Work-Life Balance: is it possible for working parents? 5 top tips

Article

5 min read

Author: Poppy Griffiths

We hear a lot about the importance of ‘work-life balance’ these days, but when you’re a working parent, is this utopian ideal even possible? It’s a question many working parents wrestle with regularly, daily even.

Working parents are required to navigate many big, and often competing demands. It’s a constant juggle, and one requiring lots of prioritization. Priorities at work, home, in the local community, school, childcare, aging parents, and much more. For parents, however, one important task tends to fall last on the list time and time again – that of self-prioritization. This is a problem, because when working parents aren’t able to look after themselves, feel fulfilled, healthy and happy, they often lack the energy to look after others well, and certainly don’t perform at their personal peak.

So should working parents start when it comes to conquering the illustrious balance of work and life? Here are 5 simple ideas, with easy to implement strategies to match:

1. Rethink work-life balance as “work-life integration”

‘Balance’ is an interesting idea – the word itself assumes we should make trade-offs in our life. To have something, we must give up something else. As a professional high-performance coach, I encourage working parents to remove the idea of balance; instead, focus on achieving work-life integration across key areas in their lives. Such areas mostly include career, family, community, and self. We each have goals, strengths, and interests in all of these four areas. Now imagine what life could be like if our goals, and how we achieved them, could overlap a little more? 

A great way to begin integrating different areas of your life is to think about your natural talents and strengths in each area. For example, when do you perform well at work? Where do you excel on the home front? What do you enjoy contributing to in the school community? Organisational psychologists call this a strengths-development approach. Once we’ve identified our strengths* in one area of our life, we can far better integrate our lives by consciously applying these strengths in new areas of our lives. In doing so, we build our strengths even further.

2. Evolve your career ingredients for success

Try thinking about general career management like good nutrition – it’s essential to everyone’s professional health at every phase of life. As working parents, we often don’t take the time to pause and consider whether the things we once defined as ‘career must-haves’, may have changed. Rather, we forge ahead by simply adding more and more ‘priorities’ to the list. Regularly stopping to ask ourselves what we really want and need in our career as working parents, is critical.

Kids or no kids, you can’t build a great career without ingredients like self-advocacy, networking, good communication, sufficient risk-taking, and soliciting feedback. When you become a parent, the career basics are likely to remain, but you may need to change the semantics of your ‘diet’, (career ingredients) in order to achieve newfound success. Evolve your nutrition (work) so it continues to taste good, and gives you the nutrients you need!  Perhaps you need to add in some parental leave, flexible work, time-management hacks, new forms of communication, or better boundary-setting.

3. Lean in to your values

Have a think about the concept of values-driven leadership. This means knowing and living by our values. When we know our values, own them, and share them with others, we step up as leaders for ourselves, our colleagues, and our families.

Understanding and communicating our core values are fundamental to becoming an effective leader at work, and as a parent. It also models to our kids the life-building blocks we need for high performance, great relationships, and happiness. Being clear on our values equips us with the power to navigate priorities, and keep feelings of overwhelm in check too.

Don’t forget to insert your values into your busy schedule. While everyone’s schedules differ, a common link for success and happiness is intentionally choosing to live our lives (and our schedules) in alignment with our values. Get clear on what’s most important to you and your family, and take the time to define why these things are important. Then, get these things into your calendar – start living them – so they become easy and integrated into your daily life.

4. Delegate, and ask for help with joy!

Working parents can often find themselves saying yes to everything. We can feel guilty for not being enough at work, and guilty for not being enough at home. Realizing your best self and being true to your priorities means getting more comfortable with delegating, asking for help, and learning to say no.

Try delegating with joy! At work and home, consider the projects, jobs, or tasks at hand for the week. Take the time to share them with family members, and verbalize or even document who’s doing what. This is delegation with happiness, where everyone knows their roles, and responsibilities, and can more readily lean into what they’re good at.

If we aren’t getting the support we need to tackle workloads at work or home, we probably aren’t asking for the support we actually need, or asking in the right way. People LOVE to help others! Research shows that humans have an innate desire to be helpful. Even though people are much more likely to lend us a hand than we realize, most of us feel uncomfortable asking for it. McKinsey & Co has even found that senior executives trust employees who ‘ask for help’ more than those who don’t. So next time you think you might need a hand…ask for one (or two!). Be clear and specific about what you need, and accept all the help that comes your way!

5. Make your time & energy count

Time is precious, and energy often runs low as a working parent. We need to proactively triage feeling stressed, stretched too thin, and often underappreciated.

A coaching approach I use regularly with clients is to think about ‘contributions’ and ‘passions’. Ask yourself as a working parent…

  • CONTRIBUTION: Which of the activities I engage in, tasks I perform, or types of support I provide does my child value the most right now?
  • PASSION: Which activities, tasks, or types of support give me the most motivation, inspiration, or energy as a parent?

When we want to maximize valuable time spent with our kids, it’s critical to consider not just our kids, but ourselves. Our passions bring us energy and the greatest enjoyment, and this energy also contributes to the overall value and enjoyment we share together with our kids.

In summary, the pursuit of work-life balance, or work-life integration, is no mean feat. While we all have our own challenges as working parents, let’s not forget we also benefit from the joy and fulfillment that comes with the heavy schedule of working and raising a family. Play with these ideas and pick up what works for you. As working parents, we’re at our best when we’re surrounded by strong support and joyous help – from our employers, families, friends, and other working parents. Embrace and enjoy!

*You can download Hodie to discover your personal strengths & how to make the most of them, FREE!

Poppy Griffiths is a professional coach and Director of UnlimitU a high-performance consultancy that supports the inclusion of working parents, women in leadership, and the mental wellbeing of teams. If you are interested in private or organizational coaching, workshops, or speaker programs, please get in touch. poppy@unlimitu.com.au