Despite the government recently increasing the amount of cash incentives open to Singaporean parents, the number one complaint of new parents on my Facebook feed has been not lack of money but lack of sleep. The need to juggle long working hours and a newborn who can wake up without warning at all hours of the night can really take its toll on young parents.
Those who don’t have help from maids or in-laws and who aren’t good at juggling their duties can find themselves lamenting a complete lack of personal time (which, come to think of it, many regular employees who work crazy hours already suffer). Here are some tips for parents who are struggling to cope.
Streamline your work day
I’ve seen some new mothers come back to the workplace after maternity leave, only to fall back into their old patterns, enjoying long lunches and spending much of the work day gossiping with their colleagues. Then they panic when they realise they are expected to work late because they haven’t cleared their in-trays. Parents who’ve recently returned to work fresh from parental leave should realise that they might need to radically adjust their working habits if they want to shorten their working hours.
Streamline your work day as much as you can, even if it means you’re working at a much more intense pace than your colleagues. You might need to shorten your lunch hour, avoid all distractions or continue working on your commute home. Whatever it is, your priority should be to keep your work hours as short as possible. If you’re efficient in your work, your bosses are also more likely to give you time off if necessary or allow you to work from home.
Allocate tasks using a spreadsheet
If both you and your spouse are working, you’ll have to be ruthlessly organised to ensure all home- and child-related tasks get done in the shortest amount of time possible. A lot of time gets wasted because of bad planning and not knowing who is supposed to do what. If both of you do household chores together, these tasks can be delegated so whoever gets home first can immediately start on his or her tasks for the evening instead of waiting around for the other to get back.
For instance, the person in charge of cooking can plan the menu for the night and prep the ingredients upon returning home instead of waiting for his or her spouse to come back and discuss what to eat. If you take turns waking up to look after the baby in the middle of the night, discuss who is going to do it beforehand so you don’t find yourself in the situation where both are lying await praying the other one will get up first.
If you want to be hyper-organised, create a shareable spreadsheet on Google Docs or a shared calendar so you’ll always know who’s supposed to do what and can plan for any contingencies. You’ll be amazed at how much more efficiently things get done, since a timetable also forces you to schedule ruthlessly, a technique that’s recommended by productivity freaks everywhere.
Combine several activities at the same time
You only have 24 hours in a day, and if your schedule is particularly punishing, chance are you won’t have enough time to do everything you have to. Between picking up the baby from childcare, doing chores, making sure your family gets fed and acceding to your boss’s demands, you’d better learn to sleep like a horse—standing up, because the only time you’re not doing something will be when you’re on the MRT going to work.
Wherever you can, try to combine more than one activity on your to-do list. If you’re trying to make time for exercise, walking instead of driving from the childcare centre to your home can help you squeeze in a bit of light exercise. On your commute, run errands online, reply to emails and try to get a bit of work done if you can.
Buy groceries during lunchtime at work instead of after work. And when your kids are old enough, get them to help out in the kitchen at mealtimes—I think this is a great idea as it turns a daily chore into family bonding time and also teaches your kids important life skills.
As a parent, how do you balance work and the children? Tell us in the comments!