Sunday, September 9, 2012

7 Tips for Balancing Work and Family Life

As anyone with children would certainly agree, life changes....dramatically....the moment your first little bundle of joy enters the world. Raising a child is an amazing experience - but it's also (at times) frustrating and exhausting, and introduces so many new tasks and responsibilities that it often feels there aren't enough hours in the day (let alone neurons in your brain)!

While off on maternity leave with our daughter S, I said more than once that motherhood was a much tougher role than the one I'd left (as Project Manager at a software company). And then I went back to work a year later and found myself with two jobs - because the "Mommy" part, of course, doesn't just go away! Balancing "formal" work and personal life during the last 9 months has certainly been challenging for our family, however along the way we've learned some helpful lessons & tips. We don't always abide by these (for one reason or another) but life is a lot more rewarding and less stressful when we do!

Here are our Top 7 tips. Hope you find a helpful tidbit or two in here as well!
  1. Keep work at work. My husband and I both work from home (for the same company, actually) which has a lot of perks but it's also particularly easy to let work bleed into personal/family time. This can be a slippery slope, so I've made it a personal policy to shut down my laptop when our daughter comes home from daycare so I can spend quality, non-distracted time with her. If necessary, the lappy can come back out later when she's sleeping. In the same vein, I strive to "keep home at home" during work hours, so that I feel accomplished at the end of the work day which makes it easier & more rewarding to flip the switch and enjoy family time that evening.

  2. Use your sick days. Many people (myself included, in a previous life ;) opt to "suck it up" and push through when they are ill, with a common rationalization being that the work will just build up and require extra time later if they take the day off now. While this may be true to some extent, overdoing it when under the weather is likely to prolong the illness, compounding the problem anyway. And once you become a parent, I've realized, you're particularly prone to both getting sick in the first place (since small children are such germ factories) and running yourself ragged when you are (since when you're sick, your little one(s) often are too so they require extra care). Not to mention the fact that spreading nasty bugs to coworkers is Never a Good Thing. So use those sick days when appropriate - doing so benefits both you and your company!  

  3. Organize/simplify your morning routine. For us, this includes (among other things) re-stocking the diaper bag the night before, having numerous quick & healthy options available for breakfast (fresh fruit, various hot & cold cereals, eggs, etc.) and sticking to a standard schedule whenever possible. I also aim to complete my own personal care routine and get in a little "me time" while our daughter's still sleeping, as this helps me feel more alert and outwardly focused once she's up. In general, the fewer little organizational things we need to actively think about and/or tackle each morning, the more relaxed & present we are to enjoy quality family time and then shift gears easily into work mode. On a related note, if you're a chronic snoozer and want to break the habit, check out this excellent method on how to get up with your alarm clock. It works!

  4. Make chores less of a "chore". First of all, find a division that works well between you and your partner. Since my husband and I are both working full time, we share chores pretty evenly and have naturally gravitated toward a division that caters to both our preferences and skill sets. For example, he finds dirty diapers gross and I wretch at the scent of decaying food, so I do poop spray-downs and he handles the composter bin. He has a green thumb so he keeps the plants alive, and I'm more sensitive to feng shui (slash neurotic about clutter - your pick) so I do most of the general tidying. Etc. With some chores (such as cooking and dishes) we take turns; whoever is more motivated or has more energy will take the reigns here. Speaking of dishes, we aim to wash (or at least rinse) them right away so we don't waste unnecessary time and resources soaking and scrubbing caked-on nastiness. Combining mindless, repetitive chores with more enjoyable activities (where possible) is also helpful - for example, folding laundry in front of a favourite show. Finally, it goes without saying that chores provide a great opportunity to teach children valuable life skills and reinforce positive traits - regardless of whether they're helping or "helping" (i.e. in the case of a toddler :).

  5. Practice healthy habits. I'll reduce the plethora of possible preamble here to the simple fact that healthy habits lead to more energy and increased alertness, which is obviously vital for balancing the demands of work and family life. Of course what's considered healthy is often under debate and/or specific to an individual or group, so here are some things I've learned that are both "no brainers" (in that there is little to no research refuting them) and universally applicable.
    • Limit your intake of sugars, fake sugars and processed food. Or cut them out entirely if you have the discipline. (I don't. :) These foods may taste good, feel satisfying and even give you a burst of energy in the short term, but ultimately they'll make you feel like crap. 
    • Eat copious quantities of The World's Healthiest Foods. To encourage both of these habits, keep food readily available around the house from the second list but not the first. 
    • Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. If something feels wrong, get it checked out.
    • Consider seeing a naturopath. Long story short, these folks focus on the optimal health and wellbeing of people as individuals - because what's healthy for your Uncle Bob may not be for you. Many benefits plans include naturopathic coverage, so make sure to check into this.
    • Look for opportunities to reduce toxins in your environment. For example, eat organic when appropriate & possible; choose personal care products with safe ingredients and use "green" cleaning approaches/products. (I personally {heart} Norwex! And no, I'm not a consultant (yet :) so there isn't anything in it for me to promote it.)
    • Ensure you are getting high-quality sleep. There are many articles out there on sleep quantity, which is obviously super-important. That said, I feel obtaining quality sleep is just as vital. If you're regularly waking up feeling sluggish, there might be something you can adjust in your sleep routine which will help. A different pillow or a new mattress, perhaps. In my case, my dental hygienest suspected that I'm a night-time mouth breather (based on the pattern of plaque on my front teeth) so I started paying more attention to this when drifting off at night. Indeed, I'm usually unable to breathe through my nose 100% clearly. I started using nasal strips and found this helped tremendously! I woke up feeling more rested, even on fewer hours of sleep. This is something I might look into further for a more permanent solution, as nasal strips get expensive with regular use (for one thing), but I'm glad I've nailed down something at least shorter time that works well!

