The declining birth rate is a big issue in Japan, and like many other countries there are also concerns about caring for the ageing population. The end result is pressure is on the working generation, with long working hours to support the country’s economy — and for parents, that can mean limited time with their children.
Of course it’s not only in Japan where working parents struggle to find time to spend with the kids. Even on weekends, there’s a juggle between parenting and household chores, and before you know it, another week starts all over again.
Finding a healthy balance between work and personal life is a challenge for anyone. First of all, it’s not easy to figure out what the ‘right’ work-life balance is, as everyone’s circumstances are different.
In many households with children, both parents may need to work full-time for financial reasons, and their children need to be at daycare for long hours. Some people may need to bring work home and catch up after children go to bed. There are things working parents ‘have to do’ to support their families, but this can throw work-life balance out the window.
In many countries, different ways of supporting working parents, especially mothers, can be achieved by employers and governments working together, with benefits for families and individuals. But the reality is, many parents face work-life conflict daily. Is there anything individuals can do?
STEP BACK AND TAKE A LONG TERM VIEW
It’s important to try to look beyond the day-to-day rushing, and think about the longer-term perspective. For example, struggling to find time with children and feeling guilty about it adds extra stress to your already stretched life. And spending too many hours at work may not only harm your physical health, it can make you more prone to accidents and errors.
Many parents already know the importance of spending time with their children, but are much less sure about how much time is needed, and what sort of ways to make the most of that time. It might be surprising to some parents to hear that when it comes to time spent with children, quantity doesn’t always match up with quality!
Imagine a parent who spends all day with a child but who is bored, lonely, frustrated, and frequently annoyed. If the same parent only spent one hour per day, really giving their child their full attention (chatting, listening, and watching what they are doing, etc.) which do you think would be better? In short, it’s the quality not the quantity that matters.
Parents need to find the right balance, because it’s even possible to spend too much time with children if this leaves the parent feeling unhappy. On the other hand, short but frequent and meaningful interactions with children all add up to help a child know they are loved, and their parents are interested in their lives.
YOU CAN’T LOOK AFTER ANYONE IF YOU DON’T LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
And spending time with your children is just one part of your personal life. Taking time to meet your personal needs is also important. Like a car needs fuel and regular maintenance to keep running, we need to look after ourselves to continue to be helpful to our families and in the community.
What would make you feel relaxed or give you a sense of ‘me-time’? It doesn’t have to be an expensive retreat or holidays, or even take very much time. It could be just as simple as having a cup of tea/coffee alone, going for a walk, or phoning a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while. (And apparently, writing a journal for just 20 minutes a day can have major emotional benefits, according to new research.) Including these sort of activities in your schedule from time to time helps you feel refreshed to face the daily challenges at home and at work.
THE WRONG WAY AROUND?
Talking about work-life balance, someone I recently met in Japan said to me, “We say ‘work-life balance’, but that doesn’t sound right. The word ‘work’ comes first before ‘life’. It should be ‘life-work balance’!” I totally agree with him. It is helpful to pause a little and focus on our life for a moment, and think about what we can do to make our family and personal life a little more enriched by taking small actions.