In two parent homes, many families are finding it impossible to financially survive without both parents working full time jobs. There are also households where both parents prefer to work and they, just like those parents that have to have two incomes, are looking for ways to find a balance between career and home. Not only are both parents working but also in many cases they are putting in longer hours than just a decade ago.
Longer hours at work means fewer hours with the family and even less time to take care of themselves. For many parents, it’s become a frustrating and stressful cycle of never getting everything done but trying none-the-less.
Between tending to family responsibilities and careers, mom & dad are exhausted. Why? They love their kids and they love each other, but between cleaning the house, trying to prepare healthy meals, tending to daycare or school activities, dealing with work obligations (add worrying whether they may be laid off) and many are also taking care of elderly parents. It’s not surprising when both working parents become overwhelmed, stressed out, sick, and feel that life is out of control and will remain that way. The thought of actually being able to find some sort of balance seems unreachable.
But it’s not. Really.
Finding a healthy balance between work and home, however, does require willingness to re-organize priorities and perhaps change some expectations.
Be realistic about what you can accomplish. This is where changing expectations plays a role. Way too often people are multi-tasking to try and get everything done. While they may accomplish some of what they are doing, typically they are more scattered at the end of a project than when they began. Multi-tasking is the scourge of our society. While it’s often expected at work, since fewer people are doing more, multi-tasking keeps you from being able to focus and complete one project well (at home or at work.) If you’re required to multi-task on the job, leave it there when you exit your workplace. Too often, people carry that behavioral routine home with them. The high demand and intensity of trying to do too much in a short amount of time is tiring and frustrating.
Creating a schedule may seem time consuming and unrealistic, but schedules can actually help you determine priorities. What is necessary verses what is habit or just expected. When you look at where and how you spend your time you can begin to see where you really need to be and what you really have to do.
Parents can begin to see how much of their life is dedicated to family time together and how much is dedicated to working or running errands. You may notice that even though you spend an awful lot of time trying to get everything taken care of, it’s not working for you. Time to re-set your priorities.
Another re-arranging of priorities is learning how to say no at work. Demands at work can feel absolute, that you don’t have a choice. But, more often than not, you do have a choice. You have to know your limits and what you can take on and what you can’t. You may even be offered an opportunity that you’d like to do - perhaps something new and different. It’s a choice. Setting limits may have repercussions. You may not advance as quickly as some others, you may not bring home the overtime pay, or you may not be considered “ a team player.” Yes, all these things might happen, but on the other side of that decision is you will have more time to relax, to be with your children and experience their growing up, more time with your spouse and more time to do other things you enjoy (remember those?).
Understand there is no textbook schedule or way to do everything. The house may only need straightening. If your children are old enough, give them some home responsibilities. Kids don’t have to be engaged in every after school sport or activity available. Pick one or two. If you have multiple children – stick to one each. Help them choose creative outlets at home so that you’re not running from one place to the next. Many parents are running kids to and from scheduled activities. Each parent is driving a child somewhere – like ships passing in the evening and weekend hours. It may be time to dock.
And speaking of both parents… take time for each other. How many parents feel more like roommates than lovers and friends? Intimacy and romance don’t have to become a thing of the past, but they often do when kids arrive and the stress of child rearing and working combine with being fatigued. I know you’ve heard it before, but schedule a date night or weekend. You don’t have to do it every week, because there are weeks that it’s just not possible. But schedule it when it you can and make it count.
If you’ve got small children, ask for help. Turn to your extended family, friends, baby-sitters or any others that may be available and ask for assistance.
And while it’s important to spend time with your kids and your spouse, because these are the most important people in your life, it’s also necessary to spend some time alone or with your own personal friends. Schedule some “me” time and do something you enjoy.
Take care of yourself. Many parents neglect their health, their hobbies and their friends because they just don’t pencil themselves in. I know you’re too tired, do it anyway.
Whether you are mom or dad, everyone needs a little personal time. You may be part of a family, a parent, an employee or an employer, a son, a daughter, a brother or sister… but you’re also an individual.
When both parents work, it’s hard to find a good balance between career and family. It is do-able though and it’s worth it. You can set healthy limits on your responsibilities.
You may not find all the solutions you need at first, but you’ll get better as priorities become clearer. Finding the right balance isn’t about perfection, it’s about a peaceful heart and making the moment that is happening right now, the moment that is right for you and your family.