Making family life work

There comes a time in every parent's life (usually around day two) when it hits you: family life can be tough. You don't have to be Ruth Kelly to know that juggling the demands of work, partner and offspring, not to mention worrying about whether your life savings have just gone up in smoke, requires multi-tasking to the max.

We at Mumsnet HQ are darned if we have all the answers - we find it hard enough to decide between Greggs sausage rolls and cornish pasties of a lunchtime - so here from the people who know best (the Mumsnetters) are some top tips on making family life work.

Household chores and organisation

When we talked about having it all we didn't mean all the cleaning, ironing and nappy-changing. So how do you keep on top of family life without going under?

  • You can have it all... but only if you have enough help - a cleaner, a gardener, an au pair - and you share the chores. Quattrocento
  • Overestimate the time it takes to do anything and build in time to do nothing. You won't end up doing nothing... but it takes the edge off all those other deadlines. Tigermoth
  • Two words: online shopping. DarthVader
  • We have a whiteboard that has all the details of what we're all up to: shopping list, bills, jobs that need doing, pocket money earned... We call it the Motherboard. Miaou
  • Everyone has their tasks and they know it. I constantly remind them that we're a team and cooking, tidying, washing etc is not my idea of fun times either. Custardo
  • If you've some spare cash, throw money at the situation. We have a cleaner, an ironing lady and a dog walker. We could have more money, but we'd have a poorer quality of life. Breevandercamplgj
  • Don't be a control freak. Let your partner do some of the work, not as you'd like it done, but as they do it. And shut up about it. Ahundredtimes
  • Men are not incapable of sorting out clothes/school bags/laundry/packed lunches! Soapbox


How do you keep the magic alive when the baby's screaming; packed lunches need making and the ****** chickens have come through the cat flap again?

  • Go away to hotels without children sometimes. Do kind things for each other. Back each other up. We're very happy but we don't have all the answers; we have rubbish times like anyone else. Wickedwaterwitch
  • Find a shared interest/passion/dream, you can work on together, so you raise your eyes above domesticity. Minum
  • Turn off the TV one night a week. Pigleto
  • Prioritise - time together is more important than weeding the garden! Hairtwiddler
  • Listen carefully to what your DH says. Nod a lot. Smile. Nod some more. Then do what you wanted to do in the first place. Reversethepolarity
  • If your DH is not one for "deep and meaningful" discussions write it all down instead! Very cathartic and in my case helped me to spot that I only felt awful for one week each month... Tigana
  • Don't turn into his mother/her father. Morningpaper
  • Rather than taking out your stress on each other, regroup and as a unit you can tackle more than you can on your own. Munchpot
  • Marriage Counselling. Marvellous. Booboobedoo
  • Sex. Chocolate. Alcohol. (Repeat as necessary, in no particular order.) Pestomonster
    (MNHQ Tip: remember, you can order the latter two online. In fact, you can probably order all three online, it's just that we wouldn't recommend it.)
  • I just asked DH what his top tips were and he said 'have lots of sex and keep talking' - not sure whether he meant during the sex? Should check. Smellyeli
  • Yes keep the sex going, even if you reeeeeeaaaaallly don't want to. It will be much better than you think; you might even enjoy it. Flum
  • My DH would say have lots of sex too - he's nothing if not hopeful. Sorenlorenson

The family

To quote Custardo "family doesn't necessarily mean two partners and comes in different formats" - but whatever form your brood takes, how do you keep 'em all happy?

