30 Ways to Balance Work and Family

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HEALTHY LIVING  |  7.23.15  |  by Terra Wellington

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Taking your family outdoors to disconnect and enjoy time together is one way to balance work and family.

Photo: Dreamstime/Imagerymajestic

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Balancing work and family is a difficult thing to do, even if only one spouse is working full time.  But the vast majority of households have two working parents, which complicates the work/family balance challenge.  We’ve put together 30 ideas for you to tackle this difficulty.  Look through and see which ones work for you.  And let us know what has helped you, whether it be the changing face of workplaces that allow flex time or finding a way to go back to the future with only one working spouse.

30 ways to balance work and family 

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30 Ways to Balance Work and Family

  1. Stagger Work Schedules: If both spouses need to work, see if the husband and wife can have staggering work schedules so that both spouses are not gone from home the entire day.  Like the husband goes to work at 5 AM and is home in time to pick up the kids from school, while the wife starts work at 9 AM and comes home around 6 PM so she can take the kids to school — this also would imply that the Dad is in charge of dinner Monday-Friday.  What you want to avoid is a staggering work schedule that makes it nearly impossible for the spouses to have time with each other.
  1. Have one full-time and one part-time: An even better situation is to have one spouse only working part-time, preferably only when the children are in school.  This allows for a lot more balance in getting things done at work and at home.
  1. Manage with only one full-time spouse: The best situation for most households is that there is only one full-time-working spouse and the other spouse is a full-time parent.  This creates a support system for the children and the spouses.  The imbalance in this setup can be when the working spouse works too many hours and the at-home spouse gets trapped at home; working together as a team, spouses can usually overcome these obstacles.
  1. Share in meal making: This works best when there is a set schedule of dinners for the week.  Make everything else a la carte, as much as possible — such as there are always a mix of breakfast and lunch foods that can be thrown together in a flash, or your home often uses leftovers for lunch.  Work with your spouse to figure out a meal-making share that makes sense for both of you, get it down on paper, and shop for those ingredients on the weekend.
A family eating dinner together is an important part of work and life balance.

Photo: Dreamstime/Neeila

  1. Keep a stocked pantry: The more you can systemize the stocking of your pantry, the better.  It probably won’t replace your fresh-food buying, but by having this element of your kitchen always full and ready then you can save time and headache.If there are two working spouses, have one spouse in charge of stocking the pantry and then have a separate agreement for fresh food buying and meal making.

With online grocery shopping, you can more easily get pantry stocking done during your lunch break, relaxing in your bed at night, or on the train — see our comprehensive article on how to save money and time with online grocery shopping, including how to create a pantry list.

  1. Share in house cleaning: When two spouses work, the weekends seem to be full of house cleaning and shopping and not much else.  And, often this has fallen on the wife’s shoulders.  Whenever possible, work with your spouse and your older children to come up with a chore plan that staggers out some of the cleaning tasks throughout the week, uses online grocery shopping for pantry stocking, and delegate among all able household members so that the burden does not fall on one person.

You will be surprised just how much young children are able to do, so don’t count them out.  Have these assignments visual — like on a refrigerator.Even if there is a stay-at-home mom or dad, it is important to delegate house cleaning and maintenance to the children, with some projects for the other spouse as well.  Says Patrick Smith of BuzzFeed

“One thing some prospective dads might fail to grasp is that as well as parenting and having a job, they have a responsibility to support their partner.

“I now do more housework than I once did to make up for the things she used to do, plus it’s my job to make sure she has what she needs. As a result it makes working on weekends and evenings a real challenge.

“On a practical basis, now that our son is in child care full-time, I don’t come into the office as early as I once did, and I have to leave on time either to pick him up or to be back in time for dinner. I think you have to accept that you’re a dad and partner first and foremost.”

