Work-life balance is never going to be perfect! How can it be? When you bring a child into your life, something’s got to give to make room for him or her. And it doesn’t get easier as your child gets older… school hours and holidays bring additional challenges for working parents, right into the teenage years.
But if you take control of what you keep and what you kiss goodbye to, you can reach a workable balance. Women Like Us has been coaching mothers into work for nearly ten years. We’ve heard tens of thousands of women’s stories. Here are a few survival tips for work/life balance, based on those conversations:
Be clear about what you want to achieve
What does success look like to you? Make a list of all the different factors that contribute to your work/life balance… the quality of childcare you’re happy to accept, the type of job you find rewarding, the hours you want to work and the salary you’ll get for that, the household chores that need to be done, the social life and leisure interests you want to keep up (yes, remember them?!), the help you get from your partner/family/friends, and your relationships with them.
Now you need to think about what compromises you’re prepared to make. What are you prepared to give up? And what’s non-negotiable?
For many parents, working part time is the ideal. Some parents (many actually) realise that they’re happy to downshift their career in order to have less stress or to work part time. They trade salary and status for an easier life. This isn’t a sign of failure if it’s what feels right for you. Others decide their career comes first, and they compromise on their social life or on how much time they have with their children. All choices are right – they’re yours to make.
Once you’ve carved out a list of aims that you think are do-able, you can set about achieving them. It’s far easier to demonstrate success when you have something to refer back to.
We’ve heard it said that ‘the most important career decision you ever make is your choice of partner’. A good work-life balance is an awful lot easier to achieve when you have an understanding partner who shares the burden – whether it’s school pick-ups, helping with homework and bedtime routines, or doing domestic chores. So get talking, and reach an understanding of what’s a fair share. Thankfully, the trend is towards much more equal partnerships between younger parents.
Reach out to your networks for help too – most mums are happy to help other mums out. Just ask. Supportive friends and family are particularly important to single parents.
Be firm and fair with work colleagues
If you work part time, there’s a risk of being put on the ‘Mummy Track’ and missing out on promotions and income increases. Make sure team meetings are held on days when you’re in the office, and take steps to ensure you keep in touch with key decisions and developments.
But be fair about your input too. If colleagues tend to work late most days of the week, it’s not going to look good if you watch the clock. Make sure you pull your weight, pro rata, by doing extra work from home if you need to.
The key is to get clarity on your targets, and demonstrate your success when you meet them. Focus on your achievements, rather than on the hours you work.
Know what keeps you happy
Achieving work/life balance will always contain highs and lows, so prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Look after yourself, and surround yourself with people who boost your energy and your self-confidence. And whether it’s chocolate or exercise, know what you need to do to feel positive and motivated!
With thanks to Annie Hackett, Timewise Jobs.