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What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is the relationship between your work and the other important things in your life, like your family, sport and social life, household chores, volunteer commitments and so on. If you feel like you have enough time for all of these things in your life, you probably have a good work-life balance.
There's no universal formula for work-life balance. It's different for everyone, because every family situation is different and unique. And it's also likely to change as your work, family and other responsibilities change.
With realistic expectations, and some trial and error, you're likely to find an approach that helps you and your family achieve work-life balance in the long term.
Work-life balance: why it's good
Good for you
Finding a work-life balance means you're likely to feel:
- less stressed and tired
- more in control of your time
- better able to make decisions and meet commitments
- more healthy.
And a well-balanced family life can actually help prevent burnout at work too.
Good for children
To develop and learn, children need warm, loving attention and quality time with you. Quality time is when you're physically and emotionally present with your child. A work-life balance can help you make this time for your child.
Good for your relationships
Quality time spent together is the building block of all relationships, so a good work-life balance gives you the time and energy to develop better relationships with your child and your partner.
How work and family life can get out of balance
Work can get in the way of spending enough time - and enough quality time - with your child.
The time you spend working is obviously time you aren't spending with your children. Working long hours might mean that you get home after your children are in bed, or that you leave before they wake up. You might hardly see them during the week. And if you bring work home, this can affect how much time you have with your children too.
Work can also have a negative effect on the time you spend with your children. You might be at home, but your mind can really still be at work. You might be thinking about something that happened during the day, or still focusing on a problem, for example.
Why children need you to switch off from work each day
Children often need your attention most at the end of the day, just when it can be really hard for you to give it. They might want to tell you all the news of the day or ask for your help with something.
And children can have bad days too, perhaps at child care or school. They might need your sympathy or advice, or they might just want you to listen while they get something 'off their chest'. Younger children are often tired, grumpy or hungry by the time you're all home. They might just need cuddles.
It can be a difficult juggle when you're preparing dinner and getting ready for the next day. But it can be worth taking the time to stop, listen and connect with your child. It reassures children that they're loved, safe and secure - and it might help you all relax and feel better.When you're busy, stressed or stretched to the limit, you can easily slip into thinking that paying attention to your child is just another job or responsibility. Instead, it might help to think how wonderful it is to have a child to come home to and share the world with.
New work arrangements for better work-life balance
When you're a working parent, you might like to consider family-friendly work arrangements. Try to find out what family-friendly policies your employer has in place by looking at your workplace agreement or talking to your workmates. Then talk to your boss about it.
Options might include:
- working flexible hours - for example, you might be able to arrive late and work late or vice versa, which can make school drop-offs or family dinners easier
- working from home
- working fewer hours - for example, by working part time or job-sharing.
It doesn't matter what your friends do or what other people think you should do - choose the option that's best for your family.
Changing work habits
When you have children, it might help to rethink your work habits to make it all fit. Here are some ideas:
- Review the work day in your mind before you leave work. This can help you shift gradually to thinking about home and family.
- If your family and care arrangements allow it, consider staying a little longer at work to finish up a task instead of taking it home. Longer hours might not be the best option in the long term, though.
- Try to arrange your work so you take on the most challenging tasks at the beginning of the day, instead of at the end.
- Take a moment in your work day to feel connected with your child. This could be as simple as looking at a photo or thinking about a special thing you've done together recently. This can help you remember the reason you're trying to achieve a work-life balance.
- Try to set some boundaries around how much work you'll do at home, including limits on checking and responding to emails or phone calls.
Making the daily switch from work to home
You might feel more ready to connect with your children when you get home if you can 'put work to rest' in your head between work and home. Try some of these ideas on the way home:
- Turn off your work phone and tune out by listening to music, the radio or a podcast, reading or exercising - try walking or riding a bike home if you can.
- Think about ways to make travel time more relaxing. For example, join a car pool, use public transport or walk if your situation allows it.
- Switch your thoughts to your child as you go from work to home.
- Do a simple mindfulness exercise, perhaps before you leave work or in your parked car.
And settling in for the evening might be easier with these ideas:
- Have a ritual or routine to mark the physical, mental and emotional move from work to home, from worker to parent. It can be something as simple as changing out of your work clothes.
- Talk to your family, including older children, about the challenges of making the transition, especially during stressful times at work. Help them see things from your perspective, try to see things from theirs, and have reasonable expectations about personal time and family time.
- If you work from home, try to keep your work area separate from family areas. Put boundaries in place about start and finish times, and be clear with coworkers and clients about the times you aren't available.
- Ask your partner, or whoever has been caring for your child, to tell you about your child's day or anything that's happened that might affect your child's mood. This can help you get ready to give your child the attention he needs.