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Many parents describe having children as a job unto itself. It can seem impossible to take on this new, challenging, high stakes (not to mention lifelong!) job when you have a regular day job to take care of as well. September 16th is National Working Parents Day, which honors these individuals who are able to do the impossible: have a day job and raise a child at the same time. How do they do it?
Glassdoor reached out to parents across different professions about their best tips and secrets for making the most of the time spent with children while still staying on top of their professional lives. From school administrators to attorneys, these parents have all found ways to balance and prioritize the endless responsibilities that come with living a full life.
1. Turn your phone off
For Scott, who works as an attorney, the easiest way to maximize the time spent with kids is to simply turn off the phone until the kids are safely tucked away in bed. “I think it really helps to create some boundaries around work/home and an easy way for me to do that is put my phone away when I get home,” he says. Instead of being distracted by emails or texts, time can be spent focusing on the children.
2. Divide responsibilities
Nailing down in advance which partner will do what, and when, to take care of the child is crucial to Elisha, who works as a school administrator. “Deciding who will handle each of the many duties that come with being a working parent helps eliminate unnecessary frustration and provides clarity,” advises Elisha. One example of this Elisha gives is dividing nighttime responsibilities in advance between the couple – one gives the child a bath, while the other puts the child to bed.
3. Share calendars
A big part of sharing responsibilities is sharing your time. Another tip Elisha gives is sharing calendars with your partner, so each partner can be kept in the loop. That way, Elisha says, “we know if the other parent is going to have an occasional late night at the office, and it doesn’t catch us off-guard.”
4. Make a roster of babysitters
Since Eduardo, special projects deputy for the mayor of Los Angeles, and his wife don’t have a readily available cadre of retired relatives to watch their daughter on short notice, he recommends making a list of babysitters who can be called at a moment’s notice in case anything comes up. This way, there’s always someone on call – the longer the list, the better.
5. Create a joint calendar
Creating a joint calendar allows Eduardo and his wife – who also works full time – to map out the majority of their household and work functions. And the calendar is a constant work in progress: “on a bi-weekly basis, we meet to negotiate our work-related functions on our family calendar,” Eduardo says.
6. Go on a quest for harmony
For Eric, who works in strategy and planning, familial harmony is a dynamic effort. This quest for harmony depends on what sacrifices and ambitions are necessary for the family to achieve balance, he says. “A good friend once shared with me the allegory of the plate-spinning acrobat as the relevant comparison for work-life balance,” recounts Eric. “The acrobat does not focus on all of the plates all of the time, as that would be impossible. Instead, the acrobat focuses on the plate that needs his attention the most.”
7. Establish boundaries
“Ruthlessly prioritize,” says Tracy, a senior director of digital marketing. This can be done in advance, by making it clear to your coworkers and your manager that you have a schedule you stick to. That way, last-minute requests to stay late or take on an extra project can be prevented before they happen.
8. Say “no”
Tracy observes that the ability to say “no” is one of most effective gateways to being able to spend more time with your kids. “Don’t feel guilty about saying no to happy hours on weeknights and birthday parties on the weekends,” she says. Saying “no” is essentially a tool that can be used to maintain boundaries.
9. Be realistic
“Recognize that ‘work-life balance’ largely is a misnomer,” says Meena, founder of the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign. Sacrifices must always be made, either on the “work” side or the “life” side, and this is something that should be accepted early on, points out Meena. That way, these choices can be planned around.
10. Identify your priorities
For Terrance, a university administrator, family is the number one priority. So when a choice about where to put time or energy comes up, Terrance says he always goes back to a simple question: “Are you investing in your priorities?”
11. Plan your job around your life (rather than the other way around)
“I’ve learned that my children don’t really care as much about having fancy clothes or toys as they care about spending quality time with me,” says Dr. Candice Weaver, for whom quality time with family is a top priority. Dr. Weaver, who works as a Family Medicine physician, shares that quality time with family is what we should plan our schedules around, rather than planning our lives around our job.
12. Outsource tasks
Sometimes laundry, housekeeping, and errands can chip away at the free hours of the day. Dr. Weaver says that she outsources these types of tasks whenever she can afford it. This all serves to create more frequent, and more quality, time with the family.
13. Plan ahead
Just like Eduardo and his wife map out their home and work schedules on a regular basis, Dr. Weaver also sets aside a dedicated time on the weekend to prep meals and plan the week’s busy schedule. That way, the slings and arrows of the week’s responsibilities can be better handled and prepared for.
14. Make sacred time
Pick a time that of day – or week – that you absolutely must spend with your kids, and stick with it, says Katie, a former lawyer. That might be driving them to school in the morning, dinner around the table every night, or even a weekly ice cream date. That way, you can plan your schedule around this “sacred time,” and prioritize it above all other responsibilities.
15. Prepare to show up
Having 11-year-old and 5-year-old daughters, says Walter, an energy consultant, means that there is always some kind of soccer match or school concert. If work gets in the way, Walter says, it’s important to make it up to the children and explain why you weren’t there.