Archive for the ‘Work-Life Balance’ Category

Offer Your Child The Best Ever Gift For The Festive Season: Your Time


It’s the holiday season. It’s the time to be jolly. It’s the time for gifts, family gatherings, outings, and fun. You may wonder for a while about the best presents to buy your loved ones on such special occasions; then, embark on a shopping craze for selection. Choosing the right gift to offer your child may be on top of your list. Lately, “Parenting Family Magazine” interviewed me on the topic of gift selection for the festive season, and our dialogue was loaded with brilliant ideas. This is how the interview went:

What kind of gifts can parents best offer their children during this season Dania?

Parents could get focused on buying tangible items like toys for their kids; and it’s true that these are very attractive. If we think hard, we’d realize that we have enough toys and things around the house already. No gift would be good enough like offering the child some special quality time. Our pervasive enemy in current days is “time poverty”. We are moving at a dizzying speed; and we rarely pause to catch our breath. Our kids, especially the younger ones, yearn for our presence – not presents. This is how we can support them, guide them, and nourish them. This is how they develop secure feelings, learn our values, grow best, and thrive. We, therefore, need to go the extra mile in ensuring we arrange spending more quality time with our kids and do what we don’t get the chance to do regularly. This is especially important when both parents are engaged in careers outside the home. That alone devours most of their time.

But many parents or moms don’t have a career and are there for the kids most of the time already.

That’s true, but many home-stay moms get sucked up in their own chores and routines. I’ve seen very busy moms with no careers who are constantly distracted from providing quality time for their kids. I am suggesting, here, following a conscious decision to make the time to spend it in a special way specifically tailored to the child. It’s not about quantity time where the caregivers are in the house with the kids, yet doing other things. What many parents do as they fulfill their parental duties is dictate orders when the need arises (especially about studying). Kids have varied needs. Parents can’t just rely only on teaching kids what matters. We need to teach our kids they matter; and allocate slots of time to do different activities they’d like and learn from.

Are you suggesting we forget the concept of concrete gifts all together?

No, perhaps not. Not all children will easily accept having “nothing” to hold, or no “box” to open for Christmas, for instance, especially when they would know other kids are getting some “thing” on this occasion. It would be great if kids were okay with that. Parents can get a little nice something and it doesn’t have to be very expensive. The trend for kids these days is to spend a lot of time doing activities while sitting for long periods of time even when they’re not studying. Things like: Browsing the internet, playing on the “play station”, watching TV, etc….. During our old days, we had simpler and cheaper toys that got our bodies moving especially outdoors (e.g. kite, Frisbee, fishing rod, rope, etc….). Why don’t we reclaim these for our kids to break their sedentary life-style and engage them immediately with an outing to try these for a change?

But these gifts can be bought any day and we need something special for special occasions.

You’re absolutely right, but how often do parents remember to forget toys and the trendy electronics and opt to buy those entertaining things that get their kids out in the open? Most kids have sufficient electronic stuff these days anyway. They would yearn to be in the company of their parents doing extraordinary stuff. If we keep associating a child’s happiness to expensive goodies, they would learn to associate happiness with “things”. The best idea, in my opinion, is to combine a simple gift with a special treat for the day about spending family time together doing a fun activity (perhaps with that gift). We need to make things grand with the simpler stuff. Left on their own, kids may not find the true value of humble things in life. Let’s consider some beneficial ideas that would allow parents to engage their kids in using simpler gifts like:

–  Paint: I’m referring here to wall or furniture paint. Imagine how cool  it would be to paint together a wall or walls in their room and help them decorate it as they please (a 2 in 1 beneficial task)

–   Field trip: Buy tickets to their favorite place, or a new site they haven’t visited before. Tickets can be put in a wrapped box to make it seem more like a concrete gift.

–   Telescope: Place it at the roof top, or make trips to the wild to check the stars at night.

–   Magician kit: Guide them into becoming a performer of tricks. Plan a show and invite family, relatives, and friends to watch.

–   Chess, special deck of cards, cooking apron, etc… that are simple enough, but can be made attractive if presented right.

