Note: For the purposes of simplicity, this article assumes fathers occupy most often the role of “working parent”; while mothers are more frequently “staying at home”. It is understood these role are not only interchangeable, but are becoming less defined and more intermingled. Also – again, solely for the purposes of clarity – this article defines “working parent” as the parent who devotes the majority of the work week to tasks outside the home, not directly related to child-rearing. It is understood raising children constitutes ‘work’ as much as any for-income profession.
Families are becoming more progressive
Today’s stay-at-home parents are exposed to more complex strategies related to child rearing than any previous generation. Information related to education, nutrition, health, and development is more prevalent and easier to access than ever due to the proliferation of the internet, mass-market literature, television, and communication between stay-at-home parents.
Similarly, working parents have greatly evolved since the 1950’s. No longer is Dad expected to kick off his shoes and find dinner on the table while Mom ushers the children out of the den while her husband enjoys a quiet den after work. Men are becoming more and more empathetic to the time and physical and mental energies required of a stay-at-home mother. Consequently, working fathers more quickly pick up the baton of household duties immediately upon returning from the office.
This pattern can increase stress levels in a working parent who is now managing expectations from multiple sources: work, home, and themselves. Often their own needs are the first to be neglected in an effort to maintain necessary levels of achievement in the office, and relieve the pressures of the stay-at-home parent.
A working parent spreading themselves thinly across three fronts can be detrimental to their relationships with their spouse and children, as well as to their own psyche. Here are some ideas to help achieve balance:
1. Be Realistic About Your Relative Contributions.
One of the many commonalities between office and home life is the daily variation in workload and stress levels. Only the individual knows how stressful life at work is, not only on a consistent basis, but in its day-to-day machinations. How did it compare to caring for one or more children for the last several hours? A realistic assessment of your day as a working parent compared to your counterpart at home is an important first step before setting more personal and selfish limits.
2. Begin with Conversation.
Regardless of stress levels, pace, and demands; everyone requires a diversion from routine. A conversation regarding both parents’ ideals for personal time and recreation allows for not only a reasonable schedule for alone time to be discussed, but will also make each partner more aware (or perhaps aware for the first time) of the other’s undiscovered passions, hobbies, and needs for deviation from routine.
3. Use the Calendar, not Spontaneity.
Advice reminding couples to plan ahead for date nights, sex, and other romantic interludes is nothing new. Using the calendar for selfish purposes is just as important. Instead of coming home and surprising your spouse with a request to meet your friends this evening, plan ahead. This avoids the stay-at-home parent – who was looking forward to a little relief at the end of the day – having to decide whether to risk disappointing their spouse by asking them to stay home, or increase their own evening workload unexpectedly after a long day. Planning a night alone several days ahead of time allows the couple to choose a time period which serves them both.
4. Routines Work Best.
Every second Thursday. First Friday of the month. One weekend in June every year. An established routine which repeats not only avoids a working parent hoping an “I need some time” discussion works in their favor, it allows the couple to better prepare and develop a routine around the event. A repeating event establishes long-term solutions to potential problems, i.e. babysitting requirements, the duration of absenteeism, budgeting, keeping in touch during a weekend long trip, etc.
5. Manage DIY Projects.
A forty hour work week is its own creature with task-specific challenges and expectations. Often a working father must add to them the complexities of weekends filled with twenty hours of laborious home projects fraught with unexpected road blocks piled onto physical challenges. Set limits. Setting aside a specific number of hours on a Saturday and Sunday ahead of time, regardless of snags, helps manage psychological overload. Avoid presenting an exhausted version of yourself during what little family time is left.
6. Add to the Relationship Bank.
Give-and-take is paramount to any relationship; whether in business or at home. Be the first to insist your partner take some time for them. Not only is this a wonderfully chivalrous gesture, is opens the door toward reciprocation. Also, not all spouses communicate their selfish desires. Insisting they take a break will relieve them of the need to broach a topic they may not have otherwise brought up.
7. Don’t Forget the Couple.
Finally, understand that as much as periods of selfishness are vital to mental and physical health; if golfing, company pick nicks, and fishing trips outnumber date nights: it’s time to reread #1.