Thursday, 7 August 2014

Top 5 things you need to know to survive being a working parent

As Sheryl Sandberg says: ‘..there’s no such thing as work life balance. There’s work and there’s life and there’s no balance.’  Work-life Balance’ can feel like an elusive ideal we should be aspiring for and yet feel we never quite achieve.  What with trying to ‘balance’ meetings at work, school runs, housework and then fit in some downtime and exercise (if you’re lucky), it can feel like a constant juggling act as a parent.

As a working parent myself to a 3-month old, I know how difficult it is trying to balance everything including a career, whilst trying to remain fully functioning and happy.  With increasing pressures on parents to maintain a good career to provide a nice lifestyle for their family and deal with the financial pressures this brings, it is no wonder Stress, Depression and Anxiety disorders are on the rise. Essentially, parents are often trying to cope with two full time jobs- the one that pays the bills and looking after the kids.

That aside, there are some things that parents often forget in the midst of the juggling act that make life that bit easier:

1.    Create a support Network outside the family

Being a working parent can be isolating and it’s important to gain external support.  Even if your social life has dwindled, ensure that you make time to speak to friends, on the phone or face to face (Facebook as a last resort!). I ensure I see at least one friend a week for a coffee or lunch to keep in touch. If you want to combine it with doing some exercise all the better! Online support can also be of benefit as well, especially to connect with other parents who may be going through similar issues. Try or to find parenting forums or support groups.

2.    Create clear, flexible priorities

When you’ve got a demanding career and an active family life, you can often feel torn between your priorities and overwhelmed at trying to achieve too much at once. Having a more flexible approach can enable you to gain more sense of control over your life balance and move away from this constant state of stress.  One strategy for doing this is to list at the end or beginning of each week what your priorities are and look at what you can defer, delegate or delete from that list. Then set 2-3 clear goals for the week and put the other small goals that take a few minutes like phone calls in a ‘batch list’ and blitz these when you have some time though prioritise achieving the main goals first.

3.    Accept your limitations and what is ‘good enough’

Get out of the mindset of trying to be the perfect parent and start feeling ‘good enough’.  Deciding to keep a career going whilst being a parent inevitably means sacrifices have to be made on time spent with children. This doesn’t mean you have to then compensate with giving things, which is what parents often do to dispel their guilt.  Just accept the decisions you have made and then focus on making the time you do spend with your kids’ count- quality time matters more than anything.  Also accept your limitations and challenge your ‘ill be happy when…’ mentality as that only leads to severe dissatisfaction. Now is where you are.

4.    Find ways of being more present

Leading on from that, start exploring ways of being more in the moment.  I am sure you’ve already heard of ‘mindfulness’ if you haven’t dabbled in the practice already.  Having a ‘beginners mind’ is a Zen Buddhist practice, which essentially means being open and seeing things afresh like a curious child.  I rather like this idea as it involves getting out of your existing rut and habitual patterns and jumping into a new frame of wonderment and excitement. Ask yourself, if I had a beginners mind, how would I see my situation differently and what would I be telling myself?  Try a mindfulness practice for yourself and download the headspace app: Having children also gives you an ample excuse to let the inner child out to play every now and then!

5.    Book appointments with yourself.

This might sound a bit desperate needing to set meetings with yourself though I’ve done this for myself as well as with clients and it really does work.  Think about it, would you ignore an important meeting in your diary? Not likely though often parents neglect their own needs and can end up feeling trapped in their responsibilities.  I teach all my clients about ‘enlightened self interest’, which is about prioritising your own wellbeing with the view that if you’re healthy and happy, you’ll be able to deliver your best to others. Being flexible in your priorities also means you can sometimes make space for yourself without feeling guilty and still be a good parent.  So book that spa day now!

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