Finding Balance: 7 Expert Tips for Working Parents

PHOTO: September 16 is Working Parents Day. Here are 7 tips for finding balance.Jasper Cole/Getty Images
September 16 is Working Parents Day. Here are 7 tips for finding balance.

Frazzled. Exhausted. Guilt-ridden. These are just a few phrases many working parents use to describe themselves. When every day seems like a struggle, when it feels like you can barely breathe, when you're literally running from one place to another, it's time to slow down and give yourself a break.

Tuesday is National Working Parents Day and while the origin of the day is unknown, HolidayInsights.com calls it a day to give "recognition to moms and dads who work hard to provide for their children. Every day dad, and often mom, go off to work. They work hard to earn money to make ends meet. They work hard to be able to afford the extras that kids want and need. This includes things like school trips, funding the proms, athletics, music, dance classes, clubs, and much, much more."

"If you're a working parent, then I don't need to tell you that it can be tough, you live it every day," said Nancy Aragon, assistant professor at Argosy University Online Programs' College of Behavioral Sciences. "Even so, there is some good news to celebrate on the work-life balance front."

Here are her 7 top tips for finding that elusive "balance."

1) Take advantage of work places that are becoming more employee-centric.

Employers are beginning to recognize that their employees’ well-being and happiness is directly associated with a better bottom line. This represents expanded opportunities for work-life balance options such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting (even part time), job-sharing, and wellness initiatives. Talk with your manager or HR representative to learn more about your organization’s policies. Often, organizations have great policies and resources but don't communicate them very effectively with employees. So, take the initiative and ask. Even if there aren't any official work-life policies in your workplace, managers are often very willing to work out custom schedules and options with individual employees.

2) You have a purpose-filled life, so use it.

Work-life balance has traditionally been viewed through the lens of scarcity and inherent conflict. Involvement in work must mean lack of involvement in family and vice-versa. Happily, this is not necessarily true. More recent research suggests that there are benefits and synergy gained from being involved in work, family and community. So, take a moment to reframe the way you think about your various work and family obligations. Your life overflows with purpose. That is a cause for celebration. Not really feeling the love yet? Here is a counter-intuitive suggestion that works –- volunteer more. Volunteer in community activities such as at your children's schools or the local animal shelter or whatever you are passionate about in your community. The research backs up this counter-intuitive suggestion -- the more you do, the happier you feel and the more satisfied you are with your work-life balance. But wait, there is even more good news. Many employers have policies to encourage community involvement among their employees by allowing employees to volunteer during paid work time. Look into it with your company. If your employer doesn't have this type of policy yet, it could be time to suggest it.

3) Technology: Learn when to set boundaries.

No doubt about it: Technology has improved the quality of our daily lives. Too much of a good thing isn't good though, particularly when it comes to technology encroaching on work-life balance. Try setting technology boundaries for yourself and your family. Set boundaries for when you will accept work calls or emails and when you won’t. Set boundaries with your family regarding technology-free together time too.

4) To laugh or cry: The choice is yours.

Laughter is great medicine. That old truth is extremely applicable to working parents seeking balance. When the hair-pulling, frustrating details of work-life balance assaults you, step back and try to view your circumstances as if it were a scene in your favorite comedy movie. We love being an audience member watching this kind of drama unravel, so why not love it from center-stage too? You can't always change your circumstances, but you certainly can change how you react to them.

5) Delegate and combine family time.

Any time can be family time –- cooking meals, cleaning house, doing homework or yard work are great examples of potential family time opportunities. Family time doesn't have to be a scarce and precious commodity carved out after all other work is done. Bring the family to the daily routine chores and delegate responsibilities. Even young children can help, with a little planning, oversight and creativity. You might just be amazed at how much family time you actually have while also getting necessary tasks accomplished. Dinner preparation can be a family affair instead of just one more thing for an exhausted parent to take care of. This is also a great way to help teach your children life skills and model the idea that a good work ethic can be fun and rewarding.

6) Celebrate mini-wins every day.

I am a big believer in daily to-do lists. Setting aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to jot down my daily to-do's has become one of my cherished "me-time" rituals. Not only does it help ensure that I don't forget an important task, committee meeting, or orthodontist appointment, it gives me the opportunity to celebrate little mini-wins every day. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from checking off an accomplished task, no matter how small or mundane. Keeping a daily to-do list is a good time management tip in general when it comes to work-life balance, but it also represents an opportunity to start celebrating mini-wins all day, every day, one check mark at a time.

7) Mind-readers in your life? Not mine –- let’s talk.

Don't assume that your family, friends, coworkers or boss understand your point of view. This type of assumption can lead to a slippery slope of thinking that can pick up negative momentum alarmingly quickly for an exhausted working parent. The thinking might go something like this: "I obviously need a little help here. Anyone can see that! Since she/he/they aren't offering to help, it must mean they don't care. This is so unfair, why am I always the one to make sure things are taken care of. It sure would be nice to be appreciated every now and then." These unspoken thoughts have a way of boiling over and spewing out in an angry hot mess that leaves the recipients of your vent dazed and confused and you looking a bit unbalanced. Chances are pretty good that people in your life don't intuitively know your thoughts and needs. So tell them by communicating in a non-defensive manner. Similarly, be willing to listen to their lived experience and point of view too –- you might be surprised by what you hear from your children, partner, co-workers and friends.

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