Debating who has the tougher job, the at-home parent or the at-work parent, is the “War Games” of all arguments: the only winning move is not to play. As far as Joy and I go, I think both of us have it incredibly stressful at times and both have our own benefits that the other can’t enjoy. Both of us are ultimately seeking the holy grail of balance in our lives: profession, hobbies, spouse, and kids and four years in as parents I’m still not sure we have equal eggs in all baskets.
I found a recent post by Maria Kamara on Voice Boks that shares her keys to starting and maintaining a creative business, while managing her family of six at home. She offers five practices that have made her successful as an entrepreneur, a wife, and a stay-at-home mother.
I live on the opposite end of the spectrum from her. I’m the commuting at-work parent in our household; the one who is able to escape the stress and frustration of toddlers asserting their independence at a parent’s expense, but who ends up sharing many of their first discoveries by text message or after-the-fact dinner time updates. Yet even though her post is written specifically for the home-based parent seeking to add a professional enterprise to their life, all five of her recommendations apply just as well to me, the go-to-work dad, trying equally hard to keep balance in his. In fact, with one extra suggestion, added below, I think it’s a pretty great set.
1. Include your children in your work.
I have the luxury of being able to work from home when schedule and family commitments demand it. It means my kids are around me when I work on a weekly basis. I like the opportunity this gives me to be around them and be part of their daily routine from time to time, and also the opportunity it gives them to be a part of mine.
Educating my kids about the role employment plays in our lives is about more than paycheques. It’s about sharing what we do and why we do it. My kids are little, but I have sat both of them on my lap at my computer desk to show them the work I’m doing, because I want them to understand where I go and what I do when I’m not at home. And, over time, I want them to understand why I’m doing the job I’m doing and not something else. I hope it will help them ask important questions as they try to find their own pursuits.
For Maria, the inclusion of her children is practical. They are in her workspace — her studio — already; they even help her with steps in her artistic process. This isn’t always possible for me. But at the same time, when I’m working from home my office door doesn’t need to be closed at all hours. As we settle in to this house and continue to customize it to suit us better, evolving the home office into a space where the kids are welcome to sit across from me and read or draw will also give them a healthy exposure to the work I’m doing.
2. Find others like you.
Whether you’re an at-home parent, a home-based entrepreneur, or a working parent outside the home, a network of like-minded people — whether physical or virtual — can be a great source of inspiration and support. My guess is that there’s a 50% chance if you’re reading this post, we’re connected via social networks because of our common interest in family, health, and fitness.
3. Have your spouse’s support.
As Maria writes, having your spouse’s support is critical to starting your own business. But it’s no less important when you’re maintaining or evolving your professional career as only parent with full-time employment. On a micro-level, I can only succeed at work knowing that my wife has my back at home if work keeps me late, when it demands that I travel, or when I need a sounding board for work challenges that I just need to share aloud. On a macro-level, every choice I make to step forward, backward, or laterally in my career has an effect on my family and we are equal partners in making decisions that are in our collective best interest.
4. Routines not schedules.
I like this concept as a parent to toddlers, especially given my fortunate flexibility at work. My routine is to commit a certain amount of time and effort to my job each week, to make progress on new tasks and maintain my existing professional relationships. But the schedule with which I fulfill this commitment varies day-to-day and week-to-week. There are only so many waking hours in the day that we can spend together with our kids and I’m lucky to be able to adapt my work schedule to include early morning, commute, and later evening when necessary to keep our routines in tact.
5. Rest and rejuvenate.
For me, this one is a work in progress. It’s not just because one of the challenges with our kids is their consistent inconsistency when it comes to sleep patterns at night. It’s because part of rest and rejuvenation, in my view, is about relaxing your mind and leaving work behind as you transition back home and vice versa. Twice in our history, we have lived close enough to work that we could commute home in 15 minutes or less. When it was close to Joy’s workplace in Vancouver, she walked home most nice days to give herself time to unwind and stay fit. When it was close to mind in Burnaby, I did the same. While light-rail commuting offers the environment to squeeze an extra 30-45 minutes of work from my day, I also need to provide myself enough buffer time to set the work mindset aside and be ready and available to my family at home.
Which brings us to the one recommendation I think was missing for achieving work, life, family balance:
6. It’s not all about you. Support your spouse, too.
Working to achieve a perfect balance of personal, professional, and family interests is not a solo endeavor. One partner can’t really achieve it at the expense of the other. So the one suggestion I would add to the original post is that whether you’re trying to enhance the professional aspects of your life as an at-home parent or getting more serious about you passion projects after you get home from work, make sure your choices also provide enough flexibility to support your spouse in their own goals and pursuits. Ultimately, the choices and commitments we make still need to be part of the best plan for our family, and especially for the partner who has already given us their support thus far.
Truthfully, I don’t have any of this figured out. But it’s useful to find nuggets in other’s advice — even if it was never meant for me — that might help me get a little closer.
Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.