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MIND BODY SOUL
The work parent balance

Juggling a career and being parent can be tricky at the best of times, let alone during a nationwide lockdown. Anita Cleare is a child development expert, who advocates doing less, not more. The Work / Parent Switch is her new book about parenting in a way that’s both good for your children and good for you. It’s about parenting smarter not harder by understanding how your children think and what they really need from you. Anita outlines the two essential elements for being a happy working parent: a clear picture of what children really need, what makes them tick and what best drives their development. Secondly, hands-on parenting solutions from years of experience working with families – focusing on real-world wins. Here Anita gives her top tips for managing the new work parent balance.

Are there any positives to the current situation where parents are having to juggle work and childcare (and possibly home-schooling) at the same time?

Working parents’ days are timed to the minute. We dash between drop-offs and pick-ups, juggling work deadlines with ferrying children to and from after-school clubs. We cram so much work and parenting into our lives. But with no commute and all our usual activities cancelled, I wonder whether now might be an opportunity for us to stop hurrying from place to place? To step out of hyper-efficient mode and just be a bit more present for our children? Perhaps we will enjoy some go-slower time with our children.

“I wonder whether now might be an opportunity for us to stop hurrying from place to place?”

What advice would you give to parents who feel like they are too stretched or failing, particularly given the added pressure of potential future challenges at work?

Don’t try to be superhuman. Most working parents have enough on their To Do lists before piling home-schooling duties and redundancy anxieties on top. You can’t do it all. It’s ok to find this hard, it is hard, and emotions may bubble over. Be kind to yourself, focus on family wellbeing and on enhancing relationships. And always remember, you mean the world and everything in it to your children. For them, you just being there is enough.

“And always remember, you mean the world and everything in it to your children.”

Can you have balance now that work seems to be 24/7 and our offices are at home, and sometimes we don’t even have a physical office space?

‘Balance’ is such an interesting word. It suggests holding work and family separate and making sure they are evenly weighted – that is definitely going to be hard right now. Working from home involves blending work and family and constantly moving between the two. But we can still aspire to internal balance and equanimity by managing our stress levels proactively and by finding ways to switch easily from work-mode to home-mode.

Are there any tips for helping to separate work and home life when they are all together?

Try working in short chunks interspersed by breaks for parent duties. Plan your workload to fit into those chunks. Zoning and rituals can help too. Choose a place to work and set up for each work session the same way. If it’s noisy or distracting, use headphones to create a separate zone. Or try a visualisation trick to transition quickly from your work persona to your parent self and back again. Imagine there is an invisible curtain around you while you are working, like a force field. Every time you move through that invisible curtain, pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and imagine yourself transforming into your ‘at home’ or ‘at work’ persona. You can mentally change clothes if that helps!

Is wishing for some me-time a selfish act given the current climate? How do we go about doing that when there is literally no escape.

Self-care is always essential, now more than ever. When you are well, you can supportive those around you more effectively. Heading to a spa for a girls’ day out might be off limits but you can definitely focus on short, regular self-care moments throughout the day. Use a meditation app for five minutes of guided breathing. Or just sit by a window and feel the sun on your face. Luxuriate in a proper unrushed candlelit bath. Or, for a quick hit of spirit-lifting exercise, put on a favourite song and dance like no one is watching.

Do you have any tips for how we will get back to “normal” once this is all over?

Once schools and childcare settings re-open, that will take a lot of pressure off parents. Personally, when the restrictions are lifted, my first priority will be seeing all my friends and family. And hugging them!

Can / how should we use this time to rethink our futures and address the balance differently?

Gratitude exercises can really help to lift your spirits and identify what really matters to you. At the end of each day write down three things you are grateful for in a special notebook. Then look back at the lists and notice any recurring themes. What is bringing the most meaning and resonance to your life and how might you build on that going forward? Your new improved balance might include simple things like playing board games every Sunday afternoon with the kids, making more time for yoga practice, or a total career change, who knows!

“Gratitude exercises can really help to lift your spirits and identify what really matters to you. At the end of each day write down three things you are grateful for in a special notebook.”

Anita Cleare is a parenting expert with an academic and professional background in child development and developmental parenting. After working in children’s services managing family support, including Sure Start children’s centres, she created her own company the Positive Parenting Project where she delivers sell-out parenting talks, seminars, workshops and coaching sessions to working parents. Anita writes a blog called ‘Thinking Parenting’.

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