  1. Teach everyone to clean up after themselves: With everyone picking up toys, dishes, and other items off the floor, sinks, and counters, this becomes a habit that saves a parent’s sanity and time in small-but-important ways.  It’s good manners, good hygiene, and good housekeeping that keeps an organized balance.Some children will struggle with this, but as a parent you need to continue to move them toward these good habits so that as they grow into adulthood they will not develop an imbalance that could lead to something like hoarding or a poor household environment.  Good parenting and good balance.
  1. Learn how to time manage: And this means you know how to prioritize.  The best way to prioritize is to have goals — for your family, your marriage, your personal welfare, and your career.  Know what you are after and why, write it down, prioritize goals and needs for each of those categories, and then manage your life with your eye on those priorities.We each only have 24 hours in a day — no one any different.  It can be a struggle.

Talk to a life coach if you need help to prioritize or find ways to get all the things done you want to get done — we can’t all figure it out by ourselves.  It is often the case, after you prioritize, that you realize that you can’t get it all done and you end up shifting things in your life so that you have help or so that time opens up.  Knowing your priorities make all the difference in finding time.

Time management for families is really important in order to achieve work and life balance.

  1. Look for a flex-schedule job: This is especially important if both spouses are working because inevitably your children will get sick once and a while or need to be driven back and forth to play dates, dance lessons, school, and athletic practices.If neither spouse has any work flexibility, this is going to be a tremendous challenge and drain on the family life and employment.  Flex-schedule jobs often offer you to set your own work hours or allow you to telecommute at least some of the week.  It’s important to know where your employer stands on family flex time needs.
  1. Organize the night before: All families can find more balance by organizing school and work clothes, homework, materials, and food the night before.  This makes for a clean start the next morning.  An easy habit to put into place.
  1. Have a family calendar: Put a calendar in a common space of the home on a wall where everyone can see it.  Calendar out the main activities so that everyone knows what is coming up.  This helps to avoid general conflicts, especially as the children get older.  Sundays are great days to do the calendaring.
  1. Get the older children driving: If your family can afford an extra car and the insurance, then having an older teen driving can take a huge burden off of working parents so that they aren’t the taxi driver for busy older teens.  Of course, take into account how responsible the teen is, and put into place strict rules of how and when the vehicle will be used in terms of a contract.  If the teen is working, consider having the teen pay for his/her portion of the car insurance in order to drive.Depending on the dependability of the teen and the rules of your state, that older teen might also be able to take a younger sibling to school and back — also relieving a working parent of having to manage that school schedule.

However, there is a lot to be gained by the parent being with children before and after school — hearing about a child’s day is so important — but when the options are are few, it is better to have a smoother schedule and less stress.

Here’s a video about teen driving safety from the National Safety Council

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  1. Create quality weekends: When both parents are working full time, weekends that would otherwise be spent in downtime and family recreation are over filled with shopping and cleaning.  To avoid this, work together as a team to have everyone in the family work together to get household tasks done early on a Saturday morning.

Delegate out other tasks to be done during the week.  Shop online for pantry items during the week to keep your weekend shopping under 1 hour with a focus only on fresh items.  Also, weekends don’t have to be non-stop play — keep Sundays, for example, a more subdued day.  If you’re religious, Sundays can be spent more at home and at religious observance, teaching your children that there is food for the soul as well.

  1. Go outdoors: So many studies show that getting outdoors reduces your stress, helps you get exercise, and rekindles family ties.  When you are doing your family calendar, look for activities you can program that get your family into nature, even if it is only for a few hours.
A family outdoors helps to achieve balance by reducing stress and bonding together.

Photo: Dreamstime/Imagerymajestic

  1. Find a place for everything: Having your home organized reduces stress and is especially important for creating a work and family balance.  For example, have a spot near the front door where keys are always put and backpacks and purses are ready to go.  For lunches, have all the lunch boxes and materials in one place so that night-before or early morning preparation isn’t frustrating — this also helps for pantry stocking to know if there are meal preparation items that are being depleted.
  1. Know what maternity leave you have available: If you are expecting, it is important to know how much time you will have off so that you can prepare for childcare down the road.  Some quality daycare centers have a waiting list, and you will need to plan ahead.  You can also ask if there is the possibility of returning only part-time after the baby is born, but be prepared for a “no” answer.

