THE PAR­ENTS’ GUIDE TO A BET­TER WORK/LIFE BAL­ANCE

Com­bin­ing a de­mand­ing ca­reer with be­ing an at­ten­tive par­ent is chal­leng­ing, but achiev­able. Here’s how to make the most of the re­ward­ing role of nur­tur­ing chil­dren, while also con­quer­ing the world of work.

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By He­lena Wasser­man editorial@fin­week.co.za

re­cently, a live BBC interview of an es­teemed aca­demic about the tur­moil in North Korea was un­ex­pect­edly in­ter­rupted by his two young chil­dren, and then their des­per­ate mom, who tried to keep them out of the frame.

The video went vi­ral at the speed of tod­dler projectile-vom­it­ing. Across the world, par­ents cringed in painful recog­ni­tion at the messy col­li­sion of work and par­ent­ing.

The com­bi­na­tion of a chal­leng­ing ca­reer and at­tempt­ing to be a per­fect par­ent can be ex­haust­ing. Both roles are all-con­sum­ing, leav­ing many work­ing par­ents torn be­tween com­pet­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

One of the big­gest prob­lems par­ents face is be­ing wracked by guilt that they are not spend­ing enor­mous amounts of time with their chil­dren, says Mia Von Scha, a life and par­ent­ing coach in Jo­han­nes­burg. “Par­ents need to change their per­spec­tive and adopt a new, more in­struc­tive at­ti­tude.”

Start by let­ting go of the un­re­al­is­tic par­ent­ing ideals that are fed to us by tele­vi­sion and other me­dia, says Von Scha. Fact is, most par­ents do not have a choice: they have to work, of­ten for very long hours, of­ten away from home. Most par­ents can­not af­ford tend­ing to their chil­dren at all times. And in truth, be­ing on tap does not make you a good par­ent. It is all about spend­ing qual­ity time with your chil­dren and giv­ing them what they need, mak­ing it clear to them that you un­der­stand who they are and ap­pre­ci­ate them as in­di­vid­u­als.

Of­ten par­ents also feel great guilt and frus­tra­tion about the “out­sourc­ing” of their parental re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to third par­ties. “But no one per­son can ever pro­vide for all the needs of an­other per­son. Ev­ery one of us needs a va­ri­ety of peo­ple in our lives that we can learn from and em­u­late and try out our life skills on,” says Von Scha. Choos­ing lov­ing, nur­tur­ing care­givers for your chil­dren can help them grow into fully rounded peo­ple.

Here’s how to be a bet­ter work­ing par­ent: Set bound­aries to pro­tect your home life: For work­ing par­ents, the most im­por­tant thing you can do is to switch off your de­vices when you get home, says Stephanie Daw­son-Cosser, a re­la­tion­ship coach spe­cial­is­ing in fam­ily dy­nam­ics in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“Pay full at­ten­tion to your chil­dren and part­ner, and make sure that you have qual­ity con­ver­sa­tions and in­ter­ac­tion with them.” Set bound­aries around the first two to three hours af­ter com­ing home from work: spend time with your fam­ily and nur­ture your relationships. Try not to think about work or check your email. “It is cru­cial that you are fully present when you are with your chil­dren,” says Von Scha.

If there is pres­sure to com­plete work at home, make sure you first have a qual­ity con­ver­sa­tion or in­ter­ac­tion with your chil­dren, adds Daw­son-Cosser.

“Ev­ery one of us needs a va­ri­ety of peo­ple in our lives that we can learn from and em­u­late and try out our life skills on.”

Stop multi-task­ing: A big myth of the work-life bal­ance is that you can do more than one thing at the same time, says Daw­son Cosser. You may think you are lis­ten­ing to a child while typ­ing that email, in­stead you are not hear­ing half of what they are say­ing, and nei­ther is your full at­ten­tion on the email. “Try­ing to multi-task be­tween work and par­ent­ing cheats both our kids and our­selves.”

Es­tab­lish fam­ily rit­u­als: Your chil­dren should have a clear sense of the ac­tiv­i­ties and values that bind you to­gether as fam­ily. Hav­ing din­ner to­gether (or if your sched­ules don’t al­low it, at least one spe­cial meal a week) is one of the key things you can do to build a stronger con­nec­tion in your fam­ily.

De­vis­ing shared out­ings, film nights and ad­ven­tures will help to strengthen a fam­ily foun­da­tion that can last a life­time, says Daw­sonCosser. “Too many peo­ple have com­pletely lost their sense of what it means to be part of a fam­ily.”

Match your ac­tiv­ity to the child: It is im­por­tant you spend time with your in­di­vid­ual kids do­ing things that they like. Whether this be kick­ing a soc­cer ball for five min­utes in the gar­den, or play­ing a draw­ing game, it is cru­cial that your child knows that you un­der­stand who they are, and that you have re­spect for them, explains Von Scha. “Cre­ate spe­cial mo­ments of mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion.”

Make time for their sport matches and recitals: Your teenage chil­dren will as­sure you that your pres­ence is ab­so­lutely not re­quired at their next soc­cer game. In truth, it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for older chil­dren to see their par­ents sup­port­ing them, show­ing their love and com­mit­ment. “It is im­mensely re­as­sur­ing for teenagers to see that their par­ents care,” says Daw­son-Cosser.

Cri­sis-proof your child­care: Make sure you have com­plete peace of mind about your child­care ar­range­ments for young chil­dren. Im­por­tantly, you also need a Plan B for if your child falls ill. This will take the stress out of an un­ex­pected cri­sis when you can’t take time off work.

Have a clear co-par­ent­ing strat­egy: Avoid con­flict with your part­ner by es­tab­lish­ing a clear di­vi­sion of tasks. Then, don’t in­ter­fere or mi­cro­man­age the tasks on your part­ner’s list. Let­ting go of ideals of per­fec­tion will make life much eas­ier for both of you.

Ask for help. Del­e­gate all low-value tasks at the of­fice and at home.

Pay par­ent­ing for­ward: As a man­ager, make sure that you are fos­ter­ing a cul­ture that is friendly to­wards par­ents.

Mia Von Scha Life and par­ent­ing coach

Stephanie Daw­son-Cosser Re­la­tion­ship coach spe­cial­is­ing in fam­ily dy­nam­ics

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