Social Media is full of inspirational quotes with accompanying photos of tranquil lakes, forests, online courses for inner peace, mindfulness exercises you can do in the car, and life-changing day creams with SPF30 … the list is long.
So what is the secret to a positive work-life balance when you are a busy parent? If I had the answer to that I would have a best-selling book, a personal trainer called Bjorn and a new Range on the drive now wouldn't I.
I don't have all the answers, but what I do have is 15 years' worth of experience juggling a marriage, kids, dogs, major house renovations (x 3) giving up a salaried job to start a new business with tiny babies, and extensive travel during that time. That list in itself does not make me an expert, but it has given me plenty of time to think about how to keep all my plates spinning without burning out, and dare I say, actually achieving a positive work-life balance.
This list will vary for everyone depending on their own personal situations, but here is my short list of those changes that we implemented in our family to help us achieve a happier balance;
O N E
Plan your meals in advance – it's not surprising I would start with a food-related point, but this one really will ensure you remain on track with everything else in your life. I can't count how many times I have got to 5 pm, frazzled, mascara smudged, with hungry babies, an un-walked dog and opened the fridge looking for a miracle, only to discover we'll be having cereal for dinner again.
Sunday is the day we choose to plan our meals for the following week, but you can do it anytime that suits you. My suggestion would be to choose weekday meals that take less than 30 mins to prepare, batch cooking on one of the weekend days if you can be bothered, and freezing some portions to have later in the week (spag bol/chilli/tomato and basil pasta sauce/mince for cottage pie are winners in my house). When our children were very little, we bought this book which was a goldmine of information about meal planning and staying within a healthy food budget. There are of course also loads of amazing recipes on BBC Good Food, Sainsbury's and in this book by Jamie Oliver.
If your budget allows, you may benefit from ordering pre-packaged meals from companies like Hello Fresh, and Gousto who deliver fresh, measured-out and bagged-up ingredients to your door so that you can create Nigella-style meals without having to think about them.
We personally order from Hello Fresh and what we've found is that:
a) we spend less money per week on food
b) we don't eat the same meals week-in-week-out
c) there is very little waste
We also have a couple of emergency ‘bung in the oven' type meals that we can cook quickly on particularly dire days so that we don't cave in and order a takeaway.
T W O
Ask for help – working parents can be very stubborn and if you are anything like me, you too will be working on becoming a martyr any day now … (or at least I used to be). I can assure you that you are NOT required to be a superhero. There I said it. You don't have to be Wonderwoman or Iron Man, you just have to be able to get through your days without falling into bed in a heap at midnight after reading Gangsta Granny, clearing up after dinner, finding everyone's PE kits that went MIA at the end of last term, and making a model volcano for the next morning, too exhausted to wash your face before bed. I may appear to be aiming low here, but anyone with small children will know what this feels like, and it's not healthy to do (at all) on an ongoing basis. There is another way, you just have to find the one that works best for your situation.
If you have people in your life that you can ask for help, do! That could be a partner/husband/wife/grandparent/friend … if those are not options for you then the magic word is OUTSOURCE. This may seem like an extravagance, but it's going to be the difference between finding that work-life zen and not.
When you spend precious ‘non-work' time cleaning toilets, doing laundry, shining windows, washing floors, cutting the lawn, going to the supermarket and walking the dog twice a day, you are not spending that time with your children/partner or making time for you to actually feel like you are a human. If you have to pay a cleaner, gardener, dog-walker or internet shopper to help make your life a bit easier, then make this a priority in your monthly budget if possible. It will pay off I promise! Make sure that if you are in a partnership that you are both taking equal responsibilities in terms of parenting and necessary household chores.
T H R E E
You are more than somebody's parent – this may seem like a ridiculous statement, but after 15 years of marriage and children, I can tell you that I have only just (in the last few years) started to feel like my own person again. Don't get me wrong, I adore my family and my children are my world. But having 3 babies in 4 years was extremely hard on me both physically and emotionally.
During those pregnancies, I suffered from bereavement, post-natal depression, an employment tribunal after being fired whilst on maternity leave, two house moves and a long period of financial difficulty. All the while, I had three little people who needed to be cared for, nurtured and provided for both physically and emotionally, and not a huge amount of sleep.
Every parent has their own story and their own difficulties, each person will have reacted/adapted to those situations in a different way. Looking back now my advice, if I may be so bold as to offer it is; "make time each day for YOU' … it may be a 20 minute bubble bath with the door locked, a good book or relaxing playlist in your ears, shaving your legs and putting on the fancy body lotion you got for Christmas, or going out for dinner with your girlfriends once a month (side note: good friends are EXTREMELY important to a positive work-life balance), whatever it is for you, make sure you do it as a priority.
The more balanced you feel on the inside will project into every other area of your life, including your family life and your work life,