These are just few ideas and if we give it more thought, we can have many more varied options. Parents, however, need to couple these with a prepared or arranged time to actually make use of such gifts as soon as possible. Each child may find different ideas more appealing depending on their needs, personality, and age. This is when parents need to be creative. Longer periods of parental company eventually will increase the value of what’s being offered especially if parents rarely participated in doing things like that.

Give us some more ideas about spending quality time with kids on the holidays.

Quality time – as opposed to quantity time – refers to the time parents spend being fully present and engaged proactively with their kids. It’s not about being there passively with no interactions. Several surveys of school children asking them what constitutes a “happy family” frequently were answered as “doing things together”. The best idea, therefore, during the holidays is to actually prepare for the festivities together with the kids. This is what kids would enjoy doing most no matter what their age is. Helping each other decorate for occasions, shopping for the necessities, and actually preparing for those times are great opportunities to make it a fun memorable period. When parents engage kids in more team work, they set a better mood for any occasion. The extra time on vacation can, also, be used in scheduling special outings or other innovative activities that include all family members. Things like:

–   Special family lunches or dinners at home or in new exotic restaurants.

–   Watching old “home videos” – if available – to re-visit how kids were when younger (this is a very appealing family activity for all members by the way).

–   Arranging, or scanning family photo albums.

–   Hold a “car wash” day for all to participate in.

–   Have an old “sheet” fort built inside the house (for youngsters)

–  Play cardboard game (monopoly, bingo, …) or “spin the bottle” or other games.

–  Gather “old” toys together; and take the kids to donate the stuff to the less fortunate or to charity.

Again, these are only few ideas to provide kids with experience and good memories about family quality time.

These activities do engage kids, but what do these offer the child exactly besides experience and memories?

These activities give children the chance to connect better to their role models. The conversations parents hold with their kids as they do varied activities allow for implicit guidance, fostering good ties, and nourishing the kids’ primary needs with a bigger dose of “care”. Parents may even need to plan times for deep conversations to dig into their kids’ primary concerns and challenges. In the end, we can summarize what kids truly need as:

–          Feeling loved, secure, and connected with.

–          Assurance of their high value.

–          Prioritizing their basic needs.

–          Plenty of praise and emotional support.

–          Smiles, hugs, talking, and listening to.

–          Learning new things.

–          Structure to their days.

These would be the ultimate gifts we can provide be it on special occasions, or during routine days. Kids would rarely remember tangible gifts as adults. Memories of good times with their parents are far more enduring. It has been said that the best things in life no money can ever buy.

Does age or gender affect these needs differently?

Both males and females need these basics alike. The way we demonstrate these towards either may vary. For instance, teenage boys wouldn’t like to be kissed or hugged all the time as when they were babies. Girls being more affectionate wouldn’t mind the open display of emotions as much. Furthermore, parents need to respect these needs relevant to the child’s age. The older a child gets, the more it is necessary for parents to give them latitude of choice and acknowledge their becoming more independent.  Parents can, also, vary the kids’ activities I mentioned above to suit better their age and gender better depending on their interests. What’s most important is to convey support to those kids and expose them to variety. Many parents unintentionally engage their kids in stereotypical activities for each gender without giving them a choice. That wouldn’t be the best idea.

Any last comments or tips for the festive season?

We’ve highlighted the importance of the gift of “Time” as the best gift we could offer our children. I guess the same goes to all people we love. Let’s intensify the time we spend with family and friends. No one on their death-bed wished having worked harder. The most frequent regret is not spending enough time with the loved ones. Let’s use our time wisely.


The Working Mothers’ Syndrome


Is it the first time you hear about the “working mothers’ syndrome”? It’s probably new to many. I’ll explain about it below and give you some answers to frequently asked questions. The “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” is the frustration and its consequences experienced by working mothers who have to joggle between the multiple demands dictated by being a mother and having a career. It results in many negative physical and mental signs that exert their toll on the mothers’ daily functioning. Parenting is already a 24 hours job, so adding to it an external job with more working hours surely adds more stressors to handle. Being a parent and having a career at the same time results in conflicting demands that most parents (both fathers and mothers) have to accommodate for. Since ancient times, society handed down the parenting responsibility mainly to mothers; hence, those mothers who have a career usually carry a heavier load in making all ends meet. The working mothers’ syndrome afflicts mainly high achieving, driven, and ambitious women who want to perfect it all. These women multi-task well; and assume a conscientious responsibility in both roles (at home and on the job). This, however, does not come without a price. Their bodies, eventually, yell to take a break from all the commotion by giving them various signals to slow down.

