Managing work life balance with children

These days when so many parents are involved in multiple roles, achieving a balance between work and family can be very difficult for both men and women.

Given the relatively high levels of unemployment and the tendency for workplaces to restructure and downsize, many people believe that they are more likely to keep their jobs if they work very long hours, often for no extra pay. This belief can keep them tied to their workplaces, always trying to do more.

Yet working excess hours can create health problems for the person doing the extra work, and may also lead to problems in family relationships. Spouses and children may feel neglected or exploited, children may not receive the help and supervision they need, and there may be no time for good healthy family fun.

Women And Multiple Roles

Juggling work and family responsibilities seems to create greater role conflict for women than for men, perhaps because our society has always accepted that men have to make work their primary focus, whereas women, even working women, are still expected to make the family their primary focus. Some working women say that they feel torn apart in trying to meet all their responsibilities.

Another problem for women is the high standards that working women often set for themselves, and the prevalent belief that they should be able to ‘do it all’. They expect that their homes should be as spick and span as those of their own stay-at-home mothers, and that they should be able to cope equally effectively with the work, wife and mother roles.

These high standards can create problems with delegating tasks to someone else or negotiating a different distribution of tasks.

Multiple Roles Can Be Good For You

On the other hand, there is also evidence that having multiple roles (that may or may not include paid work) is actually good for the mental health of women, provided that the roles are of good quality.

Having multiple roles can give both men and women the social contact that they may not get at home, can increase self-esteem and a sense of meaningfulness, and success in one role can buffer an individual against problems or failure in another role.

Although juggling work and family responsibilities does not necessarily create a lot of role conflict for men, it is nevertheless important for working fathers to ensure that they spend time with their families, supporting their wives in the parenting role and household chores, and spending time with their children.

Fathers may also need support from their partners, particularly in times of work overload.

Monitor Your Level Of Stress

It is not just the hours worked that can cause problems for the family, but the level of stress that parents experience in the workplace. Stress at work can spill over into the family. Problems can be created for family relationships when parents come home tired and irritable, or are distracted from ‘being there’ for each other and the children because they are thinking about problems at work.

How do parents know when they are not achieving an appropriate balance between work and family? There are a number of possible symptoms, some related to the parent and some related to the family environment.

If parents continually feel that they are tired and rushed and have no time to themselves, they are probably trying to do too much. If they are continually feeling guilty about jobs that are not getting done, they may need to set some priorities.

In addition, if they are being unduly negative and coercive with their children, that’s probably a good sign that they need to reassess the balance between work and family.

How To Regain The Balance

What can you do to deal with work-family conflicts, so that the negative effects on family relationships are lessened? Here are some suggestions:

  • You need to be realistic about what you are able to achieve in one day, or in one week. It is important not to try to ‘do it all’ and, in the process, create a negative and coercive environment for your family members.
  • Taking the time to supervise and discipline your children properly is critical to having happy well-behaved children. Letting bad habits develop can make life difficult for everyone. Good parenting takes time and, before the situation gets out of hand, it is important to set aside time for dealing with behaviour problems in children.
  • Getting your children to help with various tasks can be good for them in terms of training, and can also relieve you from the stress of trying to do everything. Even young children can often help with tasks around the home such as putting away toys, setting the table, and putting out rubbish.
  • As suggested earlier, you may need to set some priorities on how you use your time. Which tasks are important, and which can be left, if need be? For example, is having a tidy house more important than providing nutritious meals? Are clean windows more important than happy children? We all have different priorities and need to set ones that we can live with.
  • It’s important to set aside times when the whole family can be together and have a good time. No matter how busy the schedule, quality time with family members is necessary for building good relationships. If you want your children to remember their childhoods positively, you need to spend time with them and plan fun activities.
  • It may be necessary to reassess your present work environment and ask the following questions: Should I discuss with my employer my need to balance work and family demands more effectively? Should I look for a more family-friendly work-place where I can work fewer hours, or where the hours can be worked in a more flexible way? Is job sharing a possibility?

Of course, it is often the crisis situations, such as when a child is sick, that cause high levels of stress for parents. The strategy here is to make sure that you have a contingency plan. Such a plan may involve one or other parent taking time off work, or bringing in a third party who can be available at short notice.

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