Last September our family was blessed with a beautiful baby boy. And although months of sleepless nights, mountains of diapers, and countless mistakes left us feeling like we could handle anything, it’s clear that wasn’t the case.
There’s nothing easy about working a full-time job and serving as a full-time parent.
The ONE Thing begins with an old Russian Proverb that says, “When we try to chase two rabbits, we won’t catch either one.” The insight informs the philosophy of the book, and underscores why it’s important to just focus on one thing at a time. If we split our attention, we risk not reaching any of our goals at all.
The problem is that unlike other competing priorities, when it comes to family and work, we don’t have a choice. We have to try and run after both. The two are closely intertwined, and often, success in one area can leave us feeling like we’ve failed in the other. It’s a constant battle of give and take. And now that the world is sheltered in place—well, it just exacerbates the dilemma.
If you’re like me, you’re hungry to find a better way of handling these challenges fast. And the last thing you need is another blog proposing ideas that sound logical but haven’t been put to the test.
We’ve reached out to all the parents at The ONE Thing, to see which strategies they’re using that work and which strategies they’ve tried to make work but couldn’t. Our hope is to pass our experiences on to you, our readers, with the hope of starting a conversation that will help all of us through these difficult times.
We’re all in this together, after all!
Currently Working: Forgiving Ourselves for Not Being Perfect Parents
The most important thing to do is to forgive ourselves. We need to have grace for all of the mistakes we’ve made and will continue to make as parents.
The needs of our jobs and our children aren’t always complementary. That can be the case in any “normal” scenario of life, but the issue is amplified when we’re trying to do juggle both jobs under the same roof. Still, recognizing the conflict doesn’t really help us reinforce the belief that we’re good parents.
I think I can speak for every parent out there when I say that the needs of our children will always outweigh the needs of our work. If you’ve had to make compromises for your work so that you can focus on your children, it shouldn’t leave you feeling guilty, it should leave you looking for solutions. Go ahead and forgive yourself.
Didn’t Work: Spending Too Much Time on Social Media
In our home, part of the guilt we feel about our parenting struggles stems from comparing ourselves to other parents on social media. When we see a picture of someone enjoying a nice sunny day with their child in one picture and a quick snapshot next to a computer and a cup of coffee tagged “#worklifebalance” in the next, it’s easy to feel inadequate.
Let’s get something straight: we’re only shown what someone else wants us to see on social media. We don’t tend to see that other parents, like us, are flying by the seat of our pants.
Last week, I dressed my seven-month-old son for the day and forgot to put a diaper on him. I was working to hit a deadline, and he yelled. I got up and moved him around to get him comfortable and then went back to work. He cried again a few minutes later, and only after picking him up by the bottom did I realize that he had wet himself, his play mat and some of his toys.
That’s what struggling with work/life balance looks like in the real world.
I’m sure if you took a look underneath the hood, you’d likely find influencers are keeping it together with shoestring and bubble gum, too. All of us parents are. When our lifestyles are thrown in flux, no one lands directly on their feet. And that’s nothing to feel guilty about!
Guilt distracts us from bettering our situations. When we find ourselves in that head space, it’s important to turn our attention to something else that will get us back on track. Stay focused on finding answers to problems and continue to press forward.
Currently Working: Sharing Your Work Schedules in Advance
If you have a partner at home to help with childcare, remember to share or create your work schedule with them in advance. This will help you coordinate your childcare and education shifts so that both of you can get windows of child-less time for other obligations.
In our house, my wife and I made a point to share our work calendars through Gmail and Outlook. This way, whenever we schedule meetings, we can clearly see whether or not the other parent is available to take care of our child. It provides clarity about who’s on the work call and who’s going to be taking care of our son. However, sometimes sharing the calendar isn’t not enough — we talk through our schedules each day to make sure our expectations for the day are aligned.
Despite only doing this for a month, my wife and I have already had multiple instances where our work schedules conflicted with one another. To help come up with a plan about who should take responsibility for our son, we discuss how important each meeting or deadline is and the level of engagement that’s required of us. These conversations provide us with clarity. We know when someone can’t be disturbed so it helps us better coordinate child care.
Don’t leave your kids out of the loop either. They have schedules too and it helps if they’re prepped for them in advance.
