For working moms and dads, having it all—a career, financial prosperity and a successful family life—seems like a dream that you can never quite achieve. To be successful at work, we have to put in the hours and commit completely to make it to the next level. To be successful at home, we have to dedicate ourselves fully to our spouses, children, loads of laundry and gourmet meals. Two lives. Two conflicting dreams. For working parents and single-parent families, sometimes the best you can do is fake it ‘till you make it. Here’s how to make it work:
- Choose the right company. Sounds simple, but finding a company that supports the lifestyle of parents feels like the chance at hitting Powerball: a dream with a 1-in-175 millionth chance of coming true. Those companies, however, do exist and are becoming more prevalent today as flexible work arrangements pick up speed across the world. Check out this list of the most family-friendly companies, and start your job hunt with not only career success in mind, but also the ability to balance work and family obligations.
- Talk to your kids about your struggles. We don’t give our kids enough credit. Just yesterday, I sat in the parking lot for 10 minutes post-soccer drop-off answering an email and then apologized with a: “I’m so sorry, baby! Thanks for being patient.” My little girl answered with a smile and said, “You always say that, Mommy. Don’t worry about it.” Kids get that we’re constantly pulled back into work, just as we’re pulled out of work for their colds, tears and activities. The key is communicating your efforts to balance the two worlds, so that when you have to cancel a play date because of a fire drill at work, they remember that you cancelled work to attend their awards assembly.
- Make teamwork—and together time—a priority with your spouse. When choosing work schedules with my husband of 12 years, we have always picked hours where I begin/end early and he begins/ends late. He does the morning bus loading and I do the afterschool pick-up, so the kids don’t spend 12 hours every day away from home. This schedule, while convenient for the kids, is also tricky because we are away from each other for long stretches of time. Achieving work-life balance as a couple is vital and creating moments in the day (for us, it’s a solid no-TV, no-smartphones hour before sleep) for togetherness is equally—if not more—important as the kiddos.
- Communicate with your boss and show off your kids. It’s just plain reality that human beings get sick, have dentist appointments and go on vacation. And it’s just plain reality that people have kids, or the human race would cease to exist. If your boss doesn’t get that, he/she is not the boss for you—or anyone, for that matter. Talk to your manager about how they’d like to handle sudden kid-inflicted absences. And, almost more importantly, talk about your family at work. Put up the pictures. Sneak them into the camera for a quick “hello” on a team video conference when you’re working late at home. You’re a human being, and kids are downright cute. To believe it, your boss and coworkers need to see it.
- Let the laundry pile up. Probably one of the most painful realities for working parents is the piling up of the annoying responsibilities at home: loads of laundry, dirty dishes, messy kids’ rooms, stinky dogs, growing grass and the list goes on and on and on. If you can’t afford a nanny, a housekeeper, a landscaper, a chef and a dog washer, welcome to the club! Most of us can’t afford to hire a gaggle of workers to keep up with our crazy shenanigans, so we’re stuck folding clothes for hours, harassing kids about their rooms, trying to piece together meals and throwing muddy puppies into the bathtub. If you let yourself get crazy about these responsibilities, you let yourself miss out on the good stuff, like listening to your 8-year-old read Skippy Jon Jones, catching your 10-year-old’s amazing soccer save or laughing at your 11-year-old’s joke (all factoids from my crazy life). Schedule home maintenance time for specific days/weeks, and make the kids help (seriously! How else will they learn?!). That way, you’re not spending every waking moment with a clean house, but no tender memories of your kids’ too-short childhoods.
- Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, make yourself a priority. While we’re busy balancing our work-lives, trying to have it all, most of us busy working moms and dads forget who we’re doing it for—ourselves and our families. Don’t stay in a job that makes you miserable just because the money is good. Don’t wear yourself out rushing from dinner meeting to soccer practice without taking a few moments to read your favorite book, listen to your favorite music or grab that mani-pedi or 18 holes you long for. If you’re not taking the time to enjoy yourself in your own life, you’re not living.
Sounds simple, right? All working moms and dads, single or in coupledom, know there is no simple way to balance work and life. It is a constant struggle, a tug of war between the office and home. The key for us all is to prioritize, stay dedicated to our goals and diligently try to enjoy our lives without just going through the motions. And, most importantly, when you’re tired, stressed and harried, fake it ‘till you make it. Because you will make it.