Sharing responsibilities allows both parents to manage their respective work duties and care for their children, while supporting the home and each other’s needs. A suitable work-life balance that includes quality time for the whole family can greatly be supported by flexible working, equal roles and equal responsibilities.
Traditionally, the family model has been made up of a breadwinning father and a housewife mother. In the last few decades, this model has changed considerably into a dual-earning couple. In fact, various effective measures have been taken locally to facilitate the return of mothers into the working world, including free childcare for working mothers.
Yet, while breadwinning responsibilities are being shared, home management and child-rearing responsibilities still seem to be attributed largely to mothers rather than equally shared between parents. Even the measures themselves reflect the prevailing concept that mothers are the primary carers of children. What can be done to shift the family model into equal roles and equal responsibilities?
Household chores and childcare can be allocated to each parent according to a schedule that works around the whole family. It may take time to refine it to perfection, however, once established, it supports a positive work-life balance, with plenty of quality family time, relaxed parents and happy children.
Janice and Mark have three children, aged one, four and eight. They manage business, household and childcare responsibilities in an exemplary way that has created an ideal work-life balance which allows them quality time too. It is a way that I believe other parents can emulate according to their particular circumstances.
Flexible working is crucial to Janice and Mark’s arrangement. They tried and tested various schedules until they found the optimal way of sharing responsibilities and increasing quality family time. Everything gets done without undue pressure on any parent and, more importantly, the children are satisfied and enjoying both parents equally.
Without flexible working, the situation does get a little more complicated, which is why it is ideal if at least one parent is able to be flexible with regards the time and place to perform work duties. This is where Jobs for Mums Malta is committed to helping families find their ideal work-life balance. In any case, we believe it is possible to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement between parents that involves equal roles and equal responsibilities in all aspects of home management and childcare.
We propose these ways to find a suitable work-life balance for both parents:
Look at your work schedules - what is flexible and what is not?
Mark works afternoons late into the night, so his mornings are entirely dedicated to the older kids and household duties, handing over to his wife in the afternoons and evenings after Janice has done her administrative work from home while tending their baby.
Look at your work schedule - is there a flexible working opportunity to allow a parent to always be available? If both parents hold day jobs, daycare is now freely available, then the importance falls on evenly sharing household chores and childcare responsibilities while at home.
Identify child-caring responsibilities
Children must be fed and clad, but they require interaction and playtime just as much. The caring adult must be fully present with the child or children, not only physically present. Mark wakes, prepares and drops the older kids to school and prepares lunch, their daily family time. Janice ferries them to and from dance classes and sports, and the grandparents watch them while she teaches for a couple of hours in the evenings. She later bathes the children and puts them to sleep.
Make a list of weekly childcare duties and allocate them evenly between parents depending on practicality; involve other family members and family friends who are willing and able to assist with childcare, if required. For example, a retired grandpa may enjoy picking up your child from school. Keep experimenting with this until you find the perfect arrangement.
Identify household chores
A house needs cleaning, clothes need washing, and grocery shopping is essential. Mark handles grocery shopping on the way home from school and does bulk shopping once a month to save time and money. He also tidies up daily and prepares breakfast and lunch. Janice handles daily clothes washing, takes the dog out and prepares dinner. A maid helps with house cleaning chores once a fortnight, so that their time is better spent with the children.
Make a list of weekly household duties and allocate them according to preference and practicality. Being assigned the ironing if you hate ironing is probably not a great idea. Try to keep it pleasant. Identify who can do what and when, sharing responsibilities equally. Also try to find ways to use time more efficiently.
Use technology in your favour
Knowing in advance your essential duties makes it easier to plan ahead and work around things. For crucial household and childcare chores, such as cooking or taking the kids to school, it is recommended. For everything else that crops up from time to time, Mark and Janice use mobile technology to help them keep track of their to do lists and work as a team.
Whether it is paying bills, collecting a second hand piece of furniture or purchasing flowers for the garden, an app like Wunderlist makes sharing to do tasks between people easy, because it is user friendly, runs on every platform, syncs seamlessly, and makes collaboration simple. This method cuts the boredom of constant planning and proves more time-efficient: you simply pop tasks on the list, execute them as they come your way and mark them as done.
Ensure you factor in quality time.
Due to their schedules, Mark and Janice have picked lunch time as their daily family quality time. Mark takes the children out on Saturday mornings and Janice spends the afternoon with them; the half day responsibility means they each have time to pursue their hobbies, catch up with friends or simply relax. Sunday is reserved as a family day.
An ideal work-life balance also means you get to enjoy life a little and not only focus on duties. Whatever you do, always factor in free time for yourself and your partner, time to spend alone together and time to have fun with the kids. This is as important as anything else on your to do list. Time doing your own thing helps you recentre, rebalance and recharge, while quality time with your partner and children is what creates family bonds and keeps you a happy family.
Do ask a friend to keep the kids overnight once a month so that you and your partner can enjoy some romance - staying in love is good for you and for your kids too!