Guest blogger Adam Lanigan explores how easy it is to adapt when your children leave nursery and start at school for the first time.
We always hear the expression ‘work-life balance’. Everyone is searching for the magic formula which allows them to work well and live well. But should that be rephrased as ‘family-work balance’, and certainly for people with children primary school age and under?
Having just joined the ranks of parents with schoolchildren, there has been a big new adjustment to deal with in our lives. There are new places to go, new classes to attend, new friends, a new timetable for everyone in the house. The child starting school is the one facing the biggest change and challenges, but it does not mean it is insignificant for the rest of the house. The trick is slotting the demands that school life brings into place around working. But when the school day is done and the working day is done, it does not leave much time for anything else.
What about ‘Me’ time? How valuable is that to the household? This summer, in consecutive weeks, I celebrated a 20-year anniversary of friendship with an old university pal and 30 years with two old school friends. Myself and Russell, my old friend from our final year at Durham, went on numerous foreign trips when we were in our twenties, but we recounted that our recent trip up to the Lake District was a first one together for 12 years. Life had become bogged down with getting married and having children and then Covid and without realising, a good friendship has been forced to take a back seat. Probably in delight at managing a night away from the stresses of teas, bedtimes and the morning routine, we surprised ourselves by getting to the top of Helvellyn as part of a six-hour circular walk – a fine tale to regale our wives with when we returned home.
With my old school mates, Ian and Marc, it was a day at the Test match, just up the road from where we live at Old Trafford. The chance to chat, watch sport and catch up over the course of six hours in the sunshine made for a great day (just don’t ask about the cost of the ice creams) – with many references as to why we couldn’t do that more often. But despite living within a mile of each other, managing to meet up even semi-regularly seems impossible.
Everyone has to work. That is a given. Everyone who has children usually wants to be involved in family life in some way, work permitting. And everyone wants to do fun things with their friends. So how can we strike the right balance to find the work-friends-life balance that we all need? Over the last two or three years, we have probably spent more time at home and more time with our immediate family than ever before. More so than generations that came before us and ones that will come after. So surely that makes getting out of the house and away from the same people we have seen day after day even more important for ourselves, and also more important for our nearest and dearest.
Think of when we visit a friend or relative, who may be ill or unable to go out. That person wants to hear positive stories about where we have been and what we have done. They want to be uplifted in some way. Think how dull the conversation becomes when you realise that you have no interesting news to share of activities or events in which you have participated. Nobody wants to talk about the weather, honestly. That is the same for when you come back into the house. Different interactions are good for the body and the mind. They can spark new ideas and interesting conversations and stimulate thoughts about a myriad of things.
The harshest self-reaction about wanting to do something for yourself is the feeling that you are being selfish, ducking duties and responsibilities. Of course, that is true if we abuse the chance to do something away from the family home. But the reality is we are not being selfish. We are doing something that is essential to the human condition. And what’s that saying about busy people make time? We know modern life is hectic, but if friendships or social activities are squeezed or jettisoned, then we are doing something wrong somewhere along the line.
Successfully juggling work, family AND friends is a real skill, but it’s one that we all must try to master.