Even on the best days, being a working parent can feel like steering a ship through stormy waters. On the worst, it’s like trying to navigate the squall without a wheel. At home, the kids’ needs drive everything. At work, it’s the boss, the clients, or the deadlines that rule the day. So, it’s only normal that sometimes working parents feel like things are out of control.
The good news is that no working parent is alone out there on the high seas. According to a Pew Research study, 56% of working parents say it’s difficult to balance the responsibilities of their job and family.
The better news? There are ways to feel more in control. Sure, the chaos of parenting is both constant and unpredictable, but with a few smart strategies, working parents can exert control over certain parts of their lives, making the rest of it feel more manageable, and making parenting even more rewarding.
Divide and Conquer
Many parents feel overwhelmed because there is literally too much for one person to do in a household with kids. If you’re raising your children with a partner, get the household under control by making it a true partnership.
Make a parents’ chore chart. Be sure to include emotional labor and seemingly small tasks too, like managing the childcare provider, monitoring the budget, and scheduling family events. Writing everything down makes discrepancies in the division of labor very apparent. Bonus: One study found a positive correlation between sexual intimacy and shared housework.
Add an Extra Hour of Childcare
Whether you have an in-home nanny or drop the kids off at childcare, it can be tempting to schedule as few hours of coverage as possible to save money and spend time with your little ones. But going straight from the chaos of kids to the bustle of the office and back again can leave you in a constant state of fluster.
Schedule the nanny an hour earlier and take a shower in peace. Drop the kids at childcare a half-hour earlier and read a magazine in a cafe before work. Your brain needs a break before shifting gears.
Prioritize and Let Go
Time is a working parent’s most precious resource. A Gallup study found that 55% of adults with children under 18 years old frequently felt they didn't have enough time, versus 35% of those without kids. Here’s the tough truth for working parents: There isn't enough time to do everything you used to do. Period.
Randi Zuckerberg has famously written about how people can only manage three of the following things at any given time: work, sleep, family, fitness, and friends. So, pick what matters most and accept that you can’t do it all.
This extends to hobbies and travel as well. Happy hour may be a thing of the past for a few years. Your passport might get dusty for a while. Your lawn might not be included on the local home and garden tour. It's okay. You’re just letting these things go for now.
Schedule Exercise and Me Time
That doesn’t mean you can never make time for friends and fitness. In fact, exercise and having fun reduce stress, and 58% of adults with kids under 18 years old report frequent stress compared with 39% of those without kids. You need these activities. You just have to schedule them now.
Create a calendar invite for your workouts, as well as weekly or bi-weekly nights to yourself or with friends. Arrange childcare, trade off with your spouse, set alarms, and keep your appointments.
Exercise is especially important for parents to prioritize. Not only do your kids rely on you to be in good health, but a study has found that kids exercise more when their parents do. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids. (But really, do it for yourself.)
It takes so much energy and focus to be a great parent. And it takes the same things to have a stellar career. Nothing quite defines the overwhelmed working parent like taking work calls during story time or texting your childcare provider during a meeting. It’s stressful for parents, kids, and colleagues.
When you’re at work, try to be at work. When you’re at home, try to be at home. Commit to being present. Bonus: Mindfulness has been found to lower stress and increase coping skills.
Remember: This Is Temporary
Being a parent may not be temporary, but being a parent of someone who wakes you up at 5 AM and needs you until bedtime is. The kids will get older. They will go to school, and then they’ll start staying after school for activities, and you’ll wonder when they’re going to make time for you.
When things feel especially overwhelming, working parents should remind themselves again and again, out loud if necessary, “This is temporary." You’ll have more time again someday. You’ll plant that garden. You’ll take that trip. You’ll sleep in.
In fact, working parents don’t just go back to normal after they make it through early parenthood, they get better. One study found that while working mothers’ productivity went down when their children were young, they became ultra-productive as their children aged, making up for the dip and more by the end of their careers.
So, overwhelmed working parents, there is hope. There’s more than hope—there are solutions for a less crazy today, and data that says you’ll have an even better tomorrow.