Having kids is an amazing part of life, and it should be fun. Life does tend to get in the way sometimes, and one huge aspect of that is work. Striking that balance between work and home life is tough. If you both work it's even harder.
And if you're a gay couple, it can have it's own set of problems above and beyond the standard work-life issues that people face. Recently, the Harvard Business Review conducted a study that focused specifically on the experiences of same-sex couples who wanted to make moves towards a work/life balance.
These moves included asking for flexible working, as well as more practical issues like introducing their partner at an office party. The study found that there were additional difficulties with gaining work/life balance for same-sex couples, and that they:
"...experience a range of additional conflicts related to their stigmatized family identity. These include a sense of tension over whether to take advantage of family-related benefits for fear of revealing their same-sex relationship, feeling conflicted over whether to bring spouses to work events, and feeling uneasy about discussing with a supervisor the family-related challenges that impact their work life."
That's just looking at the issue on a general level. Add children to the mix, and you're looking at a very complex issue. But if you don't get the balance, no one wins.
There is a way to make your home and work life join together harmoniously, and it involves thinking about the following tips.
1. Take stock of your work situation
Before the whole thing seems like it's impossible, take stock of what is actually happening at your workplace. There may be more opportunities than you think. This could mean that you are missing out on easy ways to balance out the time you spend at work and the time you spend at home with children.
It's important to see how the land lies in your workplace. For example, you may not be the only dad who wants more flexible working. There may have been examples of where the boss has allowed dads to leave early on certain days of the week. Or maybe some dads have found they could arrange a little telecommuting for a while. You won't know until you ask.
Work out what the possibilities are before you try anything else. You may find work itself can offer you some kind of balance.
Gay dads in particular may face difficulty in getting any flexibility. Knowing the situation behind that kind of process can help you work out a strategy to get the best out of the system. Knowing your rights will make you more confident when trying to arrange leave.
Before you make a request for flexible working:
- Make sure you have planned it. Be prepared to explain to your employer exactly how you think it should work. Being organized will probably increase your chances of getting what you want
- Discuss it with your colleagues first if you can. It's always best to have some support among your team
- Make sure you are willing to negotiate. There may well be an opportunity for flexibility, but it may take a different form than the plan you imagined
- Work out any possible objections your employer may have, and be ready to deal with them
- Make some notes first. It's always helpful to have some kind of note structure to guide your discussion
2. Talk with your partner (if you have one)
Whatever your partner's situation, they're involved. Spend some time talking things through with them. The more you talk, the less stressful it will be. Any changes you make will most likely be shared, and at the least, they will come after some discussion that has allowed you both to understand each other more.
It's also worth noting that, however the discussion works out, there is likely to be a change in circumstances and wishes moving forward. Your life will change as children grow older. These changes could end up making any initial flexible working arrangements very different as a child grows up. An Australian study found that time was a major influence on any changes on initial arrangements.
"Responses indicated a willingness among couples to renegotiate their arrangements over time as their children grew older, income levels changed, or to give each partner an opportunity both to care for the children and to work…"
Life does change arrangements, and you may find that arrangements become more fluid over time.
3. Figure out what you can afford
Right after that talk (or during it) the practical side will come up. Unless you know exactly how your money dominates things, you can't move forward. Before you make any changes that are supposed to give you more work/life balance, assess the financial situation.
You may find you have limited options, or that you have more options than you think. For example, it may be the case that you can afford to have a late start on a Friday morning, or an afternoon off work. You won't know until you've had a good look at the finances.
4. Find time during your week for 'down time' with your family
Take a look at the week ahead of you. The working week is not necessarily a done deal, and there is always scope for making it more family-focused. Pick out one or two spots in the week where you devote time to being with the people you love.
For example, it's often possible to have a movie night. Or even a 'date night' with your partner. Once you commit to finding the time, you'll be surprised how easy it is to schedule things.
Start with small things, and make them happen. You'll be thankful, as your week starts to feel like something you can get comfortable in.
5. Eat well, exercise, and sleep (We know, we know...)
Work/life balance can only be possible if you have the energy and the mental fitness to enjoy it. This means ensuring that you take care of yourself as well. It really pays off if you are well and healthy. Basically, you'll be able to enjoy time at home more, and your work won't suffer. You can't feel like that if you aren't well.
Organize regular exercise every week. Eat well and sleep (we know, with a little one that can be tricky) when you need it. Otherwise, that balance just won't happen.
6. Eat together
This is something that is definitely not what it used to be. These days, families rarely eat together. It's a lot easier to put in some extra time on your workload than it is to sit down and eat with your loved ones.
Being with your partner and children (no matter how young they are) when you eat is an extremely positive step. Perhaps a good talk about the day's events can take place. You can also 'switch off' when you're at the dinner table. One good tip here is to ensure that everyone is around the dinner table at a certain time every night (you will have to check your schedule for this though, to make sure it is viable). Once you are all around the table, you can enjoy being a family and spending time together.
Which reminds us…
7. Turn off the tech
Work/life balance is achievable without distractions. With distractions, you're making something already difficult into a ridiculously challenging experience.
Make it a rule that phones aren't allowed at the dinner table. Turn your phone off in the evening and focus on the important things. While it may not be possible to switch your phone off (you may have a work phone), it is certainly reasonable to keep them away from the dinner table.
Work up from there. The less tech there is in the evening, the more likely you will be able to spend time together. You cannot do it all in one step, but find little pockets of time here and there, and soon your distractions and your stress will be lessened.
8. Remember: Your Weekends are Sacred
While some jobs demand weekend work, with a family work should ideally be avoided at weekends. The best way to make sure that you gain more time at weekends with children is to work incredibly hard during the week. That way you won't have a ton of emails to take home and sift through.
If that is too much of a stress, and you feel some work has to be done at weekends, start small and look at every two weeks (where you take a work-free weekend). Achieving that work/life balance is more important than you think, and committing to family life is one aspect you really need to nail down.