“Work-life balance” refers to an ideal state in which an individual can prioritize the demands of career and personal life. This concept has become increasingly elusive for parents as the rate of dual-income households has risen, more than doubling from 20% to 58% since the 1960s1. This trend has placed a particular burden on working mothers, who are more likely to be responsible for housework and childcare upon returning home from work ⎯ a situation some researchers have deemed “second shift.”
Research has indicated that, while most married adults overall feel able to strike a good work-life balance, about half of parents find it difficult to balance their respective professional and personal demands2. Parents who have difficulties with achieving work-life balance are at risk for a variety of negative life outcomes including:
- Marital difficulties
- Higher levels of stress
- Increased social isolation
- Decreased physical and mental health
- Reduced job performance
- Increased engagement in ineffective parenting strategies
- Increased likelihood children will experience emotional or behavioral concerns
Parenting and COVID-19
Parents have experienced dramatic negative effects both personally and professionally as a result of COVID-19. The widespread disruption of childcare and educational services has placed tremendous stress on parents, who are being asked to “do it all.” The role of a working parent has expanded to that of an educator, therapist and friend, all while navigating the inherent stressors of living through a pandemic. With these increased demands, many parents are feeling globally ineffective, despite increased allotment of their time and energy to countless roles. Since the onset of the pandemic3:
- 27% of parents have reported a worsening in their own mental health
- 48% of parents have reported loss of regular childcare
- 21% of parents have reported having to change or reduce their work hours due to changes in school or childcare, while 7% of parents have had to leave a job altogether
- Of those who have remained employed, 45% of parents report being unable to perform optimally at work and having to revise their career goals ⎯ despite working, on average, one hour more per workday
- 53% of parents report feeling guilty when working due to decreased ability to attend to childcare duties
Strategies for balancing work and life
Fortunately, there are concrete steps parents can take to help improve their personal and family’s well-being amid the pandemic. These strategies include:
- Setting realistic expectations. Focus on what is most important. Set small and achievable goals for the day. Give yourself permission to say no. Above all, be compassionate with yourself and others, recognizing that things do not need to be “perfect.”
- Prioritize self-care. Prioritizing self-care can feel difficult, particularly when you’re living in “survival mode.” When you make time for self-care, however, you’ll find you can accomplish both your personal and professional obligations more efficiently and effectively. This is akin to what parents are told to do when flying with their children ⎯ in case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first, before trying to help your loved ones.
- Set boundaries. Create a designated workspace at home. Establish consistent work hours and try to unplug when you’re not “on the clock.” Implement a transition plan when switching from “work” to “home” (go for a walk, change your clothes or listen to a short podcast).
- Be present. Purposefully focus your attention on the present moment, whether engaged in professional or personal aspects of your life. This will allow you to be more responsive and productive, less overwhelmed and stressed.
Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Pediatric Mental Health Institute provides evidence-based, family-focused comprehensive mental health services. For more information, providers can call 720-777-6200.
Other mental health resources:
1. Pew Research Center (2015). Raising Kids and Running a Household: How Working Parents Share the Load.
2. Milkie, M.A., Kendig, S.M., Nomaguchi, K.M., & Denny, K.E. (2010). Time with children, children’s well-being, and work-family balance among employed parents. Journal of Marriage & Family, 72(5), 1329-1343.
3. Patrick, S.W., Henkhaus, L.E., Zickafoose, J.S., Lovell, K., Halvorson, A., Loch, S., Letterie, M., & Davis, M.M. (2020). Well-being of Parents and Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A National Survey. Pediatrics, 146(4): e2020016824.