  6. Make mealtimes manageable. I love food, and I (usually) love to cook. I'm into bold flavours & ingredients, world cuisines and, well, deliciousness (is that word?) in general. I got into a pretty consistent menu planning routine during my last maternity leave, and it worked out really well. But. Unfortunately these days, it's not as practical to do this because my husband and I commute regularly to our head office (~2 hour drive), and sometimes we're simply too short on time and/or exhausted to cook! As such, I've temporarily removed "advancing my culinary skillz" from the to do list and thrown in the towel on weekly meal planning in favour of quick & easy meal solutions which can be whipped together on the fly. Here are some tips we've learned for achieving this:
    • "The freezer is your friend" - When we do cook, we often make copious quantities so that one or more portions can be frozen for later meals. Soups, stews, chilis, cabbage rolls and rice dishes work nicely here. We also keep lots of frozen veggies and fruit on-hand for quick sides and smoothies (respectively). And, yes, we've been known to toss in the occasional store bought lasagna or pizza, and have learned not to feel (too) guilty about this! :) Finally, I recently tried out "freezer cooking" at SupperWorks and so far we're loving the meals - easily, healthy and tasty! I might do this again to feed the freezer before Little Man arrives, or if I can manage several hours of uninterrupted time I'll plan out a freezer cooking bonanza at home
    • Sometimes a "non-meal meal" is OK - For example, on a given night we might steam some beans from the garden, finish a leftover pasta salad and eat a bunch of fruit and nuts. And heck, we often feel better after these "meals" because they aren't nearly as heavy!
    • If we want gourmet, we go out and get it - Satisfying that craving for dim sum or hand-crafted ravioli is best left to the experts these days. Which leads nicely into the next point...

  7. Spend quality time with your partner. With work, children, events, chores and so many other little things competing for attention, nurturing a romantic relationship can easily fall to the bottom of the pile! Making a dedicated effort to prevent this is important not only to keep those wonderful sparks, common interests and all that other good shtuff that brought you together in the first place alive, but also to guard against empty nest syndrome. Quality time together could be in the form of an "official" date night, an engaging discussion, relaxing on the couch together in front of a good show, or good ol' "marital congress". :) The important thing is that you are alone together, enjoying yourselves and focusing on something outside of day-to-day responsibilities. On the date night topic, my husband and I are very fortunate to have numerous family members and two trustworthy babysitters who are happy to spend time with our li'l monkey, so if we feel like dinner and a movie out on a particular Friday night, we can usually swing it. But when we can't (or when we prefer not to), chilling out at home with a bowl of popcorn can be just as relaxing!

What tips have you learned to help balance work and personal life (or life in general) with your own family?

Disclosure:  I was selected as one of the Winter 2011 recipients for a Mom Central Canada Blogger Grant, and received compensation for the above post. I would like to thank Mom Central Canada for continuing to empower Canadian bloggers in the form of financial grants, opportunities to connect with great brands and many other helpful methods of support. 


  1. Great post, good tips!
    Thanks for the ideas on how to keep things

  2. I've been gone for a while, but I'm glad to be back. This is a great post with very good tips. One of these days I'll get more reliable in my meal planning!

    I don't think I'd pull off working at home very well. Good for you!

  3. These are such great tips! I agree, keep work at work if you're able to :) Glad to hear you're adjusting to having 2 jobs ;) hehe

  4. This is such a FAB post! Thanks so much for sharing! I'm bookmarking this and sharing. Such helpful tips all moms need to know :)

  5. This is a fantastic post! I love the tips and feel good that I do most of these myself in our family! I think sometimes when I get stressed the food area is the first to go, so I am constantly trying to improve on that!

  6. Great tips! I'm proud to say that I follow most of these but especially the sick days one!! :D

  7. Congratulations on your grant! Love all your tips and I'll be utilizing some for sure:) I like supperworks as well, though I thought pretty costly.

  8. Great tips! I "work at home" on my blog but these are helpful even for any mom. If I had a bigger freezer, I'd definitely do more batch cooking. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Ok, this is one of the best posts I've read in a long time. It's late, so I am bookmarking it to come back to. So much GREAT information!

  10. The balance is so hard to figure out at first. These are great tips! I too work from home & so does Hubby. I don't usually work when kids are around unless it is necessary (deadlines suck).

    Awesome tips!

  11. Congratulations on the Mom Central grant Kristy!!!! You deserve it! For blogging and being an awesome mama :)