Too much to do in too little time? No one understands this more than working parents.
Although schools and daycares provide some relief, it can still be a challenge to juggle both full-time jobs and childcare.
There’s no cure-all, but it is possible to find greater balance. The key? Daphne de Marneffe, a San-Francisco-based psychotherapist and the author of multiple books on marriage and childcare, says that in order to manage multiple roles and keep their children engaged, parents must first find ways to maintain their own sanity and equilibrium. “When our kids are unhappy, it’s always stressful and hard,” says de Marneffe. “But it’s even more so when we don’t feel at our best either.”
Here are five tips to help you strike a work-childcare balance over the coming months.
Set a schedule.
In the time of so many unknowns, having a routine can bring a sense of comfort and calm, not to mention provide a structure for getting things done. “If your children are old enough, have them brainstorm with you on how to organize their day so that they get their school work done, balanced with physical activity, outdoor time, and unscheduled free time,” says Dr. Darlene Kertes, Director of Developmental Psychology at the University of Florida. She suggests sticking to the schedule on most days, but allowing flexibility to make changes if something’s not working.
Take it one step at a time.
De Marneffe has one main tip for overworked parents: Do one thing. “Think of the biggest problem or stress-point you, your family, or your kids are facing and think of one step toward solving it,” she says. “There is so much to do and to fix — none of us can manage it all. But we can put one foot in front of the other and be proud of taking one step toward improving the situation.”
Tend to your own well-being.
Having a cloud of undone tasks hanging over your head can make you feel inadequate and overwhelmed. But you can’t be your most effective self — either for your children or for your work — when you’re feeling stressed. “All this 24/7 family time is driving people nuts,” says de Marneffe, who advises that each person take the space they need to recharge their batteries. When you’re your best self, you can be more fully present for others.
If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. “Look to family and friends for a shoulder to cry on, an online support group that specializes in the issue that you’re dealing with, or a mental health professional,” she adds.
Negotiate with your partner.
As homeschooling has become the new normal for many families, there has been more friction about who does what. De Marneffe recommends dedicating an agreed upon time at least every week — but optimally every day — for partners to figure out how childcare duties can be shared and to hash out any thoughts and feelings about their roles. She found that full-time working parents who took on a larger share of childcare duties found it to be meaningful and gratifying; couples who split these responsibilities had a greater sense of equality and teamwork, not to mention a more manageable workload.