Family time management – is it possible to be both career focused and a devoted parent?

On Tuesday 21 March, a group of MiB members and Hanken School of Economics alumni gathered at Hanken in order to dig deeper into the topic of family time management. Research Professor Anna Rotkirch from Väestöliitto, HR Business Partner Anne Lawson from KPMG and Project Leader Charlotta Niemistö from Hanken took part in a panel discussion and shared their thoughts on the topic. In the end of the event, the listeners joined the discussion with questions and comments.

What is good family time management?

Anna opened up the discussion by saying that as parents, we are aware of that time spent with our children will affect them and their development. At the same time, it is dangerous to believe that one is a super parent and should do everything oneself. Time is a scarce resource and we need to accept this. To use external help, be it from friends and family or by using external services, can be a way to free some time.

At the same time, it is dangerous to believe that one is a super parent and should do everything oneself.

A fair divide up of domestic tasks among the parents is also one step in the direction of good family time management. Anna said that research has shown that women start taking on a bigger part of the household work after the family grows with a child. In the same situation men, on the other hand, tend to spend longer hours at work and sleep less. Expect the impacts this can have on the relationship between the parents and between the parents and the child, it might also have financial implications. This can become quite evident, for example, if the woman has stayed home many years with minimal earnings and there is then a divorce.

A fair divide up of domestic tasks among the parents is also one step in the direction of good family time management.

Anne commented that flexibility is also an important factor for good family time management. If one parent at some point need some time off (due to travelling, hobbies, work…) the other parent needs to be ready to step in and hold the fort.

The digitalization is something that can both simplify and complicate our time use. Can the time we spend online be categorized a well spent? Anna pointed to the fact that we like being able to do all kinds of things at any possible time when we are online but at the same time, we have problems with the expectation to be reachable 24/7.

 

How can I improve my family's time management?

What can oneself do in order to get a more balanced family life and simplify one’s time management? Many practical tips were mentioned during the event, among others:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If possible, let grandparents and relatives help you and/or make use of nannies, cleaning services etc.
  • Pick your fights and prioritize things that feel especially important for you
  • There is nothing saying that having only one child is too little. A single child will not get “destroyed” by the lack of siblings
  • If possible, let there be a longer space between the siblings. Having two children under the age of three is quite tough
  • Prioritize physical movement/exercise, it can help you to recharge your energy levels
  • Refrain from doing a lot of “extra things” that don’t really bring you anything. It can be nice to do thing as goodwill or a favor but remember that you are no superwoman
  • Don’t put your relationship and sex life on hold. Even though life can be hectic with small children, it is important not to forget your partner and your role as spouse
  • Leave work behind you when you come home. This also sets an example for your children
  • Try the 15 minutes technique: spend 15 minutes with your child/partner/parent without commenting, judging or giving them advice
  • It is not compulsory to arrange a lot of hobbies for your child. You can make use of rules like “no hobbies that the child cannot walk to himself/herself”, “no hobby before the child can ask for it herself/himself” or “one hobby per child”

 

The role of employers and the society

As parents, we are not the only ones that can affect our time management. Attitudes of and services offered by employers and the society can also play a role.

There are big differences in how family friendly companies are.

Some companies go a long way in order to help their employees balance work and family life, while others hardly fulfil the requirements set out by law.

As examples of what kind of support companies can provide, Anne mentioned that KPMG offers a babysitting service if an employee’s child get ill and provide the possibility to work part time when the children are small.

Reachability and separating work life and spare time is a difficult equation for many. Charlotta has done research on this topic and commented on how easily professionals work overtime and make themselves constantly available for their employers. Anna said that we might try to fool ourselves that we can increase our productivity by working more. This does not correspond to reality. We might, however, get addicted to working much and trying to prove ourselves this way. The same principle also applies for emails: the more emails we send, the more we will get back. The email flood will never cease.

We might try to fool ourselves that we can increase our productivity by working more. This does not correspond to reality.

If one wants to change the culture in a company, it helps to have good role models in leading positions that step up and lead by example. A change of culture should come from the top and drill down the whole organization.

When it comes to society’s role, we have good basic services like paid parental leave, child support and health care, but there are also other ways of getting support. Family cafes, theme circles, child equipment recycling groups and similar might be arranged by different associations, organizations or congregations. There are also many groups /meeting points online where one can get peer support. We shouldn´t hesitate to make use of services and different forms of support if we think they can be of help for us.

During the event, Väestöliitto’s booklet “ Yhteistä aikaa etsimässä. Lapsiperheiden ajankäyttö 2000-luvulla” (Miettinen, Anneli & Rotkirch, Anna. 2012) circulated among the participants

The writer Charlotte Patola is active in MiB Helsinki and works as a study coordinator at Hanken School of Economics