Juggling parental responsibilities while holding down a full-time job can be tricky. Priya Kulasagaran speaks to working parents for their tips on managing to find the balance while keeping their sanity intact.
As more people are seeking a healthy work-life balance, companies around the world have responded by introducing some form of flexible working arrangements. In Malaysia however, TalentCorp’s Diversity in the Workplace study in 2015, found that less than 35% of 130 companies surveyed offered such arrangements. For now, working parents will have to figure out their own plan for a healthy work-life balance that works best for their families.
Take stock of your daily routine
When Christine Gomez first went back to her full-time job, after being a stay-at-home mother for five years, she struggled to spend quality time with her children while coping with work demands. “I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” she says. “My husband does his share of housework and parenting duties as well, and we’re able to afford a maid. But I knew I had to change things when my younger daughter (aged three) started calling our help ‘mummy’.”
The first thing Christine and her husband did was to look at how they were spending their time every day. “I realised that we both tended to come home and sit in front of the television to de-stress after work. So we started thinking about what we could do to change,” she says. That change, for Christine, involved art. “We set up a little ‘art space’ near the kitchen, to just sit and draw with the girls,” she explains. “It works because it’s therapeutic for me as well, and we get to spend quality time with the kids.”
Get children involved in household chores
Coming back home after a long workday can be mentally and physically exhausting. More often than not, the remainder of the day tends to be spent tackling household chores that need to get done. Add children to the mix, and suddenly it feels like you barely have any time left before having to go to bed; let alone spend quality time with the family.
For Naim Mohideen and his wife, the answer to this lies in divvying up household duties amongst the entire family. The insurance agent shares that his two sons and daughter, now in their teens, have been pitching in to help since they were five-years-old. “I kind of tricked them into it at first,” says Naim. “I made them think it was a fun game to help mummy and daddy mop the house and do the dishes. But the children learn some responsibility, and it’s a way of spending time with each other as well. I’ve had the best conversations with my sons just from cleaning the house together.”
Naim offers a few examples of how even younger children can help with household duties. “You can teach them to pick up after themselves for a start, like putting aside their toys. Using a cloth to wipe the dining table is easy enough for most children to handle. If they are old enough to hold their own dishes, they can clean them too,” he says.
Plan and prepare
Working parents know more than most the importance of time management in juggling their work and family responsibilities. “You won’t believe how the smallest of things can make a big difference,” says pharmacist S. Krishantini. “Before we had children, the mornings were quite simple – my husband and I just had to wake up, grab some coffee, and rush off to work. But with school-going children, we were forced to become a bit more better prepared.”
Krishantini avoids the morning stress by preparing the night before, such laying out her children’s school uniforms and her own work clothes — and even freezing the week’s meals when she has more time over the weekend.
“It was hard at first, to be disciplined enough to make preparation a habit. But now we (she and her husband) don’t even think about it. When you plan things ahead like this, it frees up your time during the week to actually spend time together as family. I find myself less stressed out by not having to think about what to make for dinner or rushing to get the kids ready for school. Less stress means less losing my patience with the children, and more time enjoying each other’s company,” she says.
Make use of technology
As property prices in the city rise, and work demands increase, an increasing number of working adults find themselves being ‘commuter parents’. This is the situation Govind Singh and his wife find themselves in; while the couple works in Kuala Lumpur, their two children, aged four and six, live with their grandparents in Seremban. While the pair travel down to Seremban every weekend to see their children, they rely on technology to keep in touch with their family throughout the week.
As an example, Govind allocates at least two nights a week to read bedtime stories to his children — via Skype. “It’s not the most ideal situation,” he says. “But I think kids appreciate it when you try to spend time with them. It takes me about an hour to read a short story, and just chat with them about their day. My wife and I take turns doing this, and even when we don’t have as much time, we will at least make a quick Skype call to talk to each other.”
Make time for yourself too
In between making time for work and their families, parents should also make some time for themselves. It is important to recharge your own batteries to deal with your responsibilities effectively —including being a good parent.
“I think parents need to let go of trying to be ‘perfect’ all the time as well,” adds Christine. “It’s hard, especially with social media where everyone else’s lives look so glossy and flawless. I feel that women particularly have to deal with the idea of being the perfect wife and mother and career person all at once. All you can do is your best as a parent, and show your children that you love them.”