The Great Balancing Act
I bet you’re feeling a bit shell-shocked right about now. There’s something quite jarring about changing gears so suddenly from home and baby to office and politics and deadlines and uniforms.
Learning how to be a parent and a worker takes time and effort. Things don’t just fall into place. You need to work to find a new normal, by balancing the needs of your employer with the needs of your child. It is possible to reach the perfect balance, you just have to change your priorities.
You are a parent now
As a parent, your home life has more calls on your time than ever before. You are responsible for a new, helpless life. Your child will get sick. She will feel pain (especially when those teeth appear). She will feel fear when you are not with her, sometimes.
Parenting is a serious job in its own right and you must acknowledge it. You cannot expect to fit parenting in around your job, your personal time and your social life. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.
Parenting comes first. Everything else must fit in with that.
What does that mean?
It means that you can’t just go out to the pub with your friends every night after work. You have a child waiting for you, needing you to be there. It means that you can’t just take a weekend away at a nice hotel, or potter off to the day spa three times a week. Your child will need your money more.
Most important of all, it means that you can no longer work 60 hours a week, be the first in and the last out of the office, take on extra work to complete at home, have the work phone on at all times, or attend weekend and after-hour seminars and events. Your job must fit in with your baby.
You know all of this. The question is: how do you make it work?
Your right to reasonable flexibility in the workplace is guaranteed by law but only if the flexibility is possible without detriment to your employer. That means that if your work can only be done at the workplace, you cannot expect your employer to let you work from home. Likewise, if you need to be at your job at a certain time, you cannot expect to get different start or finish times.
If you have a rigid job like this, you need to think long and hard about how this will affect your child. Unless you have amazing, guaranteed child care, then you need to make some tough decisions. Your company may have openings in different areas, even if at a lower level. Or you might take this opportunity to begin a whole new career.
If your job is flexible, start talking about your needs with your boss even before you return to work. Can you come in later sometimes or change to a nine day fortnight? Can you work from home? Try to be as flexible and understanding of your boss’s concerns as you can and anticipate any stumbling blocks.
When I returned to work, I requested to work from home three days per week. My boss was rightly concerned that I wouldn’t get my work done. So I implemented a daily status report, and made sure to touch base with my manager at least once a week to reassure him that nothing was being neglected. His appreciation of my efforts meant that when I had occasional issues getting something done, he was understanding and supportive.
Streamline your home time
Now your work time is organised, it’s time to do the same for your home time. Focus on minimising tasks and maximising benefit. You need to relax and you need quality time with your child.
That doesn’t mean constantly saying, “Hang on, sweetheart, I’m just doing…” while they cry for you. Get rid of every non-essential task. Outsource if you can afford it and forget about it if not.
If you can actively recognise your new priority – your child – and work the rest of your life around it, you’ll begin to see much more clearly what needs to be changed, tweaked or simply dropped. Try not to cling onto your old habits and thought processes. Instead, embrace the new you and see your future as an adventure! I dare you.