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Demystifying Work-Family Balance

A modern parent’s guide to juggling it all

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Demystifying Work-Family Balance

One-third of parents say that having kids makes it harder for them to pursue their careers. And 38 percent of parents find that working makes it difficult to be a good parent. As you walk the tightrope between family life and the world beyond it, you may wonder, can you really have it all?

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The family circus

Today’s parents are juggling an increasing number of balls, including

  • living expenses, where 56 percent of Canadians worry about making their rent or mortgage payments, yet eight out of 10 parents in dual-income households say they always feel rushed and stressed with insufficient time to devote to their children and homes
  • accessing reliable childcare (or lack thereof)
  • managing the stress of careers and family, with research showing this leads to burnout and long-term health problems
  • staying present for children’s schooling and other needs when working remotely from home
  • meeting increasing pressure from schools and society about their children’s achievements and success

This puts a lot of strain on parents, especially if you—like many of us—grew up in an age when your parents seemingly did it all. Parental stress and a poor work-life balance have been linked to everything from relationship problems between parents to poorer relationships with their children (and even cognitive health concerns in the kids themselves).

But you can escape the circus. And it’s not so-called “work-life balance.”

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Focus on integration, not balance

Your work life and home life aren’t static. They ebb and flow, and sometimes come in surges—your boss calls you at 9 p.m. with an urgent PowerPoint request, or your kids are sent home from school with a viral case of yikes.

Trying to balance the two equally is a Sisyphean task, leading to more stress, resentment, and frustration. While most self-help guides talk about balance, it’s really about integration: thinking long term and setting up healthy expectations that allow you to meet the day’s demands.

In a word? Flexibility—sometimes on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis, rather than expecting equal splits between parenting and life outside the home.

“Parenting in today’s world means having to be adaptable, since things change constantly,” says therapist Kalley Hartman, LMFT. “Be prepared to alter plans or schedules to manage competing demands harmoniously. This requires patience and understanding, from both parents and children.”

Here’s how to do it.

Integration and self-care make you a better parent

Trying to do it all, equally, leads to burnout and resentment toward your children, says psychiatrist Dr. Harold Hong, MD. “Taking care of yourself is necessary to be an effective and compassionate parent.”

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4 tips for integrating life and family

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1. Create structure

“Establishing routines within the family creates predictability and security, while allowing everyone to get what they need,” says Hartman. “Consider the different roles you play in your children’s lives so you can prioritize tasks and responsibilities.”

For example, every Tuesday night could be takeout night from your favourite spot, so every family member can take alone time to do what they want (or need).

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2. Know your priorities

“Be realistic with your expectations and recognize that you can’t do everything,” says Hong. “Prioritize what can wait and what is most important to you.”

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3. Learn to say no

Saying no allows you to say yes to what matters.

This includes saying no to work projects outside of your role, social events, and even some requests from your family. “De-emphasize needing to solve everyday challenges; often there is no perfect solution to toddler tantrums and teenage worries,” says Dr. Erika Bocknek, family therapist and mother of three.

“Instead, invest in opportunities for connection—family rituals, for example—that include shared interests that help families generate emotional residue that sticks with parents and kids beyond the moment itself.”

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4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Reach out for the support needed,” says Jan Stewart, former vice chair for Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “I have found support groups and other parents with similar children to be particularly reaffirming; they strengthen my emotional fortitude.”

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You are enough

“The stress and pressure on parents are enormous and come from many directions, including even within ourselves,” says pediatric psychologist Angelique Snyder. “Almost every parent I know asks themselves, ‘Am I doing enough?’”

Don’t try to do it all. Instead, do what matters.

“Be kind to yourself and treat yourself with the love you show your children,” says Snyder. “While a lot of organizational skills and strategies can be helpful, I find that most parents just need reassurance that they are doing a good job. You are more than enough for yourself and your kids, even when you don’t feel that way.”

When home is where the office is

The pandemic may be over, but work-from-home life isn’t: 85 percent of Canadians seek remote or hybrid jobs. But a home office brings its own considerations for parents.

Shut it off

The lines between work and home get blurred in this new age, and the ping of emails, Zoom, and Slack can pull you out of family time. Set boundaries, and put your phone and laptop away at the end of the day.

Let go of toxic work expectations

Just because you can be 100 percent available doesn’t mean you should be. Let go of unhealthy office culture, such as needing to respond to a colleague’s email right away.

Practise self-care

“Set aside time for yourself,” says psychologist Michael Dadashi. “Self-care helps parents stay in tune with their needs and better prepared to address the needs of their children. This could be as simple as taking a few minutes daily for a quiet walk.”

Seek support

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Having a support system can be an invaluable resource,” says Dadashi. “Sharing the joys and challenges of parenting with someone who understands can be incredibly comforting. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, speaking with a mental health professional can provide guidance. They can help identify the root of the problem and develop strategies for coping.”

Supplements and strategies for stress

You’ve got a toolkit of remedies when you’re trying to be everything, everywhere, all at once.

Mindfulness

Multiple studies have shown that parents who meditate lower their parenting stress and improve the well-being of their children.

Exercise

Other studies find that regular physical activity reduces stress and improves the quality of life in working parents.

Supplements

Natural remedies can help you manage life’s pressures, including

  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • probiotics
  • B-vitamins
  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • antioxidant-rich foods such as beans, berries, and nuts

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