All parents work. But for those of us who work outside the home as well, it can be like working two or more full-time jobs. It’s easy to get overwhelmed…and no one wants to admit that they are barely hanging on. By putting some habits into place, though, you can get yourself on track and become successful. Here are six habits of successful working parents to get you started.
Have backup systems in place
Murphy said, “Anything that can go wrong, will.” That means the day of the big presentation, the kids are going to have the stomach flu. Or your car will break down when it’s your turn to drive for soccer practice. Or you’ll walk into the office not realizing that the baby spit up down your back.
Successful parents can’t plan for every possible contingency. But they can have backup systems in place. What does that mean?
- Have back-up caregivers in place or the ability to work from home when the kids are sick. (Do not, under any circumstances, bring sick children to work. Not only will you distract your co-workers, but you could cause them to get sick as well.)
- Set up the carpool rotation so there is an alternate ready to go, if necessary, each day.
- Keep baby wipes stashed in your car, desk, and at home to handle spills and what not. Baby wipes remove everything–they can even get melted chocolate out of car seats.
Murphy was a rocket scientist (really!). He knew that redundancy and backup systems are essential to success. Follow his lead.
Know what is on the calendar
Schedules can overwhelm us. Johnny has to be at karate right after school, but your spouse assumed you would be taking him, and now Johnny’s stuck at school. Or you make your way halfway across the city to pick up your 8-year-old, just to find out she has taken the bus home (yes, that happened to me).
One of the fastest ways to lose control is to be blind-sided. You can limit your risk by making sure you are on track every day. What does that mean?
- Put school calendars into your calendar. Most school districts even have electronic calendars you can pull in. Check it every day for events.
- Know who is taking whom where. Check with your partner or other drivers the day of the event to confirm.
- Make sure your children know where they are supposed to be when, and who is taking them. And make sure your children know to speak up!
Keep on top of your calendar, and you will not be blind-sided often.
Focus on kids during family time
Go into any fast food restaurant, and you will see a family with the parents on their phones, while the kids eat or run in the play yard. Or you have probably seen the parent walking in the parking lot, talking on the phone, while his child is playing softball.
Family time is time spent with family. It’s important for your kids to know that you pay attention to them in positive ways. What does this look like?
- Put the phone down. Not checking Twitter or Facebook during dinner won’t kill you.
- Don’t try to work during the game. Be fully present. See little Sally make her first base hit.
- Make meaningful conversation with your kids. Your kids will know if you are half-listening or giving generic answers.
Family time should mean your focus is on your family. Don’t let other things get in the way of this quality time.
Know that balance is not rigid
We all know that sometimes work takes more. And sometimes (like with a sick child), family takes more. Don’t wear yourself out trying to make sure you spend equal amounts of time with both.
Balance doesn’t mean splitting the pie the same way every day. Balance means that you are flexible enough to know that sometimes work takes more, and sometimes your family takes more. What does this look like?
- During weeks you have big projects, let your family know you will be working longer.
- During weeks when your workload is light, interact more with your family and knock those pesky things off your honey-do list.
- Make sure you get enough sleep every night. Although balance is flexible, taking care of yourself is mandatory.
(If you are consistently working too much, here are a couple great articles to help: 8 Ways to Stop Working Long Hours and 10 Reasons You Should Stop Working Long Hours Today).
Balance isn’t about rigidity. Find the flow.
Let kids learn from their mistakes
You get a frantic call at the office from your daughter. She’s left her art project at home. Could you please bring it? You can hear the panic in her voice. At the same time, your boss is waiting for you to start a meeting.
As working-outside-the-home parents, it is easy to feel guilty and try to make our children’s paths smooth. But kids build resiliency when they learn from their mistakes. Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
It’s hard to watch them make mistakes. But we need to let them suffer some consequences, too, or they will not grow into responsibility. What does that look like?
- You help your child prepare for the day, the night before. You show them how to check schedules, and get things ready.
- You don’t rush to fix things. Let them figure out what went wrong, and what they could do differently the next time.
- You don’t bail them out. If a project is forgotten at home, let them take the lower grade. Knowing you won’t bail them out makes them more aware of their own responsibilities.
Children can learn from their mistakes. Think about what you are teaching them if you consistently bail them out. Let them learn to be responsible.
Think outside the box
Parents are creative beings out of necessity. It is one of our strengths, and we should use it whenever we can, including with our jobs and family. Bringing our parental creativity to work can actually give us an edge. Bringing our work skills home, too, can give us an advantage. What sort of things transfer?
- Delegate. You do it at work, do it at home. Use machines to make your life easier (crockpot, microwave, etc). Have other people do your tasks (housecleaning, shopping service). Get your kids involved with chores. Everyone should contribute, and even the smallest child can help.
- Use people’s strengths. Ask a friend who bakes to do the bake sale cookies while you hook up her new computer.
- Apply time management to home. You know how to batch tasks and keep a meeting on track. Do the same at home.
Apply what you have learned at work to home to keep things running smoothly.
Working parents don’t have to be at a disadvantage. By adding these six simple habits to your day you can set the stage for being a successful working parent.