Your child has strep, but you have a huge presentation and your husband has a big meeting. Before you know it, the same old "who stays home" argument crops up again. For working families, the daily routine is filled with potential challenges.
"When you have children, a husband, cats, dogs and work, it gets crazy," says Krista Smith, a mom from Concord, N.C.. "You feel like you could almost write a movie about your life and people still wouldn't believe it!"
We asked a panel of experts for advice on what working families can do when these hot-button issues flare.
Making Time to Talk
Working couples often say they have no time for conversation. Once the kids are in bed, a heart-to-heart falls to work and laundry. But successful marriages have partners who really hear each other out. Pick one weeknight and schedule one-on-one time to talk -- even if you're tired and have chores -- and stick to it. "Couples need to remember how to listen in an undivided way and with kindness," says David Palmiter, author of "Working Parents, Thriving Families."
When neither parent gets home until 6 p.m., making dinner is a huge chore, and therefore a huge trigger, for some couples. Planning is key. Smith has at least three days of food ready to go each week. "If I cook on Monday, I am going to make enough food to last until Wednesday," she says. Set aside an hour on weekends and plan meals for the following week -- or even the following month! Cooking is also a great thing to ask your nanny to handle. See if she would be willing to make a few dinners in exchange for an increase in her salary.
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Finding "Me Time"
If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be an effective parent or partner, says Palmiter.You have to carve out time and stick to it. Physical activity, sleep and a good diet are crucial, but if you can recharge by doing something new, like going hiking or writing a poem, you'll avoid that "being in a rut" feeling.
Caring for Sick Kids
Without reliable backup child care, it's tough to decide who stays home with a sick child. "Child care is a huge issue," says Elisabeth Lamotte, a Washington D.C.-based family therapist. "What I notice more with healthy couples is there is a respect for each person's work and what is going on that day." In an emergency, compare schedules to see who is more able to work from home. It's not about who is more "important," but about who has the flexibility that day.
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Creating Couple Time
"Many couples say, 'We can watch a movie when the kids go to bed,'" says Lamotte. "But what does that really look like?" Throw in kids who wake up, laundry that needs folding, work that needs attention and you hardly have a fun date night. "It is not nearly the same thing as getting out of the house," says Lamotte. Parents -- especially working parents -- need quality time together.
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Asking for Help
Your spouse might understand your exhaustion, but might not relate it to everything you're juggling unless you bring it up, says Michelle Janning, an associate professor of sociology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. Can you share the chores like cleaning and homework helping? If your budget allows, Janning says hiring help eases the "who does more" argument. Try hiring a housekeeper to clean your house and use the extra time to take a walk together or go out to dinner. Your marriage will benefit.
Addressing your stress points is the key to a stronger marriage. Lamotte sums it up well: "If two people love each other and get to raise a family together, there is nothing better than that."