How to keep a work-life balance

It’s not easy balancing work and home, but how well you manage this can make a significant difference to your relationship with your family. There are pros and cons to every option. If you are employed full-time or part-time, you may:

  • have a better standard of living and have fewer money problems.
  • feel pleased you’re making a contribution and have more self-esteem.
  • have friends and a social life outside the home.

But you may also feel:

  • overwhelmed with too much work
  • that you are missing out on family life.
  • that you’re not there for your kids or your partner.
  • resentful of how much you have to do around the house.
  • too tired or busy to enjoy your social life.

There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices, and your choices will change at different stages in your family’s life. If you are in a couple, it may feel easier if one partner stays at home while the other goes out to work or if one is in full-time employment and the other part-time, and for others, both may continue with full-time jobs. If you are a parent managing on your own or sharing parenting with your ex, the choices you have are more limited and you’ll have less support in making those choices. Trying to balance work and home life is even more difficult. You may not always feel in control but there are things you can do and think about to help manage the balance between work and home.

Work life balance is something most parents really crave. Recent surveys reveal that many parents are eager to make changes so they can work more flexibly, even if it affects their pay, because they know that having time with their children is important.

In reality though, getting the balance right is tricky. Truth is we work longer hours in this country than anyone else in Europe, so chances are when Britain’s parents finally arrive home they may not have the energy for a game of football in the park, or six rounds battling with the maths homework waiting on the kitchen table. Making changes at work by talking your hours through with your boss is a good step, but even if you can’t make big changes, or don’t want to, some small steps – the tiniest changes to routine – can make the biggest difference, to your children and to you.

Here’s five things parents we spoke to suggest trying for starters:

  • Come in relaxed. If you need to, take 10 minutes to shower and change before you sit down with the children. Children pick up on moods and will sense your unhappiness with the family routine if you run in, complaining about hold ups at work, or missed meals and late bedtimes. But if you seem relaxed about the daily routine, they’ll relax and take it in their stride, too – even if they see you for just 30 minutes every evening, or at the weekend if you work away or live separately.
  • Come in and eat with your children. If it’s late and they’ve already eaten, get into the habit of sitting down and enjoying a light snack and a chat with them before they go up to bed. The chat doesn’t have to be about anything heavy. Telling them about your day, an interesting job you’ve done or a person you’ve met may encourage them to tell you about theirs but it’s not guaranteed.  Every evening can be different, but that sit down over dinner can become one of the most enjoyable parts of your family’s routine.
  • Do something together. It doesn’t have to be anything special or take very long. The fact is your children will just enjoy being around you for a short time each day – while you water the garden, take the dog round the block, or pick up their brother or sister from a friend’s. As long as you’re relaxed, and listening to their chat, they’ll be happy.
  • Enjoy the bedtime routine. Bathtime, storytime, or both if there’s time. If you have relaxed and eaten, it will help low energy levels, and may help you keep your eyes open during that bedtime story!  You know your children don’t need, or want, full on entertainment, just having your quiet company while they play in the bath or a short story at bedtime will be enough for them. Then you can watch your children settle down happy to know you’re there.
  • Make one night your special night. Movie night, Lego night or computer game night. Whatever they fancy. Few dads can join in with their children’s post-school fun and games every evening, but your children will love to know that there’s one night when everything stops, just for them.

However you approach this, it is important to enjoy the time you have with your children. We understand that this is not always easy to do but the smallest changes can make the world of difference.  Spending time with your children can help your family relationships become stronger and develop tighter bonds.