How does the “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” manifest itself?

Usually it is detected by signs of chronic fatigue (adrenal fatigue) especially if the mother has to work long working hours on the job. She wakes up too tired to go to work and is drained already when she comes back home to continue running errands for the house and the kids. If the kids are very young, her duties are physically more taxing; and this makes the fatigue more pronounced sometimes resulting in burn-out. With excessive and continuous stress, her immunity is diminished and this renders her more susceptible to diseases. Sugar cravings to boost up her energy levels are very common; and depressive mood swings attack often. This is all topped up with overwhelming “guilt” feeling on having to miss out responding, in time, to the conflicting demands necessitated by each role. Stress levels keep rising and her coping mechanism to accommodate to the demands of both the job and the house dwindle with time. This puts the working mother at a high risk of serious chronic diseases (e.g. cholesterol problems, diabetes, heart conditions, etc….).

Does the “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” differ in the Arab culture from that of the Western societies?

The “Working Mothers’ Syndrome” is quite prevalent around the world, as the division of gender roles has existed globally for a long time. The man is expected to be the “bread earner” and the woman is expected to attend to the family’s other needs mainly as a “caretaker”. Such expectations have put women under pressure if they aspired to deviate from the norm of being only a caretaker in the house. To pursue a career that either adds to the family income, or to merely enhance her self-worth, the working mother faces a big challenge in proving she can accommodate to all. The division of gender roles is more defined in the Arab culture, at a time when many women are picking up on the trend of establishing themselves outside the family context in line with Western societies. With fewer Arab men being open to assume household responsibilities to help – unlike the Western societies – Arab career seeking mothers are challenged even more to balance their lives with the added career role.

How can the working mother control the stressful effects on her personally?

A working mother needs to be clear that she wears several hats a day to suit the multiple roles she is involved in (a mother, a career woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister, etc…). The “super mom” notion is a heavy burden, as it is never too easy to balance it all – let alone perfect all roles. If she belonged to the “sandwiched generation” (i.e. being torn in responsibilities around aging parents and growing kids), having a career to top it up is even more taxing. She needs to be realistic that she cannot satisfy all ends impeccably. She already does too much. A working mother needs to intermittently recharge her batteries and de-stress by engaging in self-enhancing activities. This is the only way to remain sane, as giving, and productive. With no strength to hold it all, how else can she keep things together?

How can the working mother protect her children from the negative effects of the Syndrome?

As I mentioned, a working mother is already stressed out from handling too much. Many times that boiling stress spills over in dealing with the kids especially upon returning home from the job to carry on with her motherly duties. Having not seen their mom most of the day, the kids (especially at a younger age) become so clingy and demanding. They become like a shadow following their mom around the house. The mother is advised to create some space – before meeting her kids – to engage in some deep breathing exercise and shift her focus from “job mode” to that of the “house mode”. By giving her kids quality time, the working mother, by far, can make up for her absence compared to a stay-home mom who is just physically around. She needs to gently communicate with her kids her multiple responsibilities and her time availability specifically for them. She, also, needs to constantly remind herself that: “now I will be working on my long-term investment project (i.e. my kids). Before I know it, my kids will be on their own. Let me enjoy them as much as I can now.” A little positive self-talk can change her attitude and arm her a great deal against mounting frustration. And it’s true, at one point, the house will be empty and she has to deal with another challenge: the “empty nest syndrome” (i.e. kids growing up and leaving the house).

What are the effects on the partner?

