Your coping strategies as a working parent

The multiple roles we occupy as working parents are sometimes kind of crazy. How do you deal with a (too) busy life?

A mother copes with everyday stress - at the kitchen table with a child on her lap, looking at her laptop
, in Host families

It's business as usual...

You're working against two deadlines. You're in an important meeting and you're called away for an even more important phone call. 

It's your younger son on the line, enraged that the older son won't share the family iPad with him.

What's a parent to do? 

You find a solution to the iPad crisis, you go back to your meeting, you do the best you can with your deadlines, and finally you get to the point where you can leave the office. 

Does this make everything easier? Not necessarily. Not on those days when you race from work to the supermarket, trying to remember what is (and isn't) in the refrigerator. And from there the race continues: home to the kitchen - cooking time, mealtime, homework checking, family life, and (finally, somehow) getting the kids to bed. 

Done for the day? Not necessarily. 

There's the call you need to return to your own mother, there's the email to write to your friend who'll be visiting at the weekend, and there's the knowledge that when all that is done, it would be best if you took at least a short look at those files from work to get ready for your presentation tomorrow. 

And on another level (also important), you're thinking the whole time what you really "need" to do is to relax with your partner on the couch, maybe with a glass of wine, maybe with a movie, maybe with both.

What the experts say

On the one hand, days like this are no big deal (it's everyday life). And on the other hand, it can really get to be too much.

Every working parent knows the grind, and how important it is to find and to keep the right balance between doing a lot (good) and doing too much (bad). 

Experts suggest that parents with lots to handle at home and on the job can begin to address the situation by thinking about two questions:

  • What really are my priorities?
  • How do I separate (or connect) the different aspects of my life?

Priorities for working parents

Of course we all have limits. But with many of the roles we occupy in the two key areas of our lives - namely our professions (very important) and our families (very very important) - we don't really want to set any limits. We want to give everything we can to every situation. 

But this, of course, can be a disastrous approach. You can't give everything to every aspect of your life. If you try to do this, it's the classic recipe for burnout.

Making conscious choices

Therefore, time management experts recommend that we consciously prioritise among the multiple roles that we have. Trade-offs are inevitably going to be part of the package.

If we list roles and rank them, then we can begin to make these trade-offs consciously on the basis of clear choices.

In the best of cases, this lets us find a balance that truly corresponds with our own personal values.

And finally, acting in accordance with choices we've made ourselves is a strong first step towards leading a fulfilled life (even if it very busy).

Separating and integrating roles

In managing these multiple roles, some people seek to establish a strict boundary between job and home life, or between personal and professional realms. Others feel better mixing things up.

Deciding what your preferred style is with separating or integrating roles can also help to cope with modern role demands. 

  • Are you open to taking family phone calls at the workplace? 
  • Does your smartphone stay on or off when you get home in the evening? 
  • Do you want to socialise with work colleagues outside of working hours or rather not? 
  • And do you tell your kids and partner all about your work or leave those concerns at the office?

Of course, there are no right and wrong answers to such questions.

Again, it's a matter of marking out the boundaries clearly and consciously. This can be a first step to managing conflict between multiple roles and the stress that it can bring.

A key question to consider: What are your boundaries between "life" and "work" and how do you choose to manage them?