Do flexible work arrangements work for parents of young children? At work you want to progress your career, contribute and be successful AND at home you want to be involved, engaged and supportive. For many parents flexible work arrangements are used to strive for a work-family life balance.

If 2020 taught us one thing – it’s that flexible work arrangements, or working from home, doesn’t always improve parents work-family life balance, especially for parents of young children.

  • Phone calls and zoom meetings with children at home can be a nightmare
  • Being productive is a struggle when you’re interrupted every 10 minutes
  • “Clocking off” from work is harder when your work is done at home.

Granted that working and parenting in a global pandemic is a unique situation, but many of the lessons can be extrapolated and applied to general flexible work arrangements for parents of young children.

Keep reading to discover more about:

  • Why flexible work arrangements can help your work-life balance
  • Why flexible work arrangements might not suit some parents of young children
  • Suggestions for HOW to make flexible work arrangements work for you and your family.

Why flexible work arrangements can help your work-life balance

Flexible work arrangements came about through the lens of the occupational health and wellness movement (aka work stress and work-life balance), with the belief that flexible work arrangements facilitate work-life balance. Secondary to that, work-life balance reduces your stress and increases your wellbeing (1).

One way of coping with the demands at work is to have control or autonomy over how you do your work. Elements of this include: where you work, when you work, and your influence over how you do your work.

Flexible work arrangements can fall into 3 broad categories:

  1. Flex time (flexibility in scheduling)
  2. Tele-homeworking (flexibility in location)
  3. Part-time (flexibility in length of time at work). This can also include career breaks (maternity/ paternity leave).

Why flexible work arrangements might not work for parents of young children

Flexible work arrangements can help you achieve a work-life balance, allowing parents the opportunity to juggle the often conflicting demands of work and their family. Conceptually, the fluidity of balancing both arenas makes sense, but when the boundaries of work and family life become blurred, it can present many challenges for parents of young children.

Work often requires parents to be competitive, efficient, and output focussed, but young children require parents to be slow, patient and compassionate. Without clearly defined boundaries the dichotomous needs of both work and family tend to bleed into one another.

Due to this, challenges for parents include:

  • Regular shift between dichotomous characteristics places another layer of mental and emotional load on parents.
  • Can lead to frustration when both work and family place demands on parents at the same time (e.g. imminent work deadline needing completed AND your child needs your attention)
  • Without a clear separation between work and family time you may feel obliged to do extra hours at home to finish something or attend to your children during work hours. Resulting in you being distracted and not fully present in both work and family time.
  • Lack of time between work and family transitions. Traditionally, parents had the commute to unwind from work and put your family “hat on”.
  • Your children might find it difficult to understand that you’re working at home and continue to interrupt you. Interruptions lead to parents frustration and reduced productivity, resulting in you ‘making up time’ later or trying to do work and family responsibilities at the same time.

This doesn’t mean that you should discount flexible work arrangements as many parents find it helpful for juggling both family and work commitments. However, there are some things that you can do to make the juggle easier and transitions smoother.

Tips on how to make flexible work arrangements work for you

1. One size doesn’t fit all

There are various types of flexible work arrangements and just because one works for your colleague, doesn’t mean it will work for your family. Take time to trial a few different options while having honest conversations with both your partner and employer about how it’s going.

2. You need support from both your employer and partner

Research has shown that when there are conflicting demands between work and family life you need the support of BOTH your partner and employer to help you achieve a work-life balance (2). It’s imperative that you’re having regular, open discussions with your partner about family expectations AND with your employer about work expectations. A part of these conversations might need to be about reducing some work or family commitments.

3. Look at the bigger picture

It might not be possible, or healthy, to do it all. So revisit your goals and values for work, family and your other interests. If your priority right now is your family then accept that for now your work/career might need to take a back seat (not forgotten, just not of primary focus).

4. Clearly defined personal boundaries between work & family

This one is particularly challenging for parents as your work/career may be vital for financial security or you may love your job. While at the same time you’re committed to your family and want to be available there too. Your personal boundaries take inner work – self reflection, realising what’s important to you and the confidence to assertively maintain them.

5. Routine/ ritual you do to help you transition between work and family

You might not have the usual commute to and from work to transition between work and family, or you might transition multiple times throughout the day. If so you’ll need to create a routine or ritual for transition (e.g. quiet cup of coffee, go for a walk, listen to music or a podcast). Over time your transition activity will become a cue and you will transition quicker and more easily.

6. Screen-free time each day/night at home

To allow yourself to be present and engaged with your family it is important to have a period of ‘screen-free’ time each day where you don’t check emails, make calls etc. During this time devote your full attention to your family to foster connection with them. This doesn’t have to be a long time as quality time is much more important that quantity. A great time to do this is one hour before your children go to bed as a strong bond and connection at this time is great for parents and children (for more information click here).

 

Parents working outside of the home have the challenge of juggling the often conflicting work and family commitments. At work you want to be productive, contribute and achieve your goals AND with your family you want to be involved, engaged, connected and supportive. Many parents of young children utilise flexible work arrangements to strive for a work-life balance. While flexible work arrangements add challenges for parents of young children there are some simple things that you can do to make the flexibility work for you and your family.

If you’re struggling to juggle both work and family it can help to speak with a professional to achieve clarity around your values, what’s important to you and to have the confidence to assert yourself.

Enlightened Parenthood is a boutique psychology practice that purely focusses on supporting parents in their parenthood journey and a large component of this is juggling work and family. See here for more information.

Or check out Enlightened Parenthood’s Facebook page for ongoing tips and support for navigating the joys and challenges of your parenthood journey.

 

  1. Shagvaliyeva & Yazdanifard Impact of Flexible Working Hours on Work-Life Balance
  2. Lockwood, N. Work/life Balance Challenges & Solutions.