Stepping out of the work mindset and being playful will
help keep home workers and kids happy, says family expert Anita Cleare.
Being a working parent has never been easy, but a new level of
difficulty has been added now many mums and dads are working from home
and trying to look after their children at the same time.
Many parents will simply be managing the best they can, and planting
young children in front of the TV or leaving them with an iPad to do
their school work, in order to buy time to get on with their work. But
it doesn’t have to be that way, says child development expert Anita
Cleare runs the Positive Parenting Project
(anitacleare.co.uk/positive-parenting-project) , through which she
delivers talks, workshops and coaching for parents, and has just written
The Work/Parent Switch which looks at the issues working parents face,
and how to overcome them.
She says: “Working parents have been told the way to be successful is to
be hyper-organised, buy five years’ worth of birthday cards at once and
batch-freeze meals. But that goes against the grain of what children
really need from us. Good relationships with children are built on
quality moments, not on constantly chivying our kids from task to task.
“To create a happy family life, working parents need to step out of our
hyper-efficient work mindset and be playful and curious instead, so we
can tune in to our children’s signals and understand the world from
their point of view.”
Here, Cleare suggests 6 ways to be a happy working parent:
- Learn to switch out of work-mode
The biggest challenge for working parents is learning to switch between
two different mindsets – work-mode and parent-mode – and now that so
many parents are working from home, learning to switch seamlessly
between them is even more essential.
When we’re in work-mode, we tend to be very goal-focused and
task-oriented. Doing well at work means sticking to schedules, getting
through tasks efficiently, focusing on outcomes and always keeping up
But when it comes to family life, children need us to deploy different
They need emotionally-attuned parents who are curious and playful and
empathetic, who can slow down and prioritise connecting and listening
over getting the job done. Children are naturally chaotic and focused on
the moment. If we approach them stuck in our efficiency-focused
work-mode, we quickly get frustrated with them.
- Make space for playfulness
Playfulness is an essential ingredient in happy families. Children and
adults need it. If you take the playfulness out of parenting, all you’re
left with is drudgery.
Playfulness isn’t the same as doing lots of activities. Cajoling a herd
of children in and out of the car to ballet rehearsals and football
matches when lockdown is over doesn’t add up to a fun family life.
Similarly, while we might be stuck indoors a bit more at the moment, a
bit of silliness is good for everyone.
Playfulness is the pixie dust that makes our lives feel lighter. It
fuels children’s development, makes parenting enjoyable, strengthens
family bonds and boosts everyone’s wellbeing. Creating more space for
playfulness will give you room to breathe, to relax, to laugh a little
more (and shout a little less) and enjoy being a member of your family.
- Prioritise quality moments
When we’re stuck in ‘get-the-job-done’ work-mode, we tend to focus on
all those tasks that need completing during family time. Feeding,
washing, laundry, spellings homework, reading, telling off, chasing down
But families are made up of relationships, not tasks. If we shift our
thinking about parenting away from a list of activities to be completed
or a project to be undertaken and see our job as parents in terms of
building relationships with our children, that opens the door to a very
Building a relationship isn’t a job that can be ticked off a ‘To Do’
list. It’s about small choices we make on a day-to-day level. It’s about
chatting and laughing and slowing down for a few minutes to listen when
our child has something to say – really listen with all our attention,
not just half our brains. Because it’s through listening that we connect
with our children on a deeper level and get to know them. Building
relationships isn’t about large quantities of time, it’s about quality
- Use your attention smartly
Mustering the energy to manage wayward children on top of working is a
big challenge. When we’re busy, it’s easy to slip into the trap of
ignoring children when they’re being good and overreacting to behaviour
we don’t like. Your attention means everything to your children, and
they’ll do pretty much anything to get it.
Working parents are often racked with guilt about not being able to give
their children enough attention. But it’s not how much attention we give
that’s the crucial issue, it’s where we direct it. Creating a happy
family dynamic isn’t about finding extra hours (or minutes), it’s about
parenting smarter by targeting your attention towards the behaviour you
want to encourage.
- Set children up to succeed
Avoid constant firefighting by setting some clear, simple and positive
ground rules. Children are used to having golden rules at school or
nursery, so have some at home too. The best rules help children focus on
what good behaviour looks like so they can do it more often.
If the kids are constantly bickering, introduce a ground rule like ‘be a
team’ to encourage alternative behaviour. If mean comments are the
issue, then ‘use kind words’ might be a good rule. Or, if physical
aggression is the problem, ‘be gentle’. Use praise and attention smartly
to positively reinforce the behaviour you want to encourage.
- Don’t try to do it all
Parental involvement is a great thing. But taking over and doing too
much for our children isn’t good for them. And it also risks stretching
parents beyond what’s humanly possible. In order to develop good
self-esteem and life skills, children need to do things for themselves,
to make mistakes and to learn from their failures.
Running around picking up after children who are old enough to do things
for themselves is not an act of love, it’s an act of developmental
sabotage. And it means you’ll never have enough time to enjoy being a
member of your family.
Sometimes, when it comes to parenting, less really is more.