by Elisa All
Eleven years ago I became pregnant for the first time. While it seems like just yesterday, the reality is that I’ve been a parent for more than a decade – and I’m still working on striking a balance between family and work. Most days, deadlines are met, projects get done, kids get to school on time, dinner is made and kids get to sleep clean and on time, and I feel that I’ve achieved some semblance of balance. But then there are those days when we’re late for school, we forget soccer practice, dinner is takeout, projects get behind and I’m not so sure! It’s a daily juggling act.
Many other parents go through a similar scenario every day. They look for ways to be as involved in the lives of their children as they can be, while maintaining – and growing – personal or career aspirations. These parents strive each day to balance their children’s needs with the needs of home and career. While most can attest that it’s not an easy feat, it’s a lifestyle choice that is becoming increasingly popular for personal and financial reasons. And the “experts” – both parents and professionals – agree that it can be done in a positive way.
“More than ever I am finding parents are trying to create a more even balance between their careers and their kids,” says Mimi Doe, author of Busy but Balanced (St. Martin’s Press). “They tell me they realize how quickly their kids grow up, and in a scary world they want to raise ‘good’ kids who are close to their family.” To achieve this, some parents choose careers that allow them to be flexible, or to be on the same schedule as their children. Others opt to start new businesses that capitalize on their ability to provide a product or service for which others will pay. Those in the corporate world can utilize alternative work schedules, job-sharing, flex-time and telecommuting to their advantage.
“Because I have a job with so much flexibility in scheduling, I have been able to tailor my hours to the specific needs of my family,” says Laura Blattner, a music teacher who is the mother of two. “I am able to work one afternoon a week while my children are with a sitter, and my remaining hours I have scheduled for Saturday mornings, when my husband is able to be with the children – and enjoy some one-on-one with them.”
The happiest working parents may be those who have careers they truly love, lessening any feelings of guilt they may have over not spending every moment with their children.
“Because my profession is such a part of who I am, I find it especially invigorating to help others learn about something I so passionately enjoy,” Blattner says. “I would say 95 percent of the time, I don’t feel guilty for working, but there is always that 5 percent, when I have to miss my daughter’s soccer game or when my toddler just can’t seem to part with me for a few hours. But I also realize that I am happier and more balanced when I have a chance to use my professional skills on a regular basis.”
Here are some parent-tested tips for balancing work and family:
• Try to connect with your kids at certain times during the day, such as at breakfast, after school or at dinner. Take a walk or read a book together. Ask them about their day and truly listen to what they have to say.
• Be involved by volunteering some time at your child’s school, trying a family gym night or “Mommy & Me” class. Sign up to coach your children’s sports team or help with their Scout troop.
• Coordinate with your spouse by checking each other’s schedules regularly. If one of you needs time to work, the other one can take the kids and do something fun. That way they feel they’re getting special time with one parent, rather than missing out on the other.
• Don’t get hung up on the word “balance.” It may make you feel that each part of your life has to get equal time, every day, which can be unrealistic. There will be days when one requires more attention than the other.
• Don’t beat yourself up. Inevitably there will be guilt over missing an event in your child’s life or missing a deadline at work. Remember that these things happen to everyone and you’re doing the best you can.