It is hard for the working parent to find and prioritize time to do his or her own thing. We need to help.
Tinkerbell Mom showed me her to-do list for the weekend. “What’s missing?” I asked. She thought of more tasks. “No! It is missing free time for you!” The star was her answer- buying new towels would be her “free” time. This is a common discussion at our house that comes close to a fight. I want her to take more time for herself and she thinks about getting things done. Free time is one of the things she needs to get done. I see how it is not easy to find.
Working parents are scrambling to spend more time with the kids. This builds into tremendous pressure and creates a lot of stress. As a result, we full timers get some alone time while they have valuable one-on-one time with the kids in the evening or on weekends. What’s missing from this work/life balance? Alone time for the working parent.
If your working parent is a woman, the job may even be harder. The difference between the sexes in taking time for ourselves is for real. The seminal Atlantic piece Why Women Still Can’t Have It All isn’t titled why “men and women can’t have it all.” The men in my life, yours truly included, make “me” time quite easily and have no trouble reconciling it with the other responsibilities in life. Women may need extra support and encouragement that time for her is not only a priority but necessary for the family.
So how you do it? How do you help your working spouse? This is still a work in progress for me. Here are a few ideas that we are putting into action:
1. Put working parent free time on the calendar.
If it is not on the calendar it won’t happen. That is why I use the word make and not take. Free time doesn’t exist out there somewhere for you to take. You can’t take it and you can’t find it. You have to make free time happen or it won’t. We are starting at a deficit here. There has to be a conscious effort or you will stay in the pit of no time for her. Put it on the calendar. We then plan our at-home parent free time around that.
2. Treat your full time parent job as a gig with a six day work day.
There are plenty of jobs out there that are not limited to a 5 day work week. This is especially true if you are an entrepreneur or otherwise own your own business. Is there no better example of a family-owned business than being a full time parent? I used to plan things for Saturday or Sunday relying on that crutch “oh yeah, mom needs time with Boogie.” How unfair. I am now trying to balance time better on the weekend and be on the clock for more hours. I know we can take a cue from double working parent households. There is some good advice out there. We have to remember that the kid time imbalance, though, is the elephant in the room for us. I say the onus should be on us to keep working and prioritize what the working parent chooses to do.
3. Don’t greet her at the door when she gets home.
They can benefit from transition time. Office clothes aren’t play clothes. Your working partner will also need to use the bathroom, get some water (or a drink), and take a few minutes to switch hats. This is especially true if she is a nursing mother. Once baby sees Mamma it is all over. Going to the bathroom and getting changed is a nightmare with a child desperate to nurse.
If you are home, play with baby in the back of the house where mom or dad can’t be heard or seen. If at all possible you can also plan your final errand around homecoming time. This way the parent gets home before you and can have a few minutes at home alone.
Of course this is an ongoing conversation. Some days, like yesterday, it brightened Tinkerbell Mom’s day to have those little stomping feet go crazy upon her arrival.
4. Encourage them to plan some earned work vacation on themselves.
It is easy for the working parent to see work vacation time, petty leave, or comp time a window for more family time. To be honest it is good for me too as vacation is only going to come from her time off, not mine! I am not sure what a good balance is for allocating vacation time for family vs. self-care. All I know is that she earned it and I want to support her using some of it on her own pursuits over getting in more family time.
In the end it is all up to what she wants to do. I feel my job is to lessen the pressure in whatever way I can. Hopefully this is a start. These are my current thoughts on the topic. What do you think? How do you help your working parent find more free time?