8 ways for work­ing par­ents to make fam­ily life hap­pier

Bal­anc­ing work and life can be tough, but au­thor and work­ing mum Chris­tine Arm­strong has some tips for get­ting it right. LISA SALMON re­ports

Gloucestershire Echo - - FAMILY MATTERS -

MORE mums than ever are re­turn­ing to work after hav­ing chil­dren – and dis­cov­er­ing that get­ting the bal­ance righ t can be very tough as they bat­tle stress in the work­place with jug­gling fam­ily life.

In the last four decades, the num­ber of work­ing moth­ers has risen from half of all moth­ers to nearly three-quar­ters (72%), ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Fis­cal Stud­ies.

And yet Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive data shows the most stressed group at work is pro­fes­sional women aged be­tween 35 and 44, be­cause of lack of sup­port, sex­ism, home/work im­bal­ance, and fam­ily needs.

Mother-of-three Chris­tine Arm­strong ex­pe­ri­enced such stress after re­turn­ing to work in ad­ver­tis­ing fol­low­ing the birth of her first child.

Her own chal­lenges, and sub­se­quently talk­ing to other work­ing mums about their work/ life bal­ance, led her to the con­clu­sion that so­ci­ety isn’t de­signed to sup­port women with chil­dren and a ca­reer.

“Men and women are strug­gling, but women are hav­ing a worse time – and are more stressed – be­cause so many are try­ing to live up to stereo­types of what a good mum looks like while also hold­ing down a job,” says Chris­tine, the co-founder of a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tancy, and con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor of Man­age­ment To­day. As a re­sult of her ex­pe­ri­ences, she wrote

The Mother of All Jobs: How to have chil­dren and a ca­reer and stay sane (ish) (Green Tree, £12.99).

“My in­ten­tion was to show that ev­ery­one who feels they’re drown­ing in work and kids is com­pletely nor­mal,” she ex­plains.

Many com­pa­nies are try­ing to im­prove things but Chris­tine says we need wider so­ci­etal changes too, in­clud­ing good uni­ver­sal child­care, sen­si­ble work­ing hours and sup­port­ive work­ing cul­tures.

“But there are some things that hap­pier par­ents seem to do or think com­pared to those who are re­ally up against it. You may not be able to do them all, but a few may work for you. There are no sil­ver bul­lets (I am so sorry) but I hope they help a lit­tle,” she ad­vises.

Here are Chris­tine’s eight tips to help make be­ing a work­ing par­ent re­ally work:

EM­BRACE BE­ING A PAR­ENT

CHRIS­TINE says there’s no need for par­ents to sup­press their ma­ter­nal and pa­ter­nal feel­ings just be­cause they have ca­reers.

“So­ci­ety is stuck be­tween the old world, where women were home and dads worked and the chil­dren were cared for, and a new world where most par­ents work longer and longer hours and chil­dren must be cared for dur­ing and around work. It’s time we made de­ci­sions that en­able this tran­si­tion not to feel like a cri­sis in ev­ery work­ing fam­ily across the land.”

OPEN YOUR EYES

CHRIS­TINE points out that new par­ents may re­alise so­ci­ety isn’t set up to en­hance fam­ily life, but to in­crease eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity, and says: “Know that and use it to de­fend your­self against ev­ery neg­a­tive thought about not be­ing good/ca­pa­ble/ hard-work­ing enough. “We don’ t have to apol­o­gise or feel guilty for be­ing par­ents and work­ers or, even worse, hide that we have kids,” she stresses. “And never judge your own life against the imag­ined and ide­alised life you as­sume oth­ers have. The more we dig, the messier ev­ery­one’s lives look.”

MAKE CON­SCIOUS CHOICES

BE VERY hon­est about who you are and what each of you (if you have a part­ner) be­lieves is im­por­tant, ad­vises Chris­tine.

“If your burn­ing am­bi­tion is to be CEO, then set up your fam­ily and struc­ture to sup­port that am­bi­tion,” she says. “Equally, if you want to be very en­gaged in the daily lives of your kids, then set your fam­ily up that way.

“But in ei­ther case, be hon­est about who you are and know that it will change as you go, and al­low space for that change.”

PLAN WORK

AC­TIVELY plan the amount of time and the place that both par­ents spend work­ing.

“Don’t just tum­ble into our crazy al­ways-on work­place with a baby on each hip and hope you make it to their 18th birth­day with­out a break­down. You might not,” Chris­tine warns.

In­stead, make choices that work for you and your whole fam­ily, and be pre­pared to move jobs, move home, move schools, or change your work­ing struc­tures.

PLAN PLAY AS WELL AS WORK!

AC­TIVELY plan the time you both spend not work­ing: when you’re car­ing for chil­dren, ex­er­cis­ing, hav­ing fun, see­ing friends or run­ning your home.

This in­cludes not just giv­ing your­self per­mis­sion to do the things that mat­ter to you, but mak­ing them a pri­or­ity.

CUT COSTS

CON­STANTLY seek to re­duce, rather than in­crease, your spend­ing, Chris­tine ad­vises.

“Ev­ery­one thinks they need more money, so con­sider what your life would look like if you stopped spend­ing and/or stripped out costs,” she sug­gests.

Data from the US shows peo­ple have an av­er­age of 300,000 items in their homes – and the rise of stor­age fa­cil­i­ties here shows the UK can’t be far be­hind. “Stop buy­ing stuff you don’t even have space for,” she says.

TURN IT OFF

TAKE con­trol of your tech­nol­ogy and use it in a way that adds to your life rather than min­imises it.

This could range from stop­ping work­ing all evening on your lap­top, to turn­ing off Ama­zon Prime in or­der to have a chat over din­ner in­stead.

PLAY AS ONE TEAM

SEE your house­hold as both a team and a set of in­di­vid­u­als, and make de­ci­sions ac­cord­ingly.

Hav­ing chil­dren at dif­fer­ent schools, ig­nor­ing the five-year-old’s bad sleep­ing habits or work­ing op­po­site shifts to your part­ner so you don’t see each other in the week are all fine, says Chris­tine, as long as they don’t bring the house­hold to break­ing point.

“Make choices that work day-to-day for ev­ery­one,” she says.

“If they don’t work, don’t res­o­lutely bat­tle on with grim de­ter­mi­na­tion – make a plan to change them.”

Chris­tine Arm­strong

Most par­ents try to cram too many things in at one time

There’s no need to play at happy fam­i­lies – with a lit­tle plan­ning you can work out ways to keep ev­ery­one happy

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