This post is from staff writer Holly Johnson.
I am sure you’ve heard the saying, “A mother’s work is never done.” This is especially true for parents who continue working after they’ve had kids. Even after putting in a full day on the job, working parents still have a variety of things that have to be done. In fact, finishing up your day job usually means beginning work on a second wave of responsibilities.
If you’re like me, your second job might include things like making dinner, cleaning up, bath time and helping with homework. Of course, the laundry that’s been in the dryer for three days desperately needs to be put away. And the fact that you’re out of bread and milk means that a trip to the store is in order. Despite the best effort of any working parent, it can be a daunting task to get everything done.
Giving myself a break
Although I can sometimes be a perfectionist, I try not to be too hard on myself. After all, my house is pretty clean, and the toys are usually put away. I make dinner most nights and I love on my kids every chance I get. But, even though I seem to manage things quite well from an outsider’s perspective, my internal judge feels otherwise. I’ve certainly experienced my share of “inadequate” feelings.
In fact, my mother called just the other day to see if I forgot to invite her to my daughter’s birthday party. I panicked. I had completely forgotten the fact that my daughter’s second birthday was only a few weeks away. I quickly scrambled to invite family and friends and hoped that the short notice wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Even though I’m sure it will turn out fine, I decided then and there that I needed to become more organized when it comes to how I divvy up my time.
Asking an expert for help
To gain some perspective on how working parents can make the most of their situation, I reached out to author Laura Vanderkam for help. Laura is the author of “What the Most Successful People Do at Work,” “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” “All The Money In The World,” and “168 Hours.” Her work has also appeared in USA Today, CBS MoneyWatch, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Fortune.com, and many other publications. In addition to being the mother of three small children, Laura writes about many topics including time management, financial planning, and a variety of workplace and career issues.
Here is some of Laura’s advice for fostering a healthy work-life balance, properly managing your time, and the coping with the benefits and drawbacks of being a working parent:
1. Keep a time log. Laura says that whenever people ask her for advice, she always suggests that they keep a time log in the same way that someone watching their diet might keep a food journal. “Write down how you’re spending your time, as often as you remember, ideally for a week. You’ll start to see patterns in how you use your time, and you may see that you’re devoting lots of time to things that aren’t important to you.” She also suggests questioning anything and everything that you’ve gotten in the habit of doing. “Does the house really need to be picked up each night? It will just get dirty again in the morning, and you’ll never get that hour back.” In addition, Vanderkam also advocates taking a close look at your driving habits. “Maybe your kids can do fewer activities or you can organize more carpools. If you hate commuting, maybe you can negotiate to work from home on Wednesdays, so you never have to commute more than two days in a row,” says Vanderkam.
2. Don’t multitask. When asked about how to create a healthy work-life balance, Laura’s advice made me completely rethink my current time-management strategy. “Don’t multitask,” says Vanderkam. “When you’re with your kids, enjoy your kids, rather than trying to sneak in an email here or there. Likewise, when you’re focused on work, there’s no point stewing over whether you should be doing something else. Once you’ve chosen to do something, do it the best you can.”
3. Choose a career that is flexible. Laura also recommends choosing flexible work hours when possible. In addition, she spelled out the virtues of working at home as a way to extract more value out of your working hours. “One study found that the ability to choose your hours (and work at home) makes it possible to work a lot more hours — like 50 percent more hours than you could working in an office at set times — without feeling work-life stress. I’ve found that’s true for me. I generally work 45-50 hours a week, but I eat lunch with my kids almost every day, and can pop out of my office to celebrate milestones or just enjoy a snuggle,” says Vanderkam.
4. Working parents can “have it all.” It’s just a matter of making the most of the time we have available, says Vanderkam. “If you define having it all as being able to build a rewarding career and a happy family, sure, you can have it all. Many people do. I think you can even have time for hobbies, exercise, and sleep in there as well.” She also stressed the importance of being confident in your decision to be a working parent. “Don’t over-think it. Kids need time and money, and as a working parent, you’re providing both,” says Vanderkam.
5. Think long and hard before cutting back at work. Cutting back at work isn’t necessarily the answer, says Vanderkam. “One big problem is when women (and sometimes, men) listen to the cultural narrative that easing up on work is the best way to combine work and family.” Instead of cutting back, she suggests accelerating your career to create new opportunities. The additional money that is brought in by working full-time can be used to free up more time to spend with your family. “Cutting back exacts quite a financial penalty — often a disproportionate one — and time diary studies show that parents who work part-time don’t spend much more time interacting with their kids than parents who work full-time,” says Vanderkam.
6. Take the long view. Vanderkam also believes that staying in the workforce can be beneficial for parents when you consider the big financial picture. “If you keep building your career, most likely your income will rise, and over time, your childcare costs will fall,” says Vanderkam. She says that parents should view the costs of child care as an investment in their career.
What are your biggest struggles as a working parent? What are your strategies for overcoming them?