Having children changes the calculus of everything we do. It brings a deep sense of joy and accomplishment into our lives and fills many of our days with laughter and fun. Parenthood fills us with a sense of purpose that often makes everything else pale in comparison.
But even though our hearts have expanded to welcome new people into our lives and our priorities have changed, working parents must maintain their careers and continue to face the demands of their jobs. After all, we have to work to provide for those we care about.
How do we find the perfect work/life balance? The truth is it's different for everyone and the balance may ebb and flow. Certain periods of the year — like tax time for accountants — might be extremely busy and force people to be away from family more often.
There are lots of things you can do to foster a positive and workable balance between career and home lives. It does take effort, time, flexibility, and an understanding spouse and children. Traditionally, this issue might seem to apply more to fathers but as working moms can attest, this is an issue that transcends gender.
1. Have a Conversation
If you feel that your work/life balance is out of whack, talk to your spouse and kids (if they're old enough) about it. Be honest about your concerns and see what they perceive. They might be able to give you examples of how to be more present in their lives. It might not be the easiest thing to hear but it might help frame your decisions to spend more time with your family.
Step back and take a hard look at your day-to-day schedule. How much do you work? How long is your commute? How much work do you bring home with you? How much time do you spend thinking about work while at home? These questions will help you identify whether you need to make adjustments. It's hard — you have to work to maintain a quality of life for your family and meet the financial goals that you've set. But you also have to live in the moment and be the parent that your children demand and deserve.
3. Use Vacation Time Wisely
This is a no-brainer but any vacation time that you have should be spent with family. Sure, it'd be great to get away for a cruise with friends, but it's most important to spend that free time with those closest to you.
4. Discover Unique Ways to Communicate
There are so many ways to keep in touch nowadays and smartphones make it so easy. If you've got to work late and can't make it home for dinner, make a 10-minute Skype call with the kids or record a silly video and email it home so they can get a laugh. Even send your spouse and each of your children a personal text message inquiring about something in their lives. It will make a big difference if they know how much you miss them and how much you're thinking of them.
5. Add Family to Your Activities
If you love to golf, take the wife and kids along. If yoga is your thing, challenge your husband and kids to take a class. It will create new family memories and a stronger bond.
6. Follow the Rules
You might want to make some standing rules — every Wednesday night the family goes out for pizza or every Saturday morning you try a different breakfast place. These are unbreakable and time for family only.
7. Put Down the Phone
Maybe the most important — and challenging — step is to leave the work phone at home or turn it on silent. When you are with your family, you are with your family. You cannot be responding to each email or answering each call. You have to cut the cord.
8. Cut Back
If work is taking a toll on the amount of time — and amount of quality time — you're able to spend with loved ones, then you might need to consider cutting back on work. Can you work from home? Can you travel less? Think it over, discuss with your spouse, and determine how it might affect your career if you approach your boss with a few ideas on how you can spend more time with your family.
9. Be Disciplined
If you are done at work by 5 p.m., leave at 5 p.m. You have to be demanding of your family time, too.
If you have a standing tennis match with friends every Sunday, it might be time to quit and make time for church or a special outing with the family instead. These are the demands of parenthood.