Family/Work Balance – can it exist?

March 22, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

Do you ever worry about how to manage the fine balance between work and home life?

If you are like most working parents you will probably feel like you are not fulfilling any of your roles (parent, partner, employee) to the best of your ability. So how do you create some balance? As parents we constantly feel guilty – guilty about having others look after our children, guilty that we aren’t doing enough for them, guilty that we sometimes cut corners both at work and at home.

Family life balance

The reality for many families is that both parents have to be in some form of paid work. In fact approximately 2/3 of Australian families have two parents engaged in some form of work outside the home (Jarema & Xenos, 2004) and around 50% of children under 12 are in some form of childcare for some part of their week. With that use of childcare comes a whole range of feelings of guilt, worry, and inadequacy. Are we as parents doing the best by our children and will the choices we are making impact on their long term development?

So should we be making the choice not to work, and spend more time with our children? Will that make us happier; will that make our children happier? Probably not, because when we choose to work it can bring sense of satisfaction, adult interaction, and wellbeing. A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2001 found that 2/3 of children thought that their parents worked the “right amount of time”. So children aren’t wanting their parents to work less, rather they are looking at how their parents’ work impacts on them – that is, do they see enough of their parents. The children surveyed said they would like just a little bit more time with their parents each day. Interestingly, the children of working parents almost all said they wanted to work when they were parents. When children are asked about what they would like from their parents, they say things like parents being able to come to school events, knowing a little about their lives (but not too much), parents being less stressed and having some time just together.

When we think about what is important to give our children, we often think of it in terms of material items – clothes, financial security, food, opportunities. What they actually need most is some of our time. When children have a small amount of dedicated time with one or both of their parents on a regular basis then they are less likely to have a range of problem behaviours. So just setting aside five or 10 minutes each day where you sit and talk or play with your child without disruption, without instruction (let them guide you), and without competing demands will make a difference.

So what can you do to help foster your relationship with your child and find some balance again?

  1. Set aside some quality time each day. Be creative or flexible in how you do this – breakfast together with the tv and radio off; 10 minutes playing whatever the child wants; a walk after work; time talking before sleep… whatever works for your family.
  2. Negotiate with your employer for some time to attend school activities, or organise a fill in if you can’t go (friend, relative, neighbour etc)
  3. Listen and hear your child – don’t just ask the standard questions that need only one word answers (e.g. rather than “how was school today” ask “tell me 3 things you did today at school”)
  4. Find one thing to praise your child for each day – give them a sense of self worth
  5. Know where they are and who they are with
  6. Let your children make mistakes and learn from experiences – don’t expect them to be happy all the time. They need to learn how to bounce back.
  7. Find out if your workplace will allow some flexibility in work hours. Can you work from home some days? Vary your start and finish times? Job share?
  8. And finally, accept that near enough can be good enough – for you and your child. It is okay to have take-away food occasionally, have a messy house, be a little disorganised. If you take the pressure of yourself you will be less stressed and everyone benefits.

Dr Emma Little
Stepping Stones Psychology

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