How to Find a Work-Life Balance as a Parent/Guardian
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- Parents grapple with giving their all to their careers and being there for their kids.
- Men are rewarded at work for becoming fathers, but mothers are penalized.
- Taking a break from work boosts productivity and work performance.
- When both parents spend too much time at work, kids can experience behavioral problems.
According to a 2015 Pew Research study, more than half of all working parents with children under 18 say they struggle with balancing work responsibilities alongside raising a family.
Checking emails after leaving the office, or working from home and fielding calls when the work day is over, eats into personal time. Research from BMC Public Health shows that when individuals have a poor work-life balance, they struggle with mental health challenges, stress, and physical sickness.
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"I believe too much of anything can have a negative effect eventually," says Sonya Davis, a mother and wife who works as an office supervisor. "Working too much can take a toll on family, health, and life in general."
Work-life balance is more than a catchphrase; it's a necessity. We look at what that means for working moms and working dads and practical tips for finding a sense of balance that works for you.
What is a Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance means giving equal priority to both your career demands and personal life. The idea is that you create a sense of equality, where each aspect of your life receives the same attention. While it's unlikely that you can give both things equal time, you can take steps to support your personal and professional lives.
— Laurie Ulster
Writer and TV producer Laurie Ulster says working from home allows her to take care of some daily activities during the day, so she can be present and available to spend time with her teenagers in the evening.
"What work-life balance as a parent means for me now is that I can be proud of my work and my work ethic but also turn it all off before dinner and map out time for my family," Ulster said.
Other parents, like Cindy Marie Jenkins, a consultor and editor, said communicating expectations makes a big difference. Her family knows that giving her time to finish her work allows her to devote attention to them when she's done.
Benefits of a Work-Life Balance
Figuring out when to work, rest, or spend time with family is not always an easy task. Society places a premium on workaholics and people who don't take a break. But research shows that people who take time away from work — and keep their career duties in perspective — are happier and more fulfilled. There are several benefits to carving out a work-life balance:
People experience less job burnout. They are more apt to be refreshed and renewed for their daily tasks.
Taking a break from work to enjoy family time boosts productivity and performance at work.
Parents can spend more time with their kids and be more involved in their children's lives. Personal and professional relationships benefit from balancing work and personal life.
Parents are less stressed, more patient, and less anxious. Their physical, mental, and emotional health improves.
The effort to create the balance pays off in the end.
"As a parent of adult children, I can see the transitions I've made in maintaining this balance. While my children were younger, I worked less in order to be available for them physically and emotionally. As they aged, their needs changed, and I have learned to be available for them in other ways," explains Felice Martin, MS, NCC, LPC, CPCS, of Behavioral Health Associates of Georgia.
The Fatherhood Bonus vs. the Motherhood Penalty
When working men become fathers, their change in status becomes a positive characteristic. Though it is not a direct part of their work-life, men are rewarded financially for becoming parents. The bonus of becoming a father can lead to promotions and higher wages.
The opposite reaction happens when women become mothers. Working moms say that in addition to the guilt and sadness of being away from their families, they also face repercussions at work.
"If you take a break from your career, you will lose momentum and you may have to start back at a lower level or different place from where you were," Ulster said.
Mothers earn fewer wages and are penalized for the perception of needing more family time and not working as hard. The motherhood penalty can make it more difficult for moms to set boundaries separating work and personal time.
In each of these situations, parents have to take decisive action to create the balance they want in their lives. While there is no one right solution for each person, these practical tips can help parents create the life you and your family desire.
Tips for Achieving Work-Life Balance
Set Clear Expectations
Set clear expectations with your coworkers and manager regarding your need to leave work on time each day. Furthermore, communicate that you won't take work-related calls or check emails after hours. Sending out a professional email can also ensure everyone is on the same page.
"Expectations are much clearer if they are in writing," Jenkins said.
Taking steps like these helps solidify the boundary between work and home life. If you find that your workplace team does not respect your boundaries or value your personal time, it may be time to start looking for a job with a staff that does.
Put the phone down when spending time with your kids. Decide to disconnect electronically and avoid the temptation of peeking at the latest email from work or a message from your boss.
Kids might not remember every toy you purchased or even everything you said. But kids will remember how you made them feel when you were with them. Studies show that when caregivers are distracted by their phones, kids increasingly vie for their attention. Long-term, it may hurt the parent-child relationship dynamic.
Schedule weekly or even daily time for self-care. Part of work-life balance is spending time with family, but part of it is also taking care of yourself. Self-care can include anything from taking a walk outside to reading a good book.
— Felice Martin, MS, NCC, LPC, CPCS
Ditch the guilt about taking care of yourself! It allows you to refresh, refocus, and be more present at work and home. Unfortunately, this simple tip is often overlooked. According to a study by Birchbox and market research firm Kelton Global, only 30% of Americans set aside time for self-care. Among parents, 39% say they feel guilty about taking time for themselves.
Be clear on your boundaries.
- Are you willing to work late or take work home on certain days so you can leave a little early to make your child's school play?
- Can you work on the weekend to free up time for your child's recital the following week?
- Does arriving early for work — before the crowd — improve your mental health?
Prioritizing your needs lowers stress and increases productivity. "Establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Communicate your wants and needs in an assertive manner. Learn to resolve conflict and feelings of parent guilt," Martin said.
It's OK to Not Be Perfect
Let go of the need for perfection. Achieving a balance is a give-and-take proposition. There may be times when work bleeds into family life. You may need to call your child's school during work time. It happens. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself the flexibility to do what's needed.
"Burnout is when you try to do everything all the time perfectly. Give that up. You aren't a superhero; things will fall through the cracks, and it's fine. Ask for help when you need it, and take it when it's offered," Ulster advises.
Frequently Asked Questions About Working Parents
Is it normal for both parents to work?
In nearly 60% of all households in the United States, both parents work full-time. It is a societal norm for both parents to work. Financially, rising costs and inflation can make it necessary in some households for each parent to have a job.
Some families may opt to make sacrifices in different areas to allow one parent to stay home with the children. "Both parents working can depend on the needs of a family, the goals of the parents, or the desire that the parents have to work," states Davis.
What happens when parents work too much?
When parents in the home devote too much time to their careers and not enough to family, kids can struggle with behavioral problems, mental health challenges, and have trouble bonding with their parents. It can hurt the overall family dynamic.
"Children are often left to parent themselves," Martin said. The working parents can also experience negative effects, including guilt, burnout, fatigue, and stress.
Is it OK to take a break from my career?
Stepping away from your career path is fine, as long as you understand the consequences of your decision. You may miss out on a promotion because of your time away or feel like you are playing "catch up" once you return.
However, not all consequences are bad. A break can allow you to relax, consider your next move, find a job that provides a better work-life balance, and spend more time with your family.
"If you have ways to keep your brain activated and continue networking, even if not working, then take the break!" Jenkins says. Ultimately, it is a personal decision.