Balancing Work, School & Family

The high-paced demands of modern life leave many of us juggling competing priorities while struggling to maintain a sense of work-life balance. And when Super Mom (or Dad!) goes back to school, finding more hours in an already long day can seem impossible.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. is one of the top 10 worst countries for work-life balance. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the never-ending zoom meetings have blurred the lines between time spent working and relaxing. Juggling family, work, and school can feel exhausting for even the most organized and dedicated parent. But with a little planning and prioritization, you can find that balance we all crave.

Schedule “family only” days

You may be thinking, “my schedule is already full, and now you want me to schedule something else?” However, if you’re the type who thrives on organization and follows your schedule religiously, you might benefit from dedicating some time each week just for your family.

Not only will calendaring your activities at the beginning of the month help secure that time, but it can help you live that core value of “Family First,” scheduling everything else around that precious time.

Dedicate an hour “me time”

Dedicating at least 1 hour each day to something you truly enjoy is not only good for your mental health, but it can also help you be more productive at work and school. Spend that time working out, going for a walk, reading, meditating, watching TV, or even taking a nap.

The key is to do something you enjoy that allows you to break away from your daily responsibilities. You can even consider incorporating family time into that break–turn that morning walk into a family walk.

Eliminate extracurricular activities

Let’s face it, juggling work and school is enough of a challenge. Add time for family and friends, and this act can send even the most energized parent over the edge. To maintain some balance, reexamine your priorities and temporarily take a few things off your schedule.

Make a list of your activities in order from the most essential to the least important. This exercise can help you determine which activities to clear from your schedule–at least for now. Keep your goals in mind and remember this season of school won’t last forever. After graduation you can return to those activities if they still feel important to you. In the meantime, thinning out your schedule may be the very thing you need to succeed, while creating the balance that you want.

Redefine success

Have you ever heard the phrase “C’s get degrees”? There’s wisdom here! There are seasons in everyone’s life when in order to succeed we need to adjust our standards and expectations. According to a survey by Grand Canyon University, the biggest barrier to work-life balance for most of us is perfectionism. The need to consistently maintain peak performance, make the highest grades, and remain in the running for employee, partner or parent of the year can be overwhelming and unhealthy.

Let go of the need to “be the best,” and recognize that sometimes a “C” performance is good enough. This allows you to achieve your goals while sustaining your own well-being and staying present for loved ones.

Learn to say no

If you’ve spent your entire life saying yes to every request and filling each hour with activities, now might be the time for a change. If the need to “people-please” has left you feeling overextended, saying “no” can be liberating!

While it can feel uncomfortable at first, saying “no” to things that aren’t essential can help you create boundaries and find balance. The truth is, people who love and respect you will understand and will still be there when you’re ready to take on more responsibilities again.

Ask for help

If you feel it’s all too much to manage, be honest about how you’re feeling. Most employers and professors understand that “life happens,” and we all need help sometimes. It’s ok to ask for an extension on an assignment, or to even take an occasional “mental health day.” Not only will you feel a sense of relief when you allow people to help you, but you’ll be more productive without the added stress of taking on more than you can handle (Karambelas, 2019).

Successfully juggling family, work, and school requires you to prioritize your mental and physical health. Failing to prioritize yourself can lead to failing at all those other things that are important to you. Schools and businesses are finally starting to recognize the importance of student and employee mental health. Eliminating the stress of an impossible deadline and, even better, getting it done without having to pull off an all-nighter, can be a game changer. Sleep and stress relief might just be the catalyst you need to find the energy to thrive during this intense chapter.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no promise of tomorrow and we must cherish our loved ones while we can. Work and school will always be there, but family time is precious. Take the time to value your loved ones, maintain your mental health, and have some fun along the way!


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Jessica McNeil-Santiel, DNP, APRN, CNM, RNC-OB, C-EFM is a certified nurse midwife and adjunct professor. Her career focus is on maternal-child health.

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