“Work-life balance” is now a well-worn cliché — I know that 18 years ago I was writing and speaking on this very issue. But today, I add a new dimension to my talks: recognizing how much achieving that balance can affect our kids.
When we wear our parent hat, we might forget the skills we practice at work. When you tackle a new project, join a new work team, or begin reorganizing a work area, you sit down and plan. You think about who needs to be involved, what the timeline is, and what impact will this have on the budget. And what about staffing? In short, you gather knowledge and experience to guide you through this process. Life is a process. Family and work tasks are processes.
You can approach the processes at home the same way you do at work: as a team. Your family, kids included, can tackle schedules, time management, and prioritization together. And, as a bonus, the kids will learn vital language and problem-solving skills.
Start with your family’s values. Get a big piece of paper and a marker and start talking about what your family values. Write everything out. Now talk about how what you do as a family supports those values. Write down the main themes.
The schedule is next. How does the current daily schedule support your family’s values? Where are the barriers? How can you all cooperate better? Clarify how your family works together to meet children’s needs and parents’ needs.
Now you need a big family calendar. Write each person’s schedule in a different color.
Take the time to talk every evening (in the car, at the table, in the bath) about how your family will meet each person’s needs tomorrow or next week. You will all begin to see how you fit together as a unit and recognize how valuable each person is. And that includes you.
Children learn how to be respectful from you. They learn how to be a leader from you. They learn how to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers from you. You know how to set goals, clarify tasks, implement projects, assess, re-group, and access resources for specialists, services, or support. You’ve learned all these tasks over your lifetime through experience and training. Apply them at home, and you will be a step closer to balancing your family.
Now, if you will apply the same technique at work, you will be a step closer to work-life balance. Create a backup for yourself at work. Consider cross training so that if you are late or must stay home with a sick child, the critical elements of your work can be accomplished in your absence. When it comes time to execute your plan, your children will experience the wonder of planning ahead.
Your expression of family values, about balancing work and family, and your attitudes and actions about attaining that balance will provide examples and experience for your children to balance their desires and their activities, plan for home “work,” and still have fun with their family.
Vicki Thrasher Cronin is the director of community and civic engagement at Ready 4 K. She has worked early childhood education for 30 years.