Let’s be real: being a working parent can be really hard! Whether you have one kid or seven, caring for a human while trying to maintain relationships at work and at home is a lot to juggle. For so many parents and caregivers it just feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done – or done well.
Daisy Dowling is a career coach and author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. She says parents can rewrite the story of being a working parent by taking charge of the mental picture they have of what it means and what it requires.
That picture could include how our own parents operated as working parents, what we see on social media or the way our colleagues talk about parenting. Then, we can take a step back and set our own parameters based on our current reality instead of responding to outside pressures. .
Dowling shares actionable tips to help you reset your mindset and reclaim your time:
Take control of your time with these 4 tips
1. Do a calendar audit
This is a way to win yourself back some time by looking at how you’re already using your time.
Grab your calendar and a red pen (real or virtual) and look at all the obligations you had scheduled last week.
Start circling entries you could have stepped away from or even said no to. You’re not going to suddenly free up 25 percent of your calendar, but you’ll find some themes and through lines.
Maybe your kids are old enough to throw the laundry in the wash. Maybe you could spend less time perfecting your emails.
Once the audit is done use those insights and apply them to next week’s calendar.
2. Try timeboxing
Also known as “containment,” timeboxing is a way to break up daily tasks into smaller pieces so you’re not spending all day on them. For example, set a timer for 25 minutes to do housework. When the buzzer rings, you’re done. Maybe you will have only made a dent. But in the working parent world, a dent is plenty.
3. Set rules for yourself that you don’t have to think about
Make room in your week to tap into things that fill your tank instead of draining it. One example Dowling uses is taking a break from work on Saturdays. It’s the time she uses to go do things that bring her joy, and give her a chance to relax. Dowling says once she made the decision to try and protect her Saturdays, she was no longer bargaining and negotiating with herself on what she needed to get done and when.
4. Try taking a “Microbreak”
A microbreak is 10 to 15 minutes where you say to yourself, “I’m not going to do anything that’s ‘productive’ right now.” That means not folding laundry or reading work messages or whatever it is. Instead, choose something you find enjoyable and restorative, like taking a walk, just sitting with your thoughts or calling a friend.
Build your village: the 8-C tool
We all have different levels of resources, and different types of help we can access. But by remembering these eight Cs from Dowling’s book, we can find a few people in our lives we can ask for help.
Career: Is there a manager who can extend a bit of informal flexibility, or a mentor who can share their experience and provide you some feedback?
Colleagues: You interact with them day-in and day-out. Do you know someone who can give you a pep talk when you’re dragging through the day, or weighed down bythe load you’re carrying as a working parent?
Corporate: Does your employer provide an employee assistance program (EAP)? An EAP is usually designed to help employees who may need extra support.
Care: Can you think of additional people who can help share the load of daily or weekly tasks? Maybe you can ask for help from a friend or family member to watch your kids while you go to therapy, or just to have some quiet time at home?
Computer: Technology can be a great resource for coordinating childcare! Can you put all of the carpool logistics in an app to streamline who is picking your kids from school or helping them get to and from an activity?
Clinical support: Could a pediatrician or other medical professional (maybe a nurse practitioner) share some advice on how to improve bedtime routines or reduce tantrums?
Couple or co-parent: This can include a grandparent, spouse or partner (current or former). Are there different ways to rebalance the load to take some items off your plate in order to help you not be so depleted at the end of the day?
Community: Are you a member of a faith community that can help bolster you? Maybe you have a neighbor who can help make sure the kids get home safe from the bus after school.
If you’re resisting the idea of asking for help, ask yourself, “Why?” Break through that resistance and think about one person you could reach out over the next week – and do it. Dowling wants us to remember that we can be the architects of our support network to make it as robust and well-functioning as possible.
Of course, this is all a process. You’ll have to reevaluate as you go. But you’ve got this.
The podcast portion of this story was produced by Janet W. Lee.
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