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Ease the guilt: Tips to balance work and family life

A mum holding her child while working on her laptop

For many professionals, maintaining a work-life balance at the best of times can be difficult. Add children to the equation and working parents suddenly find themselves facing heightened challenges. While it can feel overwhelming, knowing how to balance work and family commitments will help you juggle your professional life with parenthood. 
 
Although most organisations now offer a family friendly work environment, parents can still struggle to balance their work and personal priorities. Many feel guilty when they are pulled in two different directions, wanting to be present for their children while also remaining a committed and available employee.
 
While I don’t claim to have the perfect work-life balance, I have spent the last 22 years as a working parent. Based on my experience, here are some tips to balance work and family life for those who have entered the crazy and unpredictable world of being a working parent. 
 

Plan

Now is the time to learn how to be an expert in time management, if you aren’t already. Effective time management skills, a diary and a to-do list will keep you productive and ensure you don’t miss an important task – even if you’ve been awake half the night with a sick child. Being organised also ensures you can leave work knowing that the important tasks for the day are completed, rather than having them impede on family time. 
 
Similarly, at home, a family planner is a wonderful tool to ensure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be – and with the right equipment!
 

You can’t succeed every time

This may not be a headline-grabbing tip, but it’s important to acknowledge that your careful planning will, occasionally, fall to pieces. Don’t set expectations too high for yourself and know there will be days when things don’t go as predicted.
 
For instance, your toddler’s rash will ban them from their childcare centre for 48 hours, outbreaks of head lice will see you rushing to a pharmacy on your way to school pickup and you’ll be invited to a seemingly endless number of clarinet recitals, information sessions, book parades and assembly presentations – most of which come with very little notice. The point is, be flexible and don’t blame yourself when your well-intended plans fall apart.
 

Set expectations at home

Even young children can learn the value of being organised and resilient. From packing their own lunch box and school bag, to independently completing their homework and additional projects on time, taking responsibility for important tasks helps develop skills that will serve them for life.
Another helpful tool is a morning routine or checklist, which should cover everything that must be completed before you all walk out the door. For my family, this has been instrumental to an organised school and working day; just make sure everyone sticks to it!
 

Set expectations at work

Make it clear to your colleagues at work when you are available and when you are not. Don’t feel the need to apologise for not being available to work colleagues at certain times; you have two jobs and need to be present at certain times for both. Make sure you turn your phone off and do not check emails or chat messages when you say you will not be available. Otherwise, your message is diluted and your colleagues will ignore your schedule.
 
You can also ask colleagues or your team to categorise their emails. If it’s not urgent or can wait until a certain date, ask them to add this to the subject line.
 

Have a support network

There will be occasional school events that you or your partner are unable to attend due to prior work commitments that cannot be changed. Make sure you have a trusted support network, whether that’s family members or friends, so that an adult can still attend these important occasions with your child.
 

Get to know other working parents in your workplace

From school readiness advice to babysitter tips, your fellow working parents understand the juggling act and are ready and willing to share, support and offer encouragement when you need it most. So, get to know them and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. 
 

Be proud

As a working parent – and especially dads who work flexibly to take on additional caregiving responsibilities – you are demonstrating to your children the value of equality inside and outside the home. By supporting each other, you show them that together you can all achieve your full potential.
 

Take care of yourself 

Make sure you prioritise your physical health. As a working parent, you have a huge number of demands placed on you. Getting as much sleep as you can and eating well is key to remaining healthy during the years ahead. 
 

Feeling overwhelmed?

The challenges of balancing professional and personal commitments and feeling as though you’re being pulled in several directions at once may, at times, lead to feelings of burnout. Difficult as it may be, find some time to care for your own mental health and wellbeing. Even if all you can spare is five minutes to go outside for some fresh air or sit down with a cup of tea, try to find some quiet time just for you. 
 
If you are still struggling to juggle everything on your plate, it’s important to reach out to your network, speak to your employer or talk to a professional for help.
 
To sum up, with these tips to better manage your work and family life, you can start down your road to finding the right balance between career and parenting priorities that works for you. Just remember to get organised and be willing to reach out for support, safe in the knowledge that you have nothing to feel guilty about.
 

About this author

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn