Getting the work-family balance right

There is no one ‘perfect’ work-family balance. Every family is unique, so balance can look different to different families.

To get things working for your family, it’s a good idea to start by talking with your partner about the type of parents you both want to be. Your chances of finding a good balance are greater when you work together.

Working out new roles in your family

If you’re not happy with your current work-family balance, you and your partner could think about whether you could take on new or different roles.

You can look at your roles both inside and outside the home. For example, if you want to be closely involved with your children, you might be unhappy working a 50-hour week. Likewise it’s not healthy for your partner to be at home full time if work is important to your partner and your partner is unhappy without it.

Here are some starting points for a conversation about your roles:

  • What needs to be done? Make a list of your family’s needs, whether it’s caring for the baby, doing shopping and laundry, cooking, washing dishes, or earning a salary. This will give you a starting point for planning who can do what.
  • How much does each of you want or need to work outside your home? Try to look at both the objective (who earns more?) and the subjective (does one of you feel particularly strongly about staying home with the baby?).
  • How do you spend your time at the moment? Once you have an accurate picture of how you spend your time, you might think about changing your habits and routines.
  • How much money do you need? Drawing up a family budget might help you decide whether one or both of you can afford to cut down your work hours to spend more time at home, if that’s what you want to do.
  • Whose job is more flexible? You might find that one employer is more family friendly than the other.
  • What will make you happy? It doesn’t matter who takes which roles in the family, as long as both of you feel happy and fulfilled.

Spending time with your children

If you decide you want to spend more time with your children as part of your work-family balance, there are lots of ways you can make this happen.

If you’re a new dad, you might be able to take some time off when your baby is born. This will give you the chance to help care for your child – getting up in the night, feeding, dressing and changing nappies, as well as playing and reading.

As you do these things, you’ll find your parenting skills and confidence levels growing.

Why not look into Dad and Partner Pay as an option for spending more time with your new baby? This is two weeks of government-funded parental leave in the first year following birth or adoption.

If you’ve been a dad for a while, you can try to make some special ‘dad time’ each day, doing things your kids want to do. It’s a great way to listen to them, find out about their world, and show them you’re interested.

Be actively involved in your children’s everyday routines and their special occasions. For example, when you can, take them to playgroup, drop them at child care or school, volunteer for parent help, or help with homework, sport or music. Work with your partner to plan birthday parties and special family outings.

As your kids get older, their needs will change. You might need to change your timetable to suit.

Take advantage of the time with your kids. Don’t allow it to pass by without being involved and enjoying the moments. This time will pass very quickly, and you can’t have it over again.
– Richard, children aged 18 and 23 years

Talking to your employer about work-family balance

You might find that having a family puts work into perspective. Looking at your employment options and talking to your employer can be difficult for many dads, but it’s a good start.

Perhaps you could try talking to your manager about how important being a dad is to you and asking about family-friendly policies.

You can also look at the hours you work. Is there room for change? Working part-time at some point might be an option.

You can get more ideas and read about what other dads do in our article on putting work into perspective and our dads’ stories about work-life balance.

Transition from work to family

If you’re stressed about work, or tired, worried and frustrated, you might be physically at home, but your mind is still at at work. This can spoil the time you spend with your children.

So on your way home from work, try to do things that prepare you to be with your childen. This could be listening to some music in the car or walking home from the bus stop or train station. This transition time can help you move more smoothly from work to home life.

It’s good to plan some regular time for yourself if you can. This will help you have plenty of energy for your kids when you do get home from work.

Benefits of a good balance

When you get it right for you and your family, a work-family balance has many benefits.

Children with dads who are involved and interested in their lives are more likely to feel secure, confident and happy. Warmth and physical affection from fathers is associated with higher self-esteem and fewer social and emotional problems in children.

A good work-family balance also lets you develop better relationships with your child and your partner. In fact, fathers who are happier in their relationships with their partners spend more time playing with their children and involving children in everyday activities.

If you have a fulfilled family life, you’re likely to be happier at work. A strong commitment to both work and family can give you satisfaction and fulfilment in both areas of your life.

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