Making the Working-Parenting Balance Work

Today at lunchtime, sitting with my soda in a shady plaza, with a waterfall behind a tall office building, on a beautiful day in New York, I had a revelation. One benefit of being a working parent is I get a lot of precious solitude on the job.
—Amy Dunkin, Business Week Online “Working Parents” blogger (

Whether you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, balancing the demands of work and parenting takes effort! Parents who have partners tell us it’s often their “couple’s relationship” that suffers the most. Don’t forget to be intentional about investing effort in the relationships that support you as a parent. And be sure to identify other caring adults who can be present in your child’s life when you can’t.

Here are strategies for making the work and family balancing act work:

For more advice on maintaining a work-life, balance, see Work and Family.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • You’ll be happier—and your child will be, too—if your child is well-cared for during your workday. When you look for high-quality childcare, be willing to spend time searching for a situation that is comfortable and fits your child’s personality. Meet with childcare providers, observe adult and child interactions, talk with parents of other children, and trust your own feelings. This process may take several days or weeks, but will be worth your investment of time.
    • If possible, stagger your workdays with your parenting partner’s schedule so that you can decrease the time your child spends in childcare. Even in a great childcare environment, small children wear out by the end of the day and need time at home with mom or dad.
    • Between getting work done and caring for children, your relationship with your spouse or partner sometimes suffers. Be intentional about finding sitters from early childhood onward so that you have a regular time alone together.
    • Check in with your partner (and yourself!) periodically to assess whether you are balancing your work and family time the way you want to. List your priorities to help you be realistic about the things you value most.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Establish routines that simplify the whole family’s “comings and goings.” This may include a specific homework time; a consistent, soothing bedtime routine (preferably including reading time together); preparing lunches the night before; and eating breakfast together to kick off the day (or sharing a different meal together if you work a later or earlier shift).
    • Engage your child in simple chores that help you get things done at home and give you more time to play and enjoy one another’s company.
    • Set “work-free” times when everyone puts down their schoolwork, housework, office work, and other tasks and goes for a walk, plays outside, or does some other activity together.
    • Don’t forget to make “dates” with your parenting partner to make that relationship investment.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • When your child seems capable, give her or him the responsibility for preparing one simple family meal a week. Rotate the responsibility if you have more than one child so that the kids are always in charge of Wednesday meals, for example, but take turns being lead chef.
    • At this age, it is important to limit the amount of time your kids spend home alone while you are at work, even if they are too old for a sitter. Help them get involved in after-school programming, a play-date exchange with friends whose parents are on different schedules, or in supervised volunteering.
    • This is a time in your child’s life when your help is needed less often, but your supervision and ability to provide “hanging out time” is needed just as much as when they were very young. If you need and want to continue working, explore possibilities such as telecommuting, cutting back on your hours, and flexible work schedules in order to be physically present.
    • Remember to find ways for keep yourself and your spouse connected.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • It’s still important to attend your child’s official events, such as school conferences, concerts, games, and competitions, even if it seems that your teen doesn’t need you around as much. If your job doesn’t allow you much flexibility, talk to your employer about the possibility of shifting your hours on certain days or using accrued vacation hours in order to make time for these special events in your teen’s life.
    • If your teen is ready for a job, consider whether there are any part-time opportunities at your own workplace. If it’s comfortable for both of you, working together in the same place could provide you with chances to build your relationship over break time or during your commute.
  • Teens understand that your work can be all consuming. Make dates together to do something you both like—and then keep the date!

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