Finding quality family time as a working parent is really tough, not to mention getting some grown-up “me time,” too. Here are five real-life-tested tips to give yourself more time with your family, create a healthy work-life balance, and carve out time just for you. You deserve this because if moms or dads are not happy, no one is happy.
1. Talk to your employer honestly about your request for work-life balance.
While on maternity leave with my twins, I negotiated a new work schedule (allowing me more time at home). I came prepared with two to three options outlined, provided details, then asked, “What do you think would work best?” I reaffirmed my dedication to my job by stating, “If there is a meeting I need to attend, I will rearrange my schedule to be here.”
We came to an agreement, and now I work longer hours on some days to be home with my kids on other days. My employer recognizes my priorities outside of work, and their willingness to help me meet my personal and professional goals boosts my morale and makes me want to work harder because I feel valued and supported beyond clocking in and out of the job.
If my employer had said no, I would have continued the discussion to understand the reasons why the options I presented would not work. I would want to learn what their concerns were and how I could be flexible to meet their expectations, as well as my own. I would not let the conversation end there.
2. Find more family time by limiting electronics.
My heart sinks when I’m at a restaurant and I see everyone in a family glued to a screen (even the toddlers). These are the moments you want to enjoy together — pay attention to the people in front of you, not the screen.
Try this: for one day, jot down every minute spent looking at a screen (e.g. texting, tweeting, Instagram, email, TV, computer, iPad, etc.). Are you surprised by the time you spend with your eyes set on something glowing back in your face? Going cold turkey is hard, so try limiting your time in front of a screen. I bet you’ll rediscover the beautiful faces of your children, friends and family sitting in front of you.
3. Plan your meals and grocery shopping for every two weeks.
I do not like food shopping or thinking, “What’s for dinner?” Therefore, I plan menus and my shopping list two weeks at a time. Some produce needs to be eaten right away (like berries), but green bananas ripen, canned fruit packed in water, like mandarin oranges, are healthy kid favorites, and I have yet to see an apple turn brown in my fridge.
4. Do for yourself
what you do for your kids.
We move heaven and earth for our kids, but we become too overwhelmed to do anything for ourselves. Carving out time for yourself to recharge is important and it could be as simple as closing the bathroom door and enjoying a bubble bath while your partner cleans up dinner and puts the kids to bed. (It’s OK for your partner to take the lead.)
Time with friends is important, so I plan play dates at my house with other moms who bring their kids. It’s really a play date for us, but our kids just happen to be there, too. We’ll also meet up at a winery, restaurant, or friend’s house for a slow cooker potluck after the kids are in bed. Our night out begins around 8 p.m. with an open door policy because we know life — and bedtime battles — happen.
Mom’s Night Out usually takes place once a month and play dates happen as often as two times a month. My mom friends all have their schedules and priorities, so finding a date for everyone to get together can be challenging. I send out Doodle Polls (a scheduling tool, doodle.com) to find a good night for everyone to get together.
(Read more here about scheduling time with friends when you are a busy parent!)
5. Be team captain with your partner.
I rely on my husband as an equal partner and parent. Together as team captains, we are committed to communicating, prioritizing our marriage and family, and being considerate. We’re both “on call” for unexpected life events and rearrange our work schedules to accommodate things like doctor appointments.
I take the lead on cooking meals and mopping floors, while he does dishes and cleans toilets. I ask for help when I need it; I do not expect him to read my mind. We parent differently, but the end result is the same. People often ask me, “How do you do it all?” I immediately respond, “I don’t.”
Michelle Dickstein is a working mom and blogger raising three young daughters with her husband in Northeast Ohio. Michelle is always searching for ways to live her happiest life and she loves sharing her discoveries (and failed experiments) with her friends and readers. She writes about friendship, marriage and parenting, from breastfeeding twins to answering the “tough” questions from her kids. Read more at her blog, emailingwithmygirlfriends.com, or at northeastohioparent.com/bloggers.