Can I find that elusive work-life balance?

Juggling work and family life is difficult at the best of times, but what about those inevitable crises of sickness, lack of childcare, sudden breakfast meetings or work trips abroad. How can working mothers establish a daily routine that works both in sickness and in health? Mandy Garner from gives some advice and practical tips

How can I make the morning routine less stressful so I don't arrive at work looking totally exhausted?

The morning rush is something many mothers find stressful, and the only way to make it more bearable is to treat it like some sort of military campaign. That means doing as much as possible the night before - ironing, packing non-perishable food in lunchboxes, getting dinner money ready, signing letters, choosing your next-day outfit, preparing work material. This means you will “only” have to get the kids up, dressed, fed and out in the morning.

Another tip is to get the children up early, but not too early. If you get them ready too early, they may start undoing all your good work before you leave - undressing, disappearing to play in their rooms, getting engrossed in a new, deeply important activity. You have to time things to perfection.

Of course, if they naturally wake up at 6am you will just have to pace yourself well. Ensure breakfast is around an hour before you have to leave so they have time to eat it, brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair and get shoes on in time. Have all the bags ready in one place. The real military streak comes out if you have late sleepers, slow eaters or small people who disappear upstairs to get “something important” to take to school when only a battle cry will work.

How can I find the right childcare?

Having got everyone ready, you need to be confident that you've made the right childcare choices for your family. Before you've returned to work - and this includes working from home (it is very hard to focus with a toddler in the background) - you need to carefully consider what childcare will work best for you.

There are pros and cons to every kind of childcare, so carefully consider what will work for you and your child, depending on their age and personality. With childminders, there is usually more flexibility over hours and your child might flourish in a family setting. It is also likely to be cheaper. The drawbacks include the fact that this is just one person who will inevitably get sick, go on holiday and have emergencies of their own they must attend to.

With nurseries, you get the security of having cover most of the year. Most open from 7.30am to 6.30pm and there are several carers working with your child – the latter could be a pro or a con. Your child will be with other children and may learn good social skills.

Other options include nannies, au pairs or relatives. Whatever you choose, make sure it suits your needs. Balancing work and family life is hard enough without also constantly worrying about who is looking after your child or whether they'll let you down.

What do I do when my child gets sick or is on holiday, or the childcare breaks down?

Make sure your childcare plans include emergency back-up. Negotiate with your partner beforehand, if you have one, so that it is not always one person who takes time off for sickness etc. If you don’t agree some rules beforehand, things can tend to get tense with at least one party feeling hard done by. Book holidays well in advance so you can get the time off you need from work. Get a list of holiday playschemes from your local authority well in advance and check out local alternatives through word of mouth. Network with friends so that you do favours for each other. If you have to be late for school pick-ups, they will pick up for you and vice versa.

How do I find the time to work, look after the kids and get all the housework done?

Around 70% of women surveyed by found that fitting in housework with work and children was stressful. There are a few practical tips for getting round this:

Firstly, try to share domestic chores fairly with your partner.

Work out a rota to ensure things like washing the school uniform get done on time.

Rope in the kids!

Don’t expect perfection. It is better to slack off the housework a bit and just focus on the essentials than to collapse from total exhaustion.

Most important of all, allow some time for yourself at the end of each day so that you can recharge your batteries a little – even if it’s only 20 minutes in the bath or vegging out in front of the TV. If you have very little time at the end of the day, make sure you have some time at the weekend where you can relax. This can be hard with shopping and cleaning on the to-do list, but fix a regular date once a week where you can relax – Friday nights are good as a kind of celebration for surviving another week. Don't rush through dinner, watch a film, make some popcorn, snuggle down with the children and enjoy the less frantic part of being a mum.

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