  • Remind yourself how much fun your family are and how much you love them. Laughing together is so cathartic. Clutteredup
  • Our only absolute rule is unity and consistency - even if I disagree completely with something DH has done/said I will never say so in front of the children. Stealthsquiggle
  • Have a family tradition that you do at least once a week - ours is Friday pizza night - we all eat pizza under duvets and watch a dvd together. Bittirednow
  • Think about all the things you have got - not the things you haven't. Don't try to have the life you had before children; enjoy everyday... the next day they'll be a day older. Maltloaf
  • Make time for one on one time with all members of the family each week (including your spouse if you have one)! Soapbox
  • Weekends are sacrosanct, and will only be spent with people who appreciate family life. BreeVanDerCampLGJ
  • Explain stuff to your kids. Try to never say "I told you so". If you explain it thoroughly enough, drawing diagrams if necessary, they'll fall asleep, thus resolving the issue. Hassled
  • Talk lots. Have rules and stick to them. Cod
  • Accept that everyone has a right to be fed up at times and let them be. It's not your job to make everyone constantly happy. Brokenbiscuits
  • For a lot of us, it doesn't work quite a lot of the time. The key is to try and negotiate, day by day, something that's vaguely workable for everyone. And yes, that means not everything's a compromise; sometimes one person loses. (When I say negotiate, obviously that means 'have frequent rows that degenerate into swearing a lot'...) Motherinferior
  • Eat together as a family as much as is physically possible. Eating together that is; don't try to eat as much as is physically possible, that will lead to obesity and constipation. Slubberdegullion


Remember you? You know, that person who used to have time to read a newspaper without sitting on the loo? No? Then follow these directions and find yourself again.

  • Don't be a mummy martyr; demand help when it's needed! Taliac
  • Remember the children will leave one day, keep a life of your own. If you act like a doormat people walk over you. Tatt
  • Don't spread yourself too thin; if you do too many jobs (paid or unpaid), none will be well done and you'll end up feeling a failure (which you're not). Wheelsonthebus
  • Make time for yourself; do what makes you really happy and relaxed. For me, it's a cappuccino and the paper in a local cafe after nursery drop off. MsDemeanor
  • Once children are on the scene, accept that you can both have it all... but not at the same time. Find time for yourself because no one else will (that applies to all partners). Countingthegreyhairs
  • Know your limits. Kittywise
  • Try and fit in some exercise and a social life. Well, try... DaddyJ
  • Ensure everyone does it your way! Laughlots


Can you have it all? And if so, how?

  • Audit what you spend time/money on. We did and opted for more flexibility at work; although we earned less, we spent less on childcare so weren't much worse off and life was much better. Bizageza
  • If you're looking for flexibility at work, present it to your boss in business terms - not emotional ones. Even if they don't quite buy it, it makes it look like work's still one of your top priorities (even if you both know it's no longer THE top priority). BigBertha
  • If you're senior enough, never try to explain your absence to your staff - you are just 'unavailable' for the afternoon. Soapbox
  • No one is indispensable. Learn to delegate at work and ring-fence holidays - warning clients/ colleagues well in advance that you'll be unavailable. Children can't easily move their half term (spoken from bitter experience). Hollee
  • Most large corporations use outsourcing for a good reason - emulate their forward thinking at home. Get whatever support you can afford: there are 50 crap weeks in the year if you don't have a cleaner... are you sure that 2 weeks in the sun is worth that? Soapbox

Falling out

Show us the family that doesn't occasionally have a teeny weeny argument and we'll, er, frisk them for non-prescriptive drugs. But how do you avoid things spiralling?

  • Think before you nag. Suzywong
  • Accept that some issues are impossible to solve and learn to live with them. Saadia
  • Don't expect kids to have good days every day - you don't. Sometimes it's just a shitty day, but it will end and tomorrow will be better. Whomovedmychocolate
  • Chocolate and ice cream are good resources to resolve minor conflicts without any spoken language needed. Everyone tends to feel better afterwards. Brokenbiscuits
  • Never go to sleep on an argument... even if it means screaming at 2am to get things resolved. Danjarmouse
  • Talk, but above all LISTEN. Kittywise
  • Think the best not the worst of each other - recognise that everyone is working hard to make it work, even if you feel it's only you that's holding it all together. Soapbox
  • Don't hold grudges/punish/expect psychic abilities from each other. Buckets
  • Speak up, even if it's to say how fed up you are. Say sorry if it is your fault. InLoveWithSweeneyTodd
  • Harpsichordcarrier once said: "Keep having sex with your partner because it's harder to stay annoyed with someone you have a sex life with." I've found this to be invaluable advice. Pruners
  • Count to ten before losing the plot. And if all else fails remember wine and chocolate. Sagaciou

Last updated: about 3 years ago