Work-Life harmony has been on the national agenda for more than a decade. Since 2008, Work-life awards have been given to recognize exemplary employers. In 2013 the Ministry of Manpower introduced the WorkPro grant, incentivising employers to implement flexible working arrangements for their staff; it has been popular with an increasing stream of savvy employers tapping on it to engage their workforce. This is not surprising, as recent studies have shown that employees value work-life harmony, and are more likely to stay with organisations that have a healthy work-life culture.
For working parents, managing career and family is a key priority. Personally, I’ve observed that when one is able to balance the responsibilities of family and work well, the entire family benefits. Conversely, when I am stressed out and overscheduled, I can see the strain in my children as well. A recent study by Australian National University and La Trobe University in Melbourne echoes this; children were at the highest risk of mental health issues when both parents experienced conflict between their job and family time.
These are some key ideas that can be used to manage work and family.
Have a Shared Vision as a Couple
When our children came along, we had to deal with a deluge of advice from well-meaning friends and relatives. All of our decision-making was measured against what we ‘should do’ according to others. It was stressful to say the least. Over the years, I’ve realised that every family is unique, with its own personality and quirks – and as parents we must recognize the needs of our family and do what works for us.
Having a shared vision for our family and setting our priorities as a couple, has been a helpful step. While we naturally did this at the start of our marriage, it has been useful to review these annually as the children grow and our family matures and evolves. For example, knowing the heart and character of our children is a key priority for us. In the infant and toddler years, this meant that I took extended maternity leave and worked on a project basis to spend more one-on-one time with the children. Now that they are older, we maintain consistent family time by keeping the weekends free of extra lessons and other regular commitments. Identifying our priorities and regularly reviewing them allows us to have a sense of purpose in all we do – at work and at home.
Seek Out Life Mentors
As a working mother, I’ve found myself observing other working mums and asking “How does she do it?”. At times, it can feel overwhelming to juggle career and a young family. I’ve found it useful to seek out life mentors who are older and mature working adults who share the same values and passion for family. I’ve learnt much from their experiences and advice on life. One mentor shared with me that building a career isn’t a straightforward upward trajectory. Instead, there are years when I will need to nurture my family, particularly when the children are young, and other seasons in life when I can turn my attention to my career. This has been life-defining advice for me. Life mentors can serve as sounding boards and accountability partners- a valuable resource for working parents.
Have a Back Up Plan for Your Back Up Plan
One of the greatest challenges of being a working parent, is dealing with constant unpredictability. No matter how well prepared I am, one of the children can fall ill just before an important work event, or a vital meeting can crop up on a day that I’m scheduled to work from home. The best advice I’ve received is to have multiple back plans for times like these. Grandparents who live nearby have been a great blessing to us, and step in for last-minute emergencies. In addition, my husband and I have an agreement to step in and take childcare leave when the other has something crucial on at work. Having multiple back up plans ensures that we don’t end up dropping the ball on the home or work fronts.
Train the Children to be Independent
Teaching our children to do simple chores was a great decision for us. From the toddler stage, we encouraged our children to put away their toys in their toy bin. As they got older, basic household chores such as sweeping the floors, wiping the dining table and keeping their own room tidy were gradually taught and added to their responsibilities. It’s true that ‘more hands make light work’, and with everyone pitching in to help, housework is a team effort and one less item on a parent’s to-do list.
Make time for Self-Care
A working parent’s life can look like an eternal juggle – once you have scheduled in work plans, kids’ activities and other family responsibilities, it can seem impossible to find time for ourselves. But self-care is vital to guard against stress and eventual burn-out. Going for an evening jog a few times a week has been a great way to get fit and destress. Resolve to carve out ‘me-time’ at least twice a week in the year to come. Don’t neglect your most valuable asset either – your spouse! Set monthly date-nights to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Being a working parent has its ups and downs. Despite your best efforts, there will be moments of worry as you wonder if you are doing enough at work or at home. Be kind to yourself, and remember that the journey may not always be smooth sailing, but the challenges are part of your growth journey, and will make you and your family more resilient over time.
By Judith Xavier
Focus on the Family Singapore Limited is a local charity with Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status dedicated to helping families thrive by being a voice for Family. We partner individuals and organizations to nurture families at different life stages through transformational family life education, trusted resources, content placements and counseling.