A Fine Balance

Oryana Angel suggests great tips for the juggling act.

Oryana Angel

This morning as I headed into work earlier than usual, I noticed a mum dressed for the office, shepherding two young girls in school uniform and pushing a toddler. All looked immaculate with hair in ribbons and smiles on faces. Considering it was only 7.45am I wondered what time the super mum had gotten up to start the morning rigmarole? At home my clan were just rolling out of bed. Dad was on duty today and I was enjoying the fact that I only had one person to get ready that morning – myself. Like most other working mothers, sometimes I feel that finding the illusive space where family and work needs unite in perfect harmony requires the juggling skills of a Cirque du Soleil performer. But there are a few things you can do to make things easier (well, most of the time anyway).

Have confidence in your choices

Just because you’re a working parent doesn’t mean that your children are suffering for it. A lot of research suggests quite the opposite. It’s more about quality, not quantity, of time spent with children that makes the difference. Similarly, studies show that working mothers are, by and large, healthier and happier than their stay at home counterparts. A lot of women are passionate about the work they do and feel it gives them vitality, and possibly a reprieve from the home front, improving their parenting skills overall. Or they simply need to work for financial reasons. Whether working or not though, the key to finding a good balance is to be at peace with the choices you make. If things just aren’t working, by all means change things. Now.

According to Growing Up in Australia, a longitudinal study of Australian children, parents on the whole had a positive view of work, both in terms of its impact on them and their children, with 70 per cent of parents agreeing working made them feel more competent. The same study found almost half of Aussie working parents often or always felt rushed, but that fast paced life also extended to non-working parents, with just short of 40 per cent of them expressing the very same problem. No matter which way you look at it, parenting requires a lot of time and effort and there’s no point wasting your precious energy on feeling guilty.

Get organised

The more organised you are, the smoother things are going to run. If you lead a busy life syncing your family calendars on the computer or phone is a must. I’m not very technically savvy, and admit I withstood two years of my husband’s badgering before I actually ditched my pocket Moleskin calendar, but now there is no going back. We now have a highly organised, colour-coded system which clearly outlines who is picking up and dropping off which kid, when; family gatherings; solo social outings; kids extracurricular activities and everything else that used to go into our weekly family “production” meetings.

If your children have just started school, or still need reminding, you might try printing out a calendar for the fridge with pictures of what they need to do each day. For example: library bag on Tuesday, piano after school on Thursday and News (show and tell) on Friday. My daughter loves to reference the calendar and know what she has coming up the next day. It also fosters independence, confidence and a sense of security knowing what she can expect.

If mornings are not your forte, packing school lunches, laying out uniforms and having bags ready to go the night before helps. Same goes for cooking – pre plan your family meals.

If you need some inspiration, Nicole Avery, a slightly spreadsheet addicted Melbourne blogger has some good ideas at planningwithkids.com

Invest in good quality care

It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving your child in the care of someone else for a few hours a week or a few days a week, it’s crucial that you feel confident that they are in good hands. There are a few different care options – family day care, long day care, preschool, out of school hours care etc depending on what you want. Unfortunately in urban centres like Sydney, good places have long waiting lists, so the best you can do is get your name down as soon as possible… and cross your fingers. If you’re not happy with the current situation, look around for something else.

It also helps if you have a good support network. I don’t have any family living in the same city, but over the years have befriended a good half dozen other “orphan” families who can be counted on to help with the kids if we are stuck. Of course it’s reciprocated and we lean on each other regularly.

Allow for you time

Make sure you schedule some time out for whatever it is that makes you feel good. Days and weeks can fly by in a haze of play dates, sleepless nights or work deadlines. Sounding much like a mantra that everyone has heard, but oft-forgets: it’s impossible to be the parent that they want to be if your own batteries are not charged on a regular basis.

Accept when things go wrong

It seems on the days you most need things to go to plan, everything falls in a heap. There’s no point fighting these days, take stock of things and the fact that it could all be worse. Even try find a bit of humour in the situation if you can.

As Bono croons:

“Some days are dry, some days are leaky. Some days come clean, other days are sneaky. Some days take less, but most days take more. Some slip through your fingers and onto the floor”.