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Managing work and family has never been easy, but add the uncertainty of a pandemic into the mix with working from home, juggling school holidays, and ever-changing covid restrictions, without routines and rituals things can get quite stressful and chaotic.

So, what can working parents do to effectively navigate, work, family and life?

The answer is to stop and reflect on this question: Do you have workable routines in place to help you manage the juggle of work, family obligations and this new life we’re all living? If not, here are some tips to help you to create flexible routines so you can reduce the chaos, and you and the other members of your family can get things done.

What are routines and rituals?

Routines are simply a sequence of actions that are followed regularly. For example, a simple bedtime routine for a young child might be: brush teeth, bath, PJ’s, toilet / potty, story, song and sleep.
Rituals on the other hand are those “special” things you do as a family like Sunday roast dinners together or unique things – like in our family we all have our birthdays at the end of the year, so in the middle of the year on or around June 30, we celebrate a “fake” birthday as a family. This includes cake, one present each, a special birthday dinner we even sing “Happy fake birthday to us… happy fake birthday to us…” Such fun! I hope our son carries on that quirky family ritual with his family.

More traditional rituals include family movie night, game night or lunch at grandma’s every Sunday. It doesn’t matter what the activity is – it’s all about a regular ritual that creates those special experiences and fond memories in your family life.

Do routines and rituals really help?

Absolutely YES! Routines and rituals really help. A research study exploring 50 years of research on routines and rituals found that they have many benefits for the whole family including making life easier, reducing stress, giving children structure and stability, supporting punctuality, improved learning and wellbeing, allowing for connection, contribution and belonging – not to mention taking family life from chaos to more order. If this sounds good to you then read on for tips to create routines and rituals in your home.

Steps you can take to start the change process:

Evaluate what’s going well and what’s not going well with your current work-family life. Is life a little too chaotic or do you have regular routines that you and the kids follow to help structure the day? If not it’s time to stop and reflect. Keep doing what’s working and change what’s not working well – little by little overtime. Small incremental change is more realistic and sustainable.

Plan the way you want family life to be in this new environment. Things have changed in the world – have you made time to change things in your home and your work practices? Remember, having a plan is something to aspire and work towards. It gives you and the rest of the family direction and hope.

Execute steps needed to manage everything successfully. Once you have a plan for the routines and fun family rituals you’d like to introduce, it’s time to put things into place to help you have quality time with the family, get your work done, get the kids to care and off to school, as well as deal with the day-to-day shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing and other general housework done. Create a fun family ritual first then work on the routines. Where will you start? Evening Routine? Morning Routine?… the key to success is to make a start.

Anticipate what will stop you from achieving your goals and implement strategies to support your success. This is where you draw on your experience. You know the obstacles that have prevented your success in the past – like not being ‘realistic’ when setting goals and over-scheduling or overestimating what can be done in a day, or not sticking to the great routines you’ve created. So, instead of going down old paths, set yourself up for success – create realistic plans and activities for each day so you can succeed at work and at home.

Persist and update the routines, schedules and strategies as you work towards finding your ideal family life. Hey! Rome wasn’t built in a day. Creating a great family life in this “new normal” will take time. The key is to have regular family meetings, talk over things and persist. Where you see things are not working – make little adjustments until you get things just right as a family.

Remember if you don’t do anything differently, you’ll have the same outcome.

Tips for success:

Create a family plan together: Start by getting the family together to talk about brainstorming and cooperating to create a great study-work-family life.

Creating or refining routines: Identify the special family rituals and the routines you’d like to create (morning, afternoon, dinner time, or evening). Book the ritual into the diary – and stick to it! List the steps in the routine in order and walk your children through the activities until they know how to complete them. This could take a few weeks, so be patient. Keep a list of the routines in a prominent place in the home and use check boxes to encourage children to complete the activities and then tick them off the list.

Young children: Instead of a list of activities for each routine, use images to help your young children learn the steps and complete the activities. You can take photos while they’re doing each task, or draw pictures – you don’t have to be an artist – kids are very forgiving. Not game to draw? Go on the internet and find free images you can download and use.

Routines for teens: We all know that telling or yelling doesn’t work with teens. Instead, ask questions like “what routines would support you to achieve your goals this year?” Offer suggestions like “you could try…” or “have you thought about…”. Be the example and role model the behaviour you want to see. Capitalise on their LOVE of technology and encourage your teenager to research and find a To-do list App. Maybe you can use it as well for a win-win.

Most important tip of all

OK parents, here’s the thing… if you only take one tip away from this article – let it be this one; to succeed at work and in your personal life – you need to be at your best for you, for your family and your employer. To be at your best you need to take time for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. So as part of your planning process make sure you schedule in time for self-care – because if you’re run down, you can’t be at your best. Take some time to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and doing the things you love to fill your heart with joy. With a bounce in your step, you’ll succeed with work and family and have the energy to manage the unexpected things that life can bring.

Dr Rosina McAlpine

Dr Rosina McAlpine

Dr Rosina McAlpine is the CEO and creator of the Win Win Parenting program. Win Win Parenting’s practical and fun programs are delivered across a variety of organisations including early learning, school, corporate and government organisations in Australia, New Zealand and The United States. Dr Rosina is an internationally recognised award-winning researcher and educator.