A working mother would be really lucky if she had a supportive husband who understands how nourishing it is for his wife to have additional value outside the family context. In this case, the mother is better fulfilled; and this has positive effects on the dynamics between all family members (including her partner). When the mother is having an external job to boost the family income, not all husbands release their wives from all the household duties. The latter remain an obligation she carries on her shoulders; and this when the syndrome intensifies affecting everybody around the house. She would probably need to recruit any other family support to help her cope better. If she was working just to enhance her self-satisfaction (not for the added income) and her husband isn’t supportive and she feels burned out, she may need to re-assess the nature of her current job and whether she can find less taxing external duties. Whining about her inability to make all ends meet pushes the husband to suggest her quitting the job (especially if she did not need its income). The decision to work or not is, indeed, a tough one when family responsibilities are overwhelming. In both cases, there are costs entailed. Having the added career is physically taxing; not having one, is psychologically costly. It’s about setting priorities – at each stage in one’s life. Opting to balance to the best she can puts the working mother forever on the seesaw to meet her partner’s needs together with all her other duties.

Are there any more recommendations to handle the negative effects?

Most working women are, in fact, more productive than stay home moms. They become skilled at managing their time better. The negative effects, actually, kick in when the mother drifts endlessly in attending to others’ needs without stopping to “refuel”. She is to schedule short fun activities on her own every so often. By involving their husbands more with the kids, a working mother would surely allow herself some time to catch her breath. If that is not possible, she needs to delegate some of her duties to other family members. A “reality check” is much needed continuously whenever a working mother finds her tolerance levels peeking. Let her ask herself these questions:

–          Do I really need that external job? (Is it a priority?)

–          Am I better off shifting to a part-time job? (What are the opportunities out there?)

–          What can I do to make my life easier?

–          Who can support me? And who can I delegate some of my duties to?

–          How can I re-charge my batteries and attend to my bodily needs?

–          How can I give my kids quality time instead of just being there?

Remember working mothers out there: Parenting is one of those most difficult jobs on earth. A job, you can never easily quit. Your kids, however, will grow up and help you with time. They will be proud to have had a mother who had a career while attending to their needs. Perfection is unattainable. Just opt at balancing to the best you can without forgetting your own physical needs.

Work-Life Balance (before you go off edge)

ImageOne of the first things I do with my clients at the beginning of a “Coaching” contract is to examine their wheel of life (see picture up there). I consider it an “eye opener” to start the process of progress. It gives a bird’s eye view of the levels of satisfaction (from 0 to 10; with 10 being most satisfied) on their: Career, finances, health, friends and family, romance, personal growth, fun and recreation, and their physical environment. These identify life areas that are not working well and needing change to live life more fully. Great deficits in fulfillment in any one area can spill over to the rest; hence, negatively affecting general well-being. We cannot neglect any one area. Just as a house cannot be built on one pillar, so is life satisfaction. It’s a whole; and cannot be reliant on only one source.

The concept of work-life balance is common and implicitly warns people not to get too consumed in having a career at the expense of nourishing the rest of their life support systems. It is a known fact that most of the working force spends their entire day on the job. They become so busy making a living that they forget to live their lives.  Even non-working house-wives assume the career of a “full time mom” or a “full time house-wife” that they sometimes drift in the mundane neglecting vital life ingredients until they feel a huge void. If you give it some thought, each of us has multiple roles (especially the sandwiched generation): the true self, career role, son/daughter, parent, spouse, friend, community volunteer, etc…. The true self, sometimes, suffers the most. Every so often, competing and conflicting roles and priorities can be very difficult to handle. We become defocused and find ourselves thrown off balance suffering health problems, depression, poor performance, stress, strain, or complete burn-out.

It’s not so simple to balance it all, but at least we can be more aware of maximizing the use of our time. Time being the most valuable, yet limited, asset we have which once used cannot be retrieved. Life can easily slip us by; and if we’re not alert to how we’re investing our time, by the end of our path, we may find ourselves filled with regrets. Just imagine you’re at your “death bed” contemplating your life. What would you be saying? Scary thought to many, huh? So, how can you best balance before everything hits the fan?

