Practical Parenting

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Reviewing your family work/life balance

This morning, when dropping my 4-year old off for his pre-school session, we saw one of his friends in floods of tears, trying to drag his mum back towards her car. His mum was clearly upset by this, saying that her son goes there 4 and a half days a week and that he just wanted to stay at home today. His mum works 4 days a week, is single, has 2 other children to look after, and just needed a few hours to catch up on the housework. ”What else can I do, I have to pay the mortgage?” she confided.

Seeing this saddened me but it happens very frequently, in almost every nursery, pre-school and school around the country and most working parents will have experienced this situation more than once.

During the past few months, parents have been under pressure in the press to spend more time with their children, with less focus on materialism. So here’s the age-old dilemma – do you work to earn money or stay at home with your children?

Now is a great time to think about your own family’s balance. If you feel your family’s work/life balance could be improved, why not take some time out this weekend to have a quiet dinner with your other half or a close friend, get yourselves a glass of wine and talk through these 5 points:

1. What does your family value the most?
Imagine you are sitting here in 5 years’ time and someone asked you if you’d had any regrets about how you spent the last 5 years – what would you say? You wished you’d spent more time with your family? Saved more diligently? Travelled more? Worked longer or smarter to get promoted?
2. Sort out your family finances
If you know you have to work to pay the mortgage, or save for university fees, how much do you have to work and how much money do you need to get by? How much money does your family want and to what extent will it enhance your life together and your happiness? Consider meeting a financial advisor to review your own situation and sort out a 5-year plan. Many people believe they have to work full time to pay the bills, but on paper, are you absolutely sure?
3. Set a short- term family goal
You don’t always have to have the same working pattern. Once you’ve got your financial plan in place, consider flexible working if you feel this would give you a better balance and make you feel happier – this could be a day a week working from home; a 4-day week or a 9-day fortnight. You could arrange to leave early 2 nights a week to do the school run. Is a family holiday important to you? By knowing you are working towards something that you will all benefit from, will keep you motivated and on track.
4. Consider the benefits of working on your family
Think about how you portray the world of work to your children. Talk about the positive things about work – the challenge, the people you get to know, how it feels inside when you know you have done a good job and get recognition for it; what it feels like to progress and learn. Our children need to know that work isn’t always about a daily grind to make ends meet (as we find ourselves having a moan after a bad day)
5. Let go of the guilt
Finally, once you’ve made the decision whether to work full or part time or to stay at home with your children full time, embrace it. Make the most of it and remind yourself that you are confident you have made the right decision that works for your family at this time. Your family’s priorities may change at any stage, so be prepared to re-evaluate!

Everyone’s family situation is hugely personal and very different from another. The key is to take time out to understand what your priorities are and do it on behalf of the whole family, so everyone’s needs are met.

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About Author

Helen Letchfield

Helen Letchfield is Co-Founder and Principal Facilitator for Parenting for Professionals . As a qualified performance coach, Helen works with parents and parents-to-be to offer support through the challenge of creating a home/work balance. She has 12 years experience in coaching and developing corporate clients, and has worked for Barclays Wealth, Credit Suisse, Canon and Harrods. She is a working mum to 2 boys aged 6 and 3. Parenting for Professionals supports parents at work through its in‑depth Maternity Coaching Programme, as well as one‑to‑one coaching.

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