Balancing parental duties with work

Practical Tips

Going back to work after a gap can be stressful at the best of times but put children and family commitments into the mix and you’ve got a real challenge!

I have navigated working full-time outside the home with 2 small children (and returning after each maternity leave), then taking a redundancy and being a stay-at-home-mum. I then returned to full-time work, then was a SAHM again, and most recently I’ve been working for myself (with my now teenagers and my husband all at home!).

What I’ve learned (in normal times):

  1. Something’s gotta give.  You simply cannot work full time and manage all that comes with small children unless you are lucky enough to be able to afford an army of helpers.  Accept that things will not be perfect.  Maybe you didn’t get that wash on, the floor hasn’t been cleaned or you didn’t get to test you child’s spellings. Maybe you forgot to buy bread and they’ve had to have crackers for lunch. That’s ok.  Everyone will survive on a few crackers or if the floor hasn’t been swept!  Some things can wait.
  2. Get/Accept help.  If you can afford it, it is worthwhile getting a cleaner.  Or a takeaway.  Or the groceries delivered.  Or a neighbour to drop the kids to school.  Don’t forget, if you are living with your partner and you are both working, that there should be some equal distribution of tasks (this can be a tricky one if you are returning to work after being at home, as a lot of domestic tasks may have fallen to you then.  Have a conversation around responsibilities and expectations).  If you are lucky enough to have willing and able family members nearby, take them up on any offers of help too, especially at the beginning when you are finding your feet in a new job.  You don’t have to do all the things by yourself.
  3. Communicate with your partner or anyone else who needs to know.  Share your schedule or make clear when you need time to concentrate on work (e.g., if you need to go in early or work late). This way no one gets surprised or “assumes” you are available and there’s no confusion.  This works both ways.
  4. Be organised.  In normal times when we are all racing out the door, it pays to be organised so precious time isn’t lost, and you don’t end up late or in a hot mess of stress before you even get to work.  Lay out clothes, have chargers, keys, handbag etc at the ready.  Same goes for schoolbags, kitbags, lunch money, school projects, permission slips too (and as we all know it’s important to check schoolbags for notes etc!).  Make sure alarms are set and pick-up/drop-off arrangements made, so everyone is clear.

And in these working-from-home and home-schooling days:

  • Don’t stress too much.  A lot of people are in your position and employers (should) recognise this.  So, if your child runs in during a Zoom call, that’s ok, it’s not the end of the world (remember Robert Kelly and the child skimming across the floor in the walker?  And he was on the news, not just in an office Zoom call!)
  • Don’t sweat the schooling from home.  Granted it is a huge challenge, especially with smaller children.  Do what works.  Little and often may suit when you are working around work meetings too.  With older children, it is good to remember that schooling from home can give them a great grounding in independent learning.  Teachers recognise that there can be demands on shared devices, wonky internet etc and in my experience seem to be very understanding.
  • Make sure you all have a break from the screens and try to get a bit of exercise and fresh air.  Maybe schedule some family time to do this, especially if everyone has been online for a lot of the day.
  • Screen time perks.  Your children being online more than you would ordinarily allow is ok at the minute.  Frankly, it is totally boring for them and there is little else to do in free time.  It also allows them some chill-out time and it is a mode of connection with their friends when they can’t meet up with them.  And it has the added bonus of allowing you some uninterrupted time to work or relax!
  • Childcare is key.  In all cases, pandemic or none, good, reliable childcare, where you know that your children will be well looked after, is priceless.

I hope these tips have helped.  The overarching theme is to take it easy on yourself and not take on too much.   Sometimes good enough is good enough. Good luck!

Collette Bryson, Life and Career Coach