You missed your kid's soccer game again because you've been working on that big client report, the one you're still behind on. Oh, and didn't you promise to bring muffins to the school bake sale tomorrow? And there's that meeting at 10am, and the pediatrician appointment at 11:30, and ugh, you should probably buy toilet paper at some point. Everything seems to be hanging by a thread - your job, your family life, your sanity. And your refrigerator smells.
In just about every working parent's life, there comes a point when you declare this isn't working. Something has got to give. Some people take extreme measures - they shift to a less demanding job, quit to stay home with their children, or encourage their partners to choose one of those options. It's possible that these are the right moves for you and your family, but they shouldn't be the only way to feel a semblance of balance.
As someone who has been to that near-breaking point, I appreciate the idea behind the "5% Solution," as explained by Daisy Wademan Dowling in Harvard Business Review. Instead of making a rash, drastic life shift (which you may later regret), try some tiny tweaks. Dowling, the founder of the consulting firm Workparent, writes about work flexibility - you can gain more of it by deciding to, say, leave the office early once every other week or head straight home from any flight that lands after 2 PM. "These measures sound small, and are," she writes. "They won't change your schedule more than 5%, they won't be enough to affect performance, and your boss may not even notice. But they will provide you enough feeling of flexibility and 'give' to continue on your chosen path."
I think you can apply the solution to areas beyond scheduling. While you will never find one magical answer that solves the great work-life balance conundrum, there are things you can do to make things a little more manageable. Add them up, and you might feel a real difference in your wellbeing.
I asked friends and members of the Offspring Facebook group what small changes they have made to achieve more balance at work and home. Here are some tips.
- Strategise your work hours. The option isn't possible for everyone, but it's worth exploring. For a mum named Louise, staggering work hours with her husband made the most sense. "He starts later in the morning so he can bring our youngest to school and I finish my workday early enough to pick her up," she writes. A dad named Pablo got the green light from his boss to start work an hour before everyone else so that he can later be out the door in time to pick up his kid from the nursery.
- Announce to your colleagues that you must leave the office at a set time. You're more likely to follow through if you say it aloud. "Work knows I have to leave at 4:40, no matter what," writes a mum named Rozen. "Everyone helps me with that."
- Use your out-of-office reply with abandon. A mum named Christine turns it on not only if she's on the road for work, but also if she's away from her desk at a school function. "I have found that that tiny, simple act totally relieves me of the pressure to check my email constantly, which is huge," she explains. "... I just really loathe the divided attention situation which is so common/challenging for so many of us. At some point I figured, what the hell, if I have taken the time to get to x, y, or z, I really want to BE HERE."
- Take a mental health day from your job.
- Have everything delivered. "We have our weekly groceries delivered one evening when our daughter's already in bed," writes a dad named Andrew. "We get repeatedly ribbed by our friends as we're only two minute walk from the supermarket. The way we see it: It allows us to spend our weekends actually doing things with our daughter rather than dragging her around a shop." You can also have household essentials like toilet paper, paper towels and nappies auto-shipped via Amazon, Coles, Woolworths and other companies.
- Make your lunch breaks as productive as possible. Run errands, fill out school medical forms, and do all the stuff that would way be more challenging if you had your kids around.
- Have "date night" from 5-6 PM on weekdays: That's what a mum named Jenn does. "If my husband and I had really productive days, we sometimes leave the office right at five and go out for a quick happy hour drink while we leave the kids in daycare till six. They have way more fun with their friends, and we already paid for [the childcare]!"
- If you can't get to the gym, find ways to exercise with your kid. When my five-year-old became obsessed with riding her scooter, I decided to buy my own so we could ride along the beach together. Good bonding and good exercise. Here are some more ways to include your kid in your workout routine.
- Outsource what you can. Many working parents said that hiring a house cleaner has made all the difference in their stress levels. It's not in everyone's budget, of course, but if cleaning has become a huge time suck, you might want to calculate what an hour of your time is worth and weigh that against the rate of a professional cleaner.
- Have a few mantras for when things get tough. Maybe it's cheesy, but it helps. "You can do everything, just not at the same time." "Done is better than perfect." Or simply: "You're doing a great job." A mum named Jamie reminds herself to lower her standards: "I don't strive for the four-star home-cooked meal. I strive for a protein, veggie, fruit and grain or something of the sort. I don't beat myself up when its macaroni and cheese." She writes that she'll never be the Pinterest Mum, and she's just fine with that. "Sending my child the same lunch every day has saved my sanity and my budget."