Achieving a healthy work-life balance can be a delicate juggling act for most people. But if you're a working mum or dad, balancing the demands of work and home life can sometimes send your stress levels through the roof.
According to the government-funded initiative Fit for Work, half of parents say their work-life balance is a source of stress. It also claims many of the UK's 11 million working parents feel a sense of guilt that they cannot give their work or their home life as much time as energy as they'd like.
Indeed working parents have a lot on their plates. They have to cope with the ongoing need to arrange and pay for childcare and manage things like after-school activities, the daily school run and making school holiday arrangements. But on the other hand they may have to work extra hours too. The 2017 Modern Families Index - a study by Working Families and Bright Horizons - found that only a third of UK working parents go home on time every day, with 41 percent doing extra hours all the time or often.
Research from AXA PPP Healthcare has also revealed that 8 out of 10 working parents are using up their annual holiday entitlement to do everyday tasks such as getting a doctor's appointment either for themselves or their child, sorting out financial matters at the bank or taking their car for its annual MOT.
Unfortunately there's no single piece of advice to help make working parents' lives easier. But if you're struggling with stress, here are some work-life balance tips you may find useful…
Talk to your manager
If your workload keeps getting bigger, it may be time to talk to your employer about the pressure you're experiencing and review your priorities together. You may want to consider asking for flexible working, which every worker who has been with an organisation for more than 26 weeks has the right to do. This may include having flexible start and finish times, working from home or compressing your work week so you don't have to work every day. According to Fit for Work, working part time could also help some parents juggle the demands of home life and work - finances permitting.
Before you approach your manager, prepare what you're going to say. Try coming up with a proposal that not only benefits you but your employer too. You could even suggest a trial period for your new working arrangements to demonstrate that your productivity won't be affected. Also try to choose your moment to have the conversation - your manager may not be open to your suggestions if you ambush them on their way to an important meeting, for example.
Thanks to communications technology it's far too easy these days to be available 24/7. But if you're in a habit of checking work texts and emails after office hours or even while you're on holiday, it could be a cause of family friction. Relationship support charity Relate recommends the following:
- Try to set a deadline each day to switch off your work phone and stop checking emails
- Avoid taking work calls or picking up emails while you're on holiday
- Agree a short window of time when you can respond if there's something really urgent you need to deal with
Tune out on the journey home
If you're calm and in a good mood when you arrive home, the rest of your family will be more relaxed too. According to the charity Family Lives, children pick up on moods and will sense your unhappiness if you run in complaining about work issues. So while you're on your way home, do something that helps put the day's pressures behind you, such as listening to music, the radio or an audiobook. Then gradually switch your thoughts from work matters to your family, so that when you arrive home you'll have put work to rest completely.
Try to plan things in advance for times that are particularly hectic, such as mornings when you're trying to get ready for work while at the same time dressing your children, giving them their breakfast and making their packed lunches. If something can be done the night before - laying out your children's clothes and making sandwiches for their lunchboxes, for instance - it can save a lot of stress in the morning.
You could also try creating a family schedule that includes reminders about everything from appointments, family events, birthdays and school activities to household chores and dates when bills need to be paid. You could make your own calendar and put it somewhere everyone will see it - on your fridge, for instance - or use a calendar app that will sync to everyone's smartphone (try Google calendars).
Have a regular family night
Try to pick 1 evening a week when all members of your family can do something together. This doesn't have to involve anything special, it could be something really simple like having popcorn while watching a DVD or taking the dog for a walk. The main thing is that you do it together, every week. Having a family meal together can also be an important part of your routine as it's the perfect opportunity to catch up with each other's news. Even if you can't eat together every night, try to sit around the table as a family at least once a week.
Save some time for your partner
Work and children can take up all your time. But don't forget to spend time with your partner too - just the two of you. If it's impossible to have time together once a week, start off by having a night out once a month. It will help you to reconnect and enjoy each other's company again, which is something many couples lose sight of when they have busy family lives. When you spend time together, try to make a rule not to talk about work or your children - or at least not to talk about them and nothing else.
Look after yourself
With so much going on it can be easy to always put yourself last. But it's important to treat yourself well - it's good for your stress levels and your relationships with family and people at work. Here are a few things you can do to boost your wellbeing, even if you're ridiculously short on time:
It may be tempting to live off takeaways and your children's leftovers, but eating a nutritious diet will help you to cope with stress. You don't have to cook elaborate meals, just something simple made from fresh, wholesome ingredients.
Try to do something active every day, as exercise can help to reduce stress levels and combat other mental health problems such as low mood.
Make time for sleep
Get all the sleep you need, as burning the candle at both ends - which may seem tempting if you're a busy working parent - can eventually affect your wellbeing and your health
Ask for support
Recognise your limits and ask for help when you need it. Don't try to be superman or superwoman - it's perfectly acceptable to lean on those who can support you every now and then.
At CABA we offer a range of emotional support services to help those who are finding it difficult to cope with stress, whatever the cause. You can talk to our trained counsellors on the phone, online or face to face about whatever's troubling you. And our services are free, confidential and available around the clock.