It doesn’t matter whether you are a mum or a dad, trying to co-ordinate your working life with children is a dance from the moment the alarm hums at you in the morning, til those glorious minutes you tuck your arm under your pillow and close your eyes at night.
But by treating it as just that – a dance – you can turn it from a stressful, angst-ridden white-knuckle ride into a joyous performance, where everyone knows their roles.
First and foremost – don’t ever gloss over that you have children who are reliant on you from work colleagues. Just as their dog, their Toughmudding challenges, their baking hobby is part of their lives, your children are part of yours. Buzz and laugh about everyone’s passions together. All the fascinating things you/they do beyond the workplace door makes you the great ‘you’ that comes to work. So take time to learn about their lives, and introduce them to yours.
Encourage your children from an early age to help make life happen together – whether it’s the washing, cooking, cleaning, tidying up toys… Doing it with music on loud, singing together gives it a rhythm. Sorting colours for the wash, weighing ingredients on scales, drawing pictures for the shopping list may take a little longer when smaller people are involved, but the added laughter makes up for the extra time taken.
Don’t sweat the small stuff… it really doesn’t matter. But take time to think through the big things ensuring you find time to really talk them through together. You know that moment in a dance, when the note lasts, you’re balanced waiting, holding yourself, listening… these discussions are just like those moments. You need them to go on long enough to ensure everyone has got what they need from that quiet time together, that you are hearing each other, understanding each other. This is as effective at work over a quiet coffee, or as you sit curled up with your teenager on the sofa.
Find time to do things one-to-one with each child, with your partner, or even just with yourself. In today’s world we all get caught up in a rich maelstrom that is working hard, heading home, straight into family life… Seize a moment from time to time that is peaceful time, looking at each other and really see what is happening through their eyes.
Relish your work – it is as much part of you and your personal value in the world as your family, your heritage, so don’t ever underestimate it. Contribute your best endeavours to it whilst you are there, it is a place that recognises you for your worth, not because you are your child’s parent. It is that solo moment in your dance, when you can acknowledge some of your real talents.
Don’t ever feel guilty – guilt is a wasted emotion. You haven’t done anything more serious than miss a school event, or fail to buy a birthday gift, or failed to send a book back. Yes, your child will feel this keenly, but if they are part of your family dance too, they will realise that just like they forget things, you do too. None of you is perfect. Talking about the ups and the downs builds their and your resilience to these small hiccups. Helping them understand your work, what it involves, just like you understand their world brings clarity to both parent and child alike.
Partnering with a colleague at work who also has children or other caring responsibilities can really help on those occasions when you just can’t get to work. If they can help cover for you, and vice verse, so both of you can still achieve what you need to get done – what a great outcome. Work hard at that relationship to ensure you both understand each other’s lives and possible needs.
With four children of my own, now all adults, I could have written so much more… but you will have your own steps contributing to your work and home life that creates your own unique family dance. But do treat it as a dance, not as a weight that drags you down. As a dance – it is so much more fun.
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