One Thing researcher and writer Vickie Lukachik and her husband, who now find themselves playing teacher to their two children, have found that talking about upcoming lesson plans at dinner the before has helped mitigate some unexpected surprises for her kids. They run through what their kids felt worked and didn’t work about their remote learning that day, as well as alternatives they might try that work better.
Didn’t Work: Splitting Dayshifts and Nightshifts
Granted, not everyone has the flexibility to attempt this, but my family tried to have one parent switch their work routine so they got most of their work done at night. The idea was that if one person worked the nightshift, barring exceptions for daytime meetings, both people would be able to focus more time on getting work done.
That didn’t go over so well. When one person works during the day, splitting a minor share of their time helping out with the kids, they feel like they don’t get to spend much time with their children. They wind up feeling like they’re missing out on some valuable family time.
On the other hand, if you’re the person who handles daycare and then spends their night working — it can feel like working two full-time jobs. And to make matters worse, it doesn’t leave much time to reconnect with your partner and to check in with how they’re doing. The relationship suffers as a result. We would not recommend taking this approach to trying to balance work and life.
Currently Working: Working in Breaks
Balancing two things at once can make parents feel like we have to being doing something at all times. Between work deadlines and needing to take care of another human being, it’s easy to get swept up in “go mode.” But that approach is wrong: we need to take a break.
Over the past couple of days, my wife and I have reminded each other to just take a breather. We’ve set up walks where we get to check-in with one another and talk about our days. It’s a time to get a breath of fresh air, and often leaves us re-grouped and re-energized for whatever else we have to tackle that day.
Kids need breaks too. The lines between school and recreation can get just as blurry as the lines between work and home for parents. Vickie makes a point for her kids to get outside and ride bikes in the mornings when she and her husband are locked into their regular morning calls. When the calls are over and everyone’s back inside, they make a point on catching their kids up on their morning announcements so they can reconnect with their school and get plugged back into their schoolwork.
Didn’t Work: Keeping Our Focus on Annual Goals
When your time isn’t wholly yours to control, it can be tough to focus on what you need to do when you finally get time to yourself. Sometimes the sweeping feeling of relief will leave you doing what you want to do in the moment, but not necessarily what you need to do.
In these moments, clarity can be incredibly beneficial. If you’ve created a 4-1-1, then you’re used to using it to quickly get acquainted with your annual goals and lining up your weekly goals around reaching them. However, when your daily schedule requires a ton of flexibility, having a long-term 4-1-1 can be tough. If we set annual goals for ourselves that now seem out-of-touch or unattainable, we can get distraught or mistake our circumstances for failure. Instead of setting regimented tasks that line up perfectly with long-term goals, we should narrow our focus to quarterly goals instead. With a shorter time frame to focus on, it becomes easier to recall what areas deserve the greatest share of your attention when you find enough time to buckle down.
In Geoff Wood’s home, he and his family have needed to re-focus their 4-1-1 to be focused on the next three months as opposed to the entire year, just as Geoff and other business owners have had to adjust their business goals for 2020.
Currently Working: Gaining the Support of Your Team at Work and at Home
In times like these, it’s necessary to have the full support of your teams both at work and at home.
Without the support of your work team, you’re going to have a hard time explaining why your kids are running around in the background of your zoom calls or why you’re talking shop with a baby strapped to your chest. At the same time, your children might not fully understand if you’re sitting in the middle of a zoom call and are unable help them with a math problem or cut up an apple.
Gaining the support of your team at work boils down to open, frequent communication about the challenges you’re facing and how they can help you get what you need done. Set up expectations with them that if you jump off a Zoom call early, it’s not because you’re being disrespectful it’s because you’re needed elsewhere. Pick a few key people who you can trust to help fill in the gaps when your two worlds intersect with one another.
The same goes for the home, too.
For Geoff, that meant needing to establish understanding with his daughter. When it really matters, she knows that when he asks her for her help to support his one thing, she knows what he’s doing is very important, and the best way for her to pitch in is to respect his time. Without any sort of prior conversation, that kind of response is going to sound cold. But with a warm-hearted conversation about understanding what it means beforehand, it will start to feel like teamwork!
What’s Worked for You?
Like we said at the beginning, our goal here is to start a conversation. We’re parents, you’re parents, and we’re all facing this challenge—we might as well face it together! Hop on to our Facebook page and drop a post on which tactics you’ve found helpful, which ones you hope to workshop through, and some that you’ve attempted and believe others should avoid. See you there!