedicated to me”. Although there is no time in Maria’s schedule for the gym (she does lunges while holding her baby, or does lifts with a six-inch block outside her house, instead) she makes a point of planning time for herself with close friends, and sets aside time for her online studies.
A little time out is often the best way to hit the rest button. If you can squeeze in an hour or two a week where you are just you – not a parent, boss or employee – doing something you enjoy, you’ll feel refreshed and recharged – and that feeling will filter through to everyone at home and at work.
Avoiding manic mornings will make for a calmer day: pack yours and your children’s bags and get their and your own clothes ready the night before. Check their school bags each evening for letters informing you of bake sales or school trips they might have forgotten to give you. And make leaving the house that bit easier by always leaving your keys, purse and other essentials in the same place, preferably close to the front door.
Achieving or working towards a work/life balance does not mean you should divide your time equally between work and home. It doesn’t even mean you need to achieve a balance between career and parenting each day. Every day is different, every family and career is different, so be flexible and fluid in your definition of balance: some days you may be a model employee or boss, other days you may be a devoted parent. So think of balance as a more long term concept: if over the long term, the number of good days at work is roughly equal to the number of good days at home, you’ve got things pretty well balanced.
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