How to strike a balance between work and family.

A hundred years ago, family roles were simple. Father was the breadwinner, while Mother stayed home to cook, clean and – most importantly – look after the children. Fast forward to 2012 and things are very different. Higher education and business being dominated by men is a thing of the past and stay-at-home Mums are no longer the norm. These changes do of course beg the question; how do you balance work and family?

The press is crowded by stories of busy celebrities so taken by their career that their children and spouses often take a back seat. This is widely frowned upon, with characters who prioritize family values far preferred. Barack Obama for example has been praised for insisting that time is made in his hectic schedule for him to have dinner at home with his family at least three evenings a week. Balancing time at work with family time is undeniably important, with family relationships, stress and income all affected by the balance. Perfecting the balance is even more of a challenge for many these days, thanks to ever-increasing single parent figures and tough economic times.

Addressing the balance between work and family life is a big consideration and takes up a lot of time. Despite the time that must be dedicated to this issue, it is absolutely not worth putting off. Children grow up fast and you don’t want to end up regretting decisions you didn’t take the time to make ten years ago. There is no time like the present, so sit down and talk things through with your partner or a close friend whose opinion you trust. The first question that you should ask yourselves is; what is most important to your family? Determining the answer to this question is the first step towards a long term plan to balance the two parts of your life, whether it’s travel, education, savings or time spent together that you prioritize.

Having established what exactly you want to be able to afford – to take a two week holiday abroad each year, pay for your three children to have weekly piano lessons, or whatever your priorities are – you will then be able to consider how much you need to work in order to get by (or to live slightly more comfortably). At this point, it can be worth hiring a financial advisor to help you make financial sense of your plans.

Having regular goals to work towards is helpful when trying to keep to any plan. Perhaps your new financial plan will allow you to commit to a four-day week or to leave work an hour early twice a week to do the school run. Whatever goal you choose, it is worth having one to keep you on track and give you motivation. Such a goal will also give your children a routine, so it is worthwhile keeping it constant if at all possible (so your children know that it’s always Wednesday when Mum picks them up). The amount you work and the hours that you do have a huge effect on your children, as does your attitude to your work. The benefits of such a large component of life are not just financial. Children develop an attitude towards work as they grow up. Having no personal experience of the working world of course, your children develop an opinion of this alien concept through what they get from you. If you work excessive hours or are under an unbearable amount of stress at work, your exhaustion or negative attitude is more than likely to rub off on your children. It is much more prudent to promote the positive aspects of work to your children; the challenge, people you meet, feeling of accomplishment and opportunities for progression, for example.

After deciding how you are going to balance your work and your family, it is vital that you embrace your choices. For hundreds of years, it has been mothers that stay at home and look after the children. In the day of the working Mum however, countless mothers every day are forced to tear themselves away from toddlers clinging to their legs on their first day at nursery. As difficult an experience as this is, be confident that you have made your decisions for a reason and that this is what your family needs right now. Priorities and family needs do change as children grow up and when promotions are offered, so don’t be afraid to re-assess the situation.

It is important to remember that every family is different. Only you really understand what is important to you and your family. Whatever decisions friends or colleagues make for their respective families, your situation is unique and must be assessed as such. Only then can you ensure that your whole family are happy.