Take into account all of your options and figure out a solution that gives you the maximum time with your baby to have the most balance at home.  This may also mean a change in your work, as work and family balance often requires tradeoffs — it all depends on your priorities.  Do you know what those are?

  1. Compartmentalize your time: It takes practice, especially in a wired world, but whenever possible have work time be work time, and family time be family time.  For example, when you are home with your children, avoid constantly checking your work e-mails.  When you are out for a family activity, keep your phone tucked away, and try not to do work on a family outing or vacation.  Really hone in on your kids and spouse.

It can be very hard to do, as we live in a 24-hour work environment, but try to communicate to your work that you will “get to things on Monday” or “in the morning” when you return to work so that your work colleagues and clients know they will be taken care of but that you have a schedule of when it will be done.  Whenever possible, put boundaries around work and family time.

  1. Don’t overschedule your life: With both parents working, let’s face it … you often can’t do as much as when one spouse stays at home unless you have the income and resources to have a nanny who can drive around and function just like a parent.  We’re talking about scheduling all those after-school dance lessons and activities that require a parent to be available from the moment a child gets out of school — it’s hard to do that when there’s few transportation options and parents still need to work.

Not only this, but many families (no matter if there’s one or two parents working) over-schedule their weekdays and weekends with far too many activities.  Boil it down to the most-important and more-focused activities, and not so many.  Leave room for downtime for everyone.  This is especially true if a child is in daycare the entire week because that child wants at-home time, not always more time away from mom, dad, and home.

  1. Make time for one-on-one with your spouse: Whether both spouses work or even if only one is working full-time, set aside time for just the two of you.  Date nights.  Casual time together away from the kids.  Sometimes it’s just about the extra effort made, not the expense.  Says Parents.com

“For some couples, going out on a monthly date can be difficult and expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on each other. Have an indoor date night by cooking an elegant meal together or even sitting together with a glass of wine and talking (but not about work or the kids).”

  1. Set aside time for yourself: If as a parent all you’re doing is working and taking care of kids and you aren’t getting exercise and having some personal time for yourself, then this is a perfect recipe for burnout.  You’ll likely end up with a more bitter attitude, health problems, increased stress, and less patience at work and home.  Even if you’re the full-time at-home spouse, you need outlets for personal achievement.  For the full-time-at-work spouse, you need your quiet time, hobbies, and exercise.  This is when some creative time management comes into play, as well as honest and open communication with your spouse to share goals and needs.

When you work together to help each other, as well as finding unique ways to accomplish your goals, you’ll be amazed as to what you can achieve.  For example, go to the park and do exercise jumping rope while your child plays with a ball. Read an e-book while you’re waiting to pick up a child.  Introduce your children to nature through a hike that you personally love.  Try to find ways to kill two birds with one stone.

  1. Schedule down time: While not over-scheduling your life and putting everything that is happening on a calendar are great ideas, take it one step further by scheduling down time.  Downtime is required as a balancing mechanism.  When you look at your family calendar, is it just full of thing you have to do?  Or are there blank spaces that could be just for fun, recreation, or a walk to the park? Maybe you just want to leave time for improvising and leave whole days or multiple hours open to do whatever comes to mind.

Ask your children what they want — maybe it’s as simple as going to visit Grandma.  Or maybe a walk over to the  yogurt shop at the end of a full Saturday.  Sometimes just playing in the sprinklers outside.  Or having fun in the leaves or pool.  It’s called play.  And true play isn’t that structured.

  1. Outsource: It’s good for kids to have chores, so leave things for them to do.  But, if you can afford it, find ways to outsource time-suck household things.  You can hire a weekly maid service, hire a painter to paint the bathroom, order groceries online as a huge time saver, find dry cleaning services that bring your clothes to your office, have car washing done at your employment’s parking lot, automatic bill paying, and more.
You can save time with a grocery delivery service like Safeway grocery delivery.

