Expert Opinion

Boundaries and Saying No

I feel guilty about working and not spending time with my child – what should I do?

As parents, we often set high expectations for ourselves when it comes to raising our children. We want to ensure that they are happy, healthy, and thriving. However, when our children are struggling with their emotions and trying to understand the world around them, it can be easy to fall into the trap of questioning whether we are doing enough and if we are doing the right thing for them. In these moments, it’s important to remember that “good enough” parenting is great parenting. It’s also important to acknowledge that parent guilt and regret are real, and it can be challenging to avoid comparing ourselves to others in a world where social media often showcases only the highlights of others’ lives.

It’s inevitable that we will have to navigate ongoing work and family responsibilities. Managing these demands can be tricky, but it’s important to remember to strive for progress, not perfection. Set small, achievable goals that you can prioritise for work and family each week. Remember to be kind to yourself in the process.In fact, setting aside some time at the end of each day to reflect on your parenting can be effective, even though it’s not direct time that you’re spending with your child. 

Re-evaluating what is truly important in our lives is another vital step. Society often measures success and productivity by how “busy” we are. But being busy doesn’t always equate to efficiency, achievement, or a good quality of life. Try reflecting on what’s important to you and your family as this can help you distinguish necessary tasks from those which are detracting from your family connection time.

Boundaries are also critical in managing work and family demands. It’s essential to know your limits and self-worth and to be able to say “no” when necessary – without feeling guilty. Learn to differentiate between what you think you “should do” versus what you “need” or “want.” Then you can more confidently put boundaries in place around work hours, after-school activities, and helping others. I often remind my clients that their children are the most important aspect of their lives, so when they are saying ‘yes’ to long work hours or being taken advantage of by others, they are choosing to spend less time with their kids. 

Having said all that, it’s essential to put yourself first when possible because if we want to be the best parent we can be, we need to be in a good headspace ourselves. When we are burnt out or our cup is overflowing, we are not as efficient or productive as we could be. Take small moments in your day to do something for yourself, whether it’s enjoying a cup of tea, going for a walk with a friend, or indulging in your favourite meal.

You’ve probably heard the analogy that life is like juggling balls, and some balls are made of rubber and will bounce back if dropped, while others are made of glass and can be damaged or marked if dropped. Understanding this concept can help us strive for balance in our lives. 

How do I make sure my child isn’t disadvantaged because I work and can’t spend as much time with them?

We all want to connect with our kids, right? But let’s face it, it can be challenging to find the time and energy to engage in playtime with them. That’s why I want to share some tips on how you can connect with your child through play and make the most of the time you have together.

The first and most important thing is to follow your child’s lead. It’s easy to get caught up in what we think our child should be doing or what we want to do with them, but the key to connecting with them is to be present and engaged in their world.

Here are some practical tips on how to follow your child’s lead during play:

Get down to their level: This means physically getting down on the floor or sitting at a child-sized table with them. It shows them that you’re interested in what they’re doing and are ready to engage with them on their level.

Observe their play: Take some time to watch what your child is doing before jumping in. This helps you understand their interests and how they like to engage in play.

Listen actively: While you’re observing, show your interest by actively listening to what your child is saying. This means asking open-ended questions and allowing them to guide the conversation.

Join in and play along: Once you’ve observed and listened, join in and play along with your child. This doesn’t mean taking over or directing the play, but rather following their lead and joining in on their ideas.

Be present: Above all, be present in the moment. Put your phone away, turn off the TV, and give your child your undivided attention. This shows them that they are important to you and that you value their time and ideas.

Remember, playtime is not just about having fun, but it’s also a great opportunity to connect with your child on a deeper level. By following their lead and being present in the moment, you can create meaningful and lasting memories together.

So, take some time out of your busy day to engage in playtime with your child. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should be focused and intentional. And don’t forget, playtime is not just for your child’s benefit, but it’s also a great way for you to de-stress and connect with your inner child.

What are some tips for minimising the chaos stemming from being busy, working, and raising the children?

As a fellow mum, I know how challenging it can be to manage the chaos of working, parenting, and everything else life throws our way. So I also know how important it is to find some calm and balance as a parent! Some of the tips I share with the parents in my clinic (and which I use myself!) are:

Prioritise and delegate tasks: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a never-ending to-do list. To help ease the burden, make a list of everything that needs to be done and prioritise them according to urgency and importance. Then delegate some of the tasks to others, like your partner or a family member. This can help create more time for you to focus on other important tasks.

Create a schedule: Creating a schedule can help you manage your time better and avoid feeling overwhelmed. I like to sit down every Sunday and transfer all the appointments and tasks from my many calendars onto the one family whiteboard calendar. This gives me the chance to plan ahead for the week, but it will also alert me to any double bookings or babysitting crises that I hadn’t realised existed! Doing it at the start of the week, typically gives me time to cancel or reschedule things without causing major issues. 

Set boundaries: As mums, we often put others’ needs before our own. However, it’s important to set boundaries around work hours, after-school activities, and helping others. Learn to say no when you need to, and be clear about your boundaries with others. This can help you avoid feeling stretched too thin and feeling burnt out.

Take breaks: It’s important to take breaks throughout the day to recharge and reduce stress. Even if it’s just a 10-minute break to go for a walk or call a friend, it can help you feel more relaxed and refreshed because it shifts your attention, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.

Practice mindfulness: Easier said than done, but practising mindfulness can help you stay focused and calm, even when things get hectic. Take a few moments each day to meditate or practice deep breathing exercises – there are some great apps to help guide you. By managing your stress levels in this way, you’ll be functioning at a lower ‘baseline’ level which means when hiccups happen as they inevitably do, your level of arousal will be lower.

Get support: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support when you need it. Talk to friends, family members, or a trained professional about the challenges you’re facing, and get their advice and support. This can help you feel more supported and less alone in your struggles. Remember what they say about it taking a village to raise a child?

Remember, you’re doing an amazing job as a parent, and it’s okay to not have everything under control all the time. In fact, it’s normal! By planning ahead and dedicating time to calming the chaos, you can find more balance in your life. 

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Photo by Vlada Karpovich