1. Commit to Your Schedule
I remember going back to work after maternity leave (of about fourteen weeks!) and how I had discussed with my boss before going back that I’d have to leave by 5 p.m. each day, no exceptions. Anyway on day three of me being back my boss passes me in the corridor and says, “We’ve got a meeting with that new client at 5 p.m. on Thursday.” I say, “Great, I won’t be able to be there, but I can send Sally to take notes. Or we can reschedule.” My boss then asked me, “Why not?” and I told her, “I’ve got to be at home by 6 p.m.” She then asked if I had problems with my childcare. To which I replied, “It’s no problem, the childcare is great and in place, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. I’m as committed as I ever was. And I’m 100 percent available inside those time frames.”
So, when we’re clear about our timings and our boundaries, we can communicate them clearly and most often, get what works best for us.
2. Manage Expectations at Work and at Home
There’s no point in putting in strong boundaries around your office time, then taking work home with you. If there’s too much work to do in your contracted hours, you need to work with your boss and team to restructure. Sounds tough, I know. But balance is about claiming back what’s going to work best for you bit by bit. And try not to see this as selfish—the reality is that it’s responsible and it’ll allow the company to have you working for them happier and more balanced over time.
Also, there are the expectations of our children to manage. If we’re not focused with them during our home time, we may as well still be at work. And let’s face it, there are only a few hours between being home in the evening and the children going to bed (two to four hours max), so try to make those hours count.
3. Get Good Childcare
If you have to pay a bit extra for good childcare, then do it. I’ve had nurseries that have had a good Montessori learning and organic food programs that I’ve paid extra for. And I’ve had nannies that I’d trust with my all. I’ve also had nannies that call in sick at the last minute or don’t turn up at all! I’ve had school mums commit time to helping me during term time and I’ve had friends offer to jump in and support me last minute.
Whatever your care arrangements are for your children—make sure the caregiver knows how important it is that they’re on time and do what they say they’re going to do. If you’re going to have to raise the game at work because you’ve now got less out-of-hours flexibility, then you can’t afford to have your head on the kids every twenty minutes thinking, “I hope they’re all right,” or, “Should I ring to check?” Trust your carergivers (or don’t have them support you). Thank them often. Check regularly with your children about how it’s working.
4. Explain “Work” to Your Children
My daughter is forever asking me to do the school runs and to “just not go to work.” I’ve had to explain about all the extra things that we can now enjoy because I work—holidays, new clothes, the ice cream van treats. Plus, I’ve explained that even though we’ve lived in our house for a long time, I still have to pay the bank for it every month, plus gas, electricity, water, phone, mobile, internet, petrol, food, tax, savings, travel … an endless list.
It’s also good to share some of that responsibility with our children. Recently, my daughter has had to do the bathtime routine herself once a week and keep herself amused and quiet for half an hour afterwards while I run an evening teleclass series from my home office. All these conversations and lessons help to gradually grow our children into responsible teenagers and towards adulthood step-by-step.
5. Holidays and Downtime
This is a balancing act, especially if you have to do weekend and holiday planning with the children’s other parent. Try to keep a work head for work time, a home head for home time and a holiday head for holidays. If you have weekends without the children and you think you’ll miss them—plan an activity to focus on. I do coffee with friends, catch up on movies I haven’t seen, go to the gym, have long baths and sleep late—fills in a weekend!
And if you’re holidaying alone with the children focus on the good things. Make sure you get an hour each day (maybe when the children are sleeping) to sit with a glass of wine, count your blessings and imagine how you’re going to make next year even better than this one!