Online grocery service can save you a lot of time. Photo: Safeway.com

  1. Create a support network: If both spouses are working, this is even more important.  Because you can learn from others how they are solving problems, create play dates with like-minded parents, help each other out when children are sick, do babysitting trades for cheap date nights, and more.  You can find these relationships at church, at work, with neighbors, and with family.
  1. Realize you have to make some shifts: This is especially important for new parents.  Many new moms and dads do not anticipate just how much of a shift it is to be 100 percent responsible 24/7 for a new baby.  They think they can continue with the same lifestyle as before.  But, the sooner new parents realign their priorities and work together to meet new needs and old ones, then the more they will be successful.  It’s about first being aware and then taking action.  Stress can actually be created by denying a new reality.
  1. Make your lunch shorter: For moms and dads who are working full-time, if you find that your lunch hour could be made shorter — let’s say 30 minutes shorter — without a detriment to your stress level, then shorten your lunch hour by at least 30 minutes and get home sooner.  Or see, if your boss would allow the 30-minutes a day to be saved up so you can leave two-and-a-half hours earlier on Friday or another day of the week in which your child has a need to be filled.  Or perhaps that’s your yoga day, and that’s how you fit in a weekly yoga class.  Just another creative way to manage your time.
  1. Cut your commute time: Having a bigger house in a newer suburban neighborhood farther away from work isn’t always, at the end of the day, better.  Why?  Because your commute time increased.  Suddenly, you have more square feet but less time at home.  Was it worth it?  If family is the most important priority for you (and not the time in your car), then see if relocating closer to your work would help balance your life better.  Or, perhaps taking public transportation would cut down your commute time.  A better organized home with less stuff never hurt anyone.
  1. Consider if you’re working more than you have to: Some of us are workaholics and like to work … a lot.  We personally identify with our work.  (Capricorn anyone?)  Goals aren’t a problem for us, and we are willing to even sacrifice our families for our work success.  Well, this is when a good life coach along with some belief changes can help you realign your priorities into a more balanced life approach that benefits everyone.

But, awareness is first.  For people who struggle with working more than they have to, it usually takes some help from others to see how to do things differently.  Once you see you don’t have to work so much and still be successful, then you usually have a lot of unused time available for a more balanced family life.

  1. Eat dinner together as a family: Studies show this decreases obesity.  And it’s a great time to catch up with each other all at once.  Family bonds are formed.  Food is related with good times together.  It provides valued unity and needed downtime.
  1. Decide early on about work travel: According to a Harvard study, many parents have decided to not accept jobs with significant work travel because of the imbalance it brings to their marriage and families.  Determine early on how such work/travel will disrupt your family life and if you and your spouse are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to compensate for one parent being gone a lot.
  1. Align values: Talk with your spouse about the values your family has and what is important together.  Imbalances of time and resources can be created when one spouse values one thing, and the other spouse another.  For example, perhaps the husband likes sports but the wife not so much — one spouse dominating the family’s downtime with a particular pursuit may not be the best approach.

Sometimes a family therapist can help a marriage to find more unity and support for each other, while also incorporating the children into those decisions.  When the values are aligned, including support for each other’s interests and differences, then time management is easier and more productive.  There is more peace at home.  Says Human Development Specialist Judith Graham from the University of Maine

“Some of our values may be in conflict with each other. For example, I may believe it’s important to be at work early, and believe it’s equally important not to leave the house until the kitchen is clean.

Unexpected delays, or mornings where everything just takes a bit longer, could prove very stressful until I examine these values and think about how they interact. Modifying or prioritizing our values can be one way of easing role strain. Areas where we might have strong values may include housework, meal preparation and meal times, child care, car and house maintenance, the nature and amount of couple and family time, money, religion, education, entertainment, or politics.”

What tips do you have for balancing work and family?

 Let us know in the comments below

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