Here are some few guidelines to face the challenge:

  1. Fill in the wheel of life: Find out which life areas you’re very dissatisfied with and need your attention most. What can you improve? What are you willing to improve? (see? there’s a difference between “can” and “willing”). The first step to any change is awareness. It has been said that 50% of solving any problem lies in knowing what it is, so get clear on what’s not working for you. Then, start getting focused on taking serious gradual steps to implement changes. Things will never get resolved on their own.
  2. Set SMART Goals: Once you nail down the opportunities for improvement, set the baby steps to rectify. The acronym SMART for goals refers to Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed. These ensure rectifying the dissatisfied areas and having a map for a clearer journey ahead. For instance, if you found that you are not so content on the area of family and friends perhaps for being over-worked on the job, specify that you need to “spend more quality time on the weekend with family or friends”. The way about it may be to arrange for gatherings, or more outings. Always get specific: “how”, “when”, “with whom”, “number of times”,…  and make sure it doesn’t conflict with others’ plans. Gather your SMART goals with the specifics on a sheet of paper and read it every morning.
  3. Manage your time: Make the best use of those 86,400 seconds each day. Managing how you spend your time can be the key to your productivity on all levels. Many claim they don’t have the time, for instance, to read (i.e. feed their personal growth), or generate more income (i.e. feed their finances). Well… that’s not very accurate. You can always make the time for important things. It’s just that you may not have taken a deep decision to actually commit to doing things of importance. Why would most people adopt a certain regimen as per their doctor’s advice when their life is threatened? Suddenly, you find them having extra time, right? Think hard of that wheel of life. What should you do to become happier? Incorporate it into your schedule. This is when the SMART goals’ sheet needs updating to specify “when” to get things done.
  4. Establish healthy rituals: It can be difficult sometimes to kick off new habits when you find out that these are needed to feed into better balance. Take exercise for example. To kick it off as a habit requires a lot of planning and self-discipline in the beginning. Most research suggests a period of at least 21 days to establish habits. This is when the neural pathways in the brain become strong enough to make the behavior automatic. The habit, then, becomes an addiction that you cannot easily do without. The constellation of healthy routines (e.g. sleeping patterns, eating right, social media use, responding to emails,..…) eventually provide structure and make a big difference in your life. Rituals and habits are automatic acts you don’t spend much mental effort on; thus, allow you to have more energy to spend on other worthy and effortful tasks. So, what healthy routines can you plan among your goals now?
  5. Use a journal: Be it for your personal, or professional life, having a journal to plan your days in line with your goals will provide the necessary structure, clarity, and commitment. It facilitates organizing your time and taking the necessary steps to balance your life. Journaling your “to do list” will enable you to become more realistic in what you can achieve in one day, throughout the week, or for the whole month. Avoid writing one “to do list”. The sight of it may be overwhelmingly scary that many end up procrastinating about it. A dated journal has the advantage of allocating your targets over a period of time while ensuring you take care of urgent matters first. Remember to remain flexible as you proceed throughout the days and shift what you couldn’t do on a specific day to a later time. Your journal will eventually reflect your productivity and help you keep things on track.
  6. Manage your stress: Keep an eye on your life stressors and take measures to reduce their effects. After all, too many stressors can throw you off edge all of a sudden. When faced with stressful situations, focus on changing either the situation, or your reaction. Changing the situation means you either alter it (e.g. change your job) or avoid it (e.g. take a different route while commuting to escape traffic). When changing the situation is not possible, you can only change the way you feel about it. You need to stop fretting about what’s bothering you and accept that it just is (e.g. a negative colleague working in the same office), or adapt to it (i.e. looking at the big picture of what truly matters). It’s important that you avoid bottling up any tension by using quick stress-busting techniques frequently; like: deep breathing, positive self-talk, music, seeking social support, etc…

These are only the basic steps when your aim is to have a more balanced life. To really work it out, you have to have a whole hearted intention to have a new mission. Writing things down and organizing your path is a pre-requisite to succeed in doing that. Research after research documents that those who thrive have clear well written goals. You can assess and revise these as you proceed. Finally, and to add new things into your routines, entails giving up some other things in place. Why don’t you start off by making a “don’t do list” to identify your life “time-wasters”? Then, continue to MAKE the time to do things of greater value to balance it all….

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