Released On 18 October 2022
Meet the Expert: Anita Cleare
WorkLife Central is proud to work with leading experts who guide and inspire us in our family lives, work lives and wellbeing. Headlining our 10th anniversary celebrations next month will be parenting specialist Anita Cleare who will talk to us about the holy grail of ‘Parenting Smarter, Not Harder’ in her Live Talk on Thursday 10th November.
A star of our expert events programme over the last 10 years, Anita will be well known to many of our members for giving us practical, positive advice and real perspective on the often tricky balance between home and work. In this latest interview in our Expert Series, we talk to Anita about parenting (smarter not harder), improving our work life balance and how life has changed for working parents over the last decade.
WLC: We know you as a wonderfully wise, reassuringly calm and pragmatic parenting advisor. What are the big topics that parents are coming to you for help with at the moment?
Anita: Thank you, that’s very kind! Parenting will always have some common challenges. Many of those challenges simply reflect children’s age and stage of development - toddlers and teens are frequently emotional and argumentative, for example. And some parenting challenges are about managing our own feelings and reactions as parents – learning to stay calm, for example. Being a great parent when you are already stressed and tired from work isn’t easy.
However, the pandemic and the shift towards working from home have thrown up some big issues. The impact of the pandemic on children and teenagers’ mental health has been profound and many parents have found themselves on the frontline supporting children through mental health challenges and crises. There’s also the thorny issue of wrestling children and teens off their devices and trying to find a healthy balance after relying so heavily on tech to keep children educated and entertained!
WLC: In your book The Work/Parent Switch (known as The Working Parent’s Survival Guide in the US), you explore the complex topic of work life balance, or rather the work life transition I suppose. What advice would you offer to someone who feels they are constantly underperforming in work and home life?
Anita: A lot of working parents feel like we are running just to stand still. We want to be good parents. We want to get parenting ‘right’. But we have limited time, limited energy and too much to do and we can end up feeling like we are failing at all of it. The book is all about moving the goalposts and reframing parenting. I explain how the mindset we need for work is not the same as the mindset we need for parenting. The trick to winning at working parenthood is learning to dial up different skills and strengths at the right time, so you can be fully focused when at work and fully present when being Mum/Dad.
For many of us, work is all about ‘efficiency thinking’ - being task-focused and goal-driven and getting the job done. There are lots of rewards and motivators for this work-mode and it’s easy to get stuck in it. However, children need a different set of skills from us. They need parents who are in the moment (not three steps ahead), who are able to be playful and tune in to them to see the world through their eyes. If we approach parenting with our work head still revving, we are quicker to get frustrated and overreact.
Too much task-focused or solution-focused thinking simply isn’t helpful in parenting. It tends to add to our stress and can lead us to approach parenting challenges in unhelpful ways. At work, our job is to provide solutions and complete tasks. But our job as parents is not about getting things done or solving problems or erasing children’s challenges, it’s about providing a safe and loving space in which children can learn for themselves. The Work/Parent Switch is all about understanding these different approaches and learning to transition quickly between work-mode and parent-mode.
WLC: Do you think the pressures on working parents have changed over the last 10 years? Has work life balance become any easier to achieve, particularly for women?
Anita: All the evidence seems to show that we are now working more and parenting more. The last 10 years have been a period of both work intensification and parenting intensification. Whereas in the past there was a tendency to divide these two roles across the sexes, women are now growing up with high aspirations for their careers while more and more men want to be hands-on and engaged parents.
Our working hours have got longer while our job description as parents has got bigger. We are a generation of parents who believe that being a good parent really matters. We want to get it right. In the past, being a good parent felt simpler. It meant giving basic things like love and shelter and food and warmth, making sure the kids went to school and telling them right from wrong. Now, we seem to have crammed loads more performance indicators into parenting and (childhood).
No wonder so many of us feel like we are failing, something has got to give. For many parents, it’s our own wellbeing that gets jettisoned - and there is no evidence that this intensive parenting is good for children either. That’s where my idea of parenting smarter not harder came from.
WLC: Please give us a taster of your Talk on 10th November. In a nutshell, what is the key to parenting smarter rather than harder?
Anita: The talk is all about being a great parent by doing less, rather than always trying to do more, and viewing parenting as ‘relationship building’ rather than as a set of tasks or goals. Parenting smarter rather than harder means being clear on what children really need from us (and what they don’t need!) and prioritising what matters most.
There will be practical tips on choosing your battles smartly and setting boundaries using children’s own internal drivers (so that we work with - rather than against - the grain of their development). And I’ll explain how doing less for your child is actually good for their self-esteem!
Parenting smarter not harder is not just about doing what is good for children, it’s also about prioritising our own wellbeing and finding the win-wins that boost your happiness as well as being good for children. For example, making sure we create space for a spirit of playfulness in our busy lives and doing things with our children that we genuinely enjoy. I’ll also have some novel ideas on how to stand down our work-mode efficiency thinking using ultra-fast visualisations and breathwork. So that we can all use those bits of time left over when work is done to focus on what matters.