All parents work, whether they get paid for it or not, and whether they leave the house each day or not. To be a working parent means you have your foot in two camps, that of work (whether it is house-work or office-work) and that of home and family. The ability to devote enough time to both can be, for many parents, an overwhelming challenge to overcome. As a mum I have experienced several models. I was a ‘stay at home mum’ for the first three years of my son’s life. I then worked as a teacher in a large international school, until I set up my own company and was able to choose the hours that I worked.
I now work as an educational consultant, trainer and parenting educator in Dubai and part of my role finds me helping parents cope with this impressive juggling act. I was recently employed by a company in Dubai to run a workshop for their working parents. It is impressive to imagine that a company not only acknowledges that many of their staff are parents, but is actively working towards helping them learn more skills to succeed in meshing both work and home into a productive life.
This impressive group of working parents, both mothers and fathers identified the very real challenges they face such as trying to have enough energy to spend with their children at the end of an exhausting day at work and coping with the guilt induced from the afterschool phone call from their children, “Mum when are you coming home?” Considering this I found myself drawn to one definite conclusion on how to overcome the challenges for working parents.
How you spend your time must be a conscious decision that fits your authentic needs.
Costs and Trade Offs
There are costs and trades off for any decision. Which job should I take? When should I go back to work? Will my children be ok in full time nursery? At different times and stages in each of our parenting journeys decisions need to be made that fit with what is right for our family at that time. A conscious decision is made by weighing up the pros and cons and listening to yourself to see what ‘feels’ right. When you are being as true to yourself and your family as you can and meeting your own authentic needs you can feel yourself working more in line with the flow of life and things feel less of a struggle. You will know when you are not being authentic to your own needs because you will be feeling like you are pushing water up hill. It is essential to listen to yourself.
Begin With the End In Mind
In order to ensure you are meeting your authentic needs I encourage you to ‘begin with the end in mind’. An effective company has a mission statement and goals to follow to help their employees align with their company beliefs and have a plan to follow on how they can best get there. Bringing this very fundamental ‘company’ practice back into our family can produce the same results. If each family member actively helps write the family mission and goals everyone knows where the family is going and has a plan to get there. It is a powerful tool in helping you commit to the big picture parenting. A sacrifice feels less harmful when you know the purpose of it for the long term.
Spending Time Wisely
A study conducted in UK revealed that working parents spend an average of 19 minutes looking after their children each day. While this varies family to family what can be gained from it is the need to make the conscious choice to ensure the minutes we have with our children each day count. I find the effects of most of our parenting challenges such as toddler tantrums, putting children to bed, doing homework, and getting children off to school in the morning can be minimized or even eradicated when families hold two rules sacred:
Set aside a special ‘family time’ each week for: planning, communicating, teaching values, and having fun together.
Have regular one-on-one family bonding times with each member of your family.During this time it is essential you follow the other person’s agenda for them to experience it as true quality time with you.
Many parenting challenges are cries for attention as each of us has an overwhelming need to ‘belong’ and feel ‘significant’. When this need is being met by those we love each of us feels fulfilled and there is less need to demand that attention in a negative way. The connection also helps each person cope with the stresses in life.
Self Awareness: Be a proactive change agent in your family.
One working father told me he would use the drive home from work to ‘undo’ his day and shift his energy from a work zone to a home zone. He said he would stay in his car until he felt calm and relaxed enough to enter his house in a positive way. He would then make a point of going up to each member of his family and make a positive connection with them even if only for a few moments.
Each of us has a responsibility to be in charge of ourselves. I talk to parents about having a ‘love cup’ inside of them. When your cup is full you feel happy, peaceful and able to cope with anything. Then your child requires something of you and you pour some ‘love juice’ from your cup into theirs. Then your partner requires something of you and you pour into their cup also and so on until your own cup is empty. If you left for work with an empty cup it is hard to imagine how effective you will be at work least of all when you return home that night. But whose job is it to fill your ‘love cup’? Sadly many of us require our families to be the ones to keep our cups full, however the responsibility for this lies with each of us alone.
Consider what things keep your love cup full. What are the things that don’t need to cost a cent that you enjoy doing? Next consider when the last time you did those things was. You will become more successful as a working parent if you ensure your own love cup is as full as possible. Your family will benefit from your cup being full also.
It really does just boil down to one simple word ‘attitude’. We all can choose to focus on what we don’t like in life and see our cup as half empty or we can choose to focus on what is going well and see our cup as half full. It takes a whole lot of energy to focus on guilt. It is counterproductive as it is only working to drain our cup further.
It is when we become more conscious with our decisions for ourselves and our families and take more responsibility for keeping ourselves balanced and focused on our long term goals that the challenges of being a working parent are overcome. In order to get there, we need to do all we can to strategize for success. If we set the stage in such as way that we know we can succeed by being more conscious in our decisions to work and more conscious in our use of our time, then we are being the most effective parent we can be. First and foremost we are teaching our children through our own actions the merits of working.