Seven strategies to help working parents keep it simple

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Carden Calder was so busy she didn't even realise she needed help. And so one key piece of advice is to occasionally pause, and take stock of your options.

Gone are the days when parents were expected to manage their home and working life with the aplomb of a 1950s white goods advertisement. It's generally accepted that today's working parents are stretched close to the limit, and so principles that make managing the childhood and teenage years a bit easier are welcome.

Carden Calder founded BlueChip Communication when her first child was one, turning it into a BRW Fast Starter company within three years. Now she juggles the business, along with looking after her children, and various advisory roles including one with the global non-profit Entrepreneurs' Organization.

"As a full-time working mother with three kids, it’s about prioritisation and fitting in an inordinate amount of activity, much of which is not discretionary, or fun," Calder says. "It's also about actually trying to enjoy it. I remember someone saying to me, 'don’t wish away their childhoods'. So while it’s incredibly hard being a working parent, it's really important to find opportunities to enjoy a bit of fun, because you don’t want their childhood to be all about nagging, and constantly being in a hurry.”

Her basic principle? The earlier you train children in whatever you want their lifelong habits to be, the easier it will be for you – because the less they will question it.

Don’t tolerate fussy eating.“There was a time when we were making three different meals for the kids, trying to give them different foods, and the next thing I know, dinner takes me three times as long to prepare. All you're doing is creating more work for yourself,” says Calder. She suggests feeding children the things you want them to eat first, when they're really hungry. "If you give them broccoli and there's no meat on the table, and they’re starving, they’ll eat the broccoli. Then you say, guess what, there’s lamb chops, but you didn’t know about them."

Find a source of easy pre-prepared meals that are healthy. These work well to save time without being fast food. Cooking a roast chicken and serving it with a pre-packed salad from the supermarket and home-made dressing; or a Chinese barbeque duck bought on the way home from work, with some green vegetables cooked at home.

Get paid help. “I had a mentor who told me to outsource everything I could afford to,” Calder says. “I was fortunate in that I hired a fantastic woman to work three days a week, and she’s stayed with us. I employed someone who I felt could be a partner in running the house and running the kids.”

Get the children helping with short chores from an early age. Calder says her children were taught to strip their beds from the age of four, and later, to make the bed. It's a big job for the little ones, but you can introduce the chores gradually, Calder points out. "By the time they’re ten they think its normal.”

She also cut her cleaner down to once a fortnight and pays the children between $15 and $30 to clean in-between times. "My nine-year-old vacuums the house. He can't get the whole way through it, but he does a great job.” This serves multiple purposes: it teaches about work and earning money; it trains them to tidy up; and it relieves the frustration parents feel when they're running around cleaning up while children sit on the couch with their devices.

Get some alone time and give yourself an opportunity to reflect and take care of yourself. “Some people do this and some don’t, but I try to find ways to fit my fitness in. For example, around my daughter’s rowing schedule. I’ll go for a run after I've dropped her at training in the morning. If you pack every minute of the day the way we tend to, I find I become quite brainless in the way I'm operating. So I have to consciously stop, think, plan the week, and plan time in for myself.”

Learn from other parents and get help from them. “I was really late to learn this,” Calder says. “I have to be a bit honest about where and how I need help. Car pooling can cut down a third of the pick-ups and drop-offs. Sometimes as a working parent it's easy to feel like you're the last one to know everything, but when I asked some other parents they didn’t always know, either. Facebook can be good for that. Also, on the sidelines at sport, and the odd text or phone call.”

Get some perspective. “I remember apologising to one mum because I had no idea what was going on with a rowing schedule. She sympathised, saying: ‘You’re running three kids on your own, running your own business and managing to get some fitness time in’. You can't be expected to know everything, all of the time.

"It's helpful to be reminded to just stop and reflect,” Calder emphasises.