As a working parent, it’s always challenging for me to get – and stay – on top of the countless demands of modern life: activities for my 9-year-old son, late nights working, play dates, volunteering, endless laundry, meal prep, and more. And while technology can be a lifesaver (see tip #4 below), it also puts a lot of extra demands on my time, from monitoring my son’s online activities to keeping all the drivers on my laptop up-to-date.
“We are busier than ever,” says Mark Sirkin, Ph.D, Associate Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Mercy College and the author of Regain Your Balance: At Work, with Family, in Life. “Many of us are working longer hours, especially those who have transitioned to the gig economy, and we’re constantly connected to work through technology,” he says. Add to that the fact that our kids’ lives are more scheduled than in generations past, and it’s no surprise that parents aren’t left with a lot of downtime.
Thankfully, there are concrete steps we can take to save time and stress, and to make sure we’re focusing our energy on what matters most to us. That doesn’t necessarily mean striving for work-life balance, says Maureen Corcoran, work-life Strategy Leader at Prudential. “Our employees told us that balance, which implies equilibrium in the hours spent at work and home, is elusive and not always desirable. You can have it all, but not necessarily all the time and at the same time. The point is to be as effective as possible based on your circumstances and goals.” Here’s how:
Be more mindful
“There’s good news for parents who are stressing over whether working outside the home is negatively affecting their children,” says Corcoran. She points to the groundbreaking book, Ask the Children – What America’s Children Really Think About Working Parents. In it, author Ellen Galinsky reported that only 2% of kids said, “stay home” when asked what they wanted to tell parents. “The real worry for children of working parents was the parents’ level of stress,” says Corcoran. More recent data backs this up: In the American Psychological Association’s 2010 Stress in America survey, more than two-thirds of parents said their stress had slight or no impact on their kids, but only 14% of children reported that their parents’ stress didn’t bother them.1
To counter these effects, it’s essential to be mindful of what your behavior and conversation is communicating, says Corcoran. “Take a couple minutes to purposely de-stress prior to coming home,” she says. You might try stretching before leaving the office or use some simple deep breathing techniques.
Unplug more often
Another key to relieving stress at home: Taking control of your devices. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress In America Survey, almost half of parents say they feel disconnected from their families even when they’re together. The reason? Technology. Tracy Sigmon and Tee Shipmon limit screen time for their family of four. “We’re intentional about how much we use our phones and laptops. When we’re together, the focus is on our family,” says Tracy, an architect in Memphis, Tennessee. So unless you’re on call, turn off those alerts and you won’t be tempted to respond to every email and text the moment it comes in.