We live in a world where working parenthood is a reality for many. Even for those who love their jobs, being a person who juggles a career and a family can be less of a choice and more of a necessity. But how do we navigate all of the facets that come with the dual roles of parent and employee? And how can we do it without guilt, with flexibility and while making sure we get equality in the workplace and at home? Because really, all we’re trying to do is be the best we can be at both – and sometimes that means being ‘good enough’.
We’ve been trying to ‘have it all’ since the 80s. As it turns out, forty years later, we’re still having to remind ourselves that, ‘having it all’ is…well…tricky. It’s a balancing act. There’s loads to consider. But there are ways to make the juggle and the struggle work for you and begin to thrive as a working parent. When there are mouths to feed and targets to hit it might feel impossible to do it all, but to make ends meet it’s a necessity. Here are eight reminders to help you thrive as a working parent.
Remember: You define success
Success is such a funny concept. We all have ideas of what it is and isn’t. But the truth is that as a working parent we define it for ourselves. We don’t have to live up to society’s ideas of big house, flashy car and lots of money to be successful. When you’re a working parent, you get to figure out what success looks like to you. Ask yourself what makes you the happiest? What meets your core needs? What do you value most? What types of accomplishments feel the most worthwhile to you? And make sure that the life you’re creating for yourself – at home and at work – meets these needs.
Remember: Childcare is an investment in YOU
There’s no denying that childcare in this country comes with its roadblocks. Our childcare system is one of the most expensive in the world and you’re only entitled to 30 hours of free child care once a child is three years old. Before that, childcare can be prohibitively expensive. We’re not denying that the system needs an overhaul and we’re in full support of Pregnant then Screwed’s calls for an independent review of the early years sector. But until that happens, we have to make childcare work for us.
One way to stomach the (eye watering) cost of childcare is to view it as an investment in yourself. For those who are keen to go back to work, we know the idea of staying home to be a primary carer means you’d lose more than just the cash. Childcare and its costs are temporary. Yeah, you’re probably going to lose money in the short term, but while you’re working you’ll be able to keep investing in your pension and when they’re in school, your earning potential will increase again.
If you want to work (and that’s a big if! No judgement here, remember!), the money you pay for childcare gives you the opportunity to do that – to be more than a parent for a while. That’s powerful. And important.
Remember: Create a support system
It’s a cliche for a reason. Parenting takes a village. But working parenting? That really takes a village. Build a team that supports your ambitions. Create a network of people who are going to have your back when you need them. Because when the sh*t hits the fan (and it will), you’re going to need people to cheerlead you. Your partner if you have one, your parents, your in-laws, your childcare provider, your pals and neighbours, other parents are all part of the army that will help keep your working machine moving. They’re the people you’ll be calling on when things go wrong. Be loyal to them and they’ll be loyal to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be willing to help others out because you never know when you’ll be in a bind and need a favour. Your village is never more important than when you’re raising kids as a working parent. You’ll need help. So ask for it. Give it. Build a tribe that works for you.
Remember: Your needs matter
Advocating for yourself is absolutely essential, even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world to do. We all know that after you’ve had kids carving time out for yourself is hard. When you throw work into the mix as well, it’s even more difficult. But find a way to make time to allow yourself to recover from the stresses and strains of being a modern parent. What is the one thing that you cannot do without? You do not have to feel guilty for taking an hour out to go to the gym once a week, or to grab a meal with a friend to decompress once a month. Figure out what your non-negotiable self-care essential is and make time for it.
Yes, you’re a parent. Yes, you’re an employee. But you’re more than that too. Maybe you’re an artist. Maybe you’re a singer. Maybe you’re a weightlifter, a footballer, a wine connoisseur. Or just a person who really likes a gin and tonic and a bowl of pasta at a local restaurant on a Tuesday evening.
Your. Needs. Matter. Don’t neglect them.
Remember: you’re leading by example
Research carried out in 2015 by Harvard economist Kathleen McGinn found that the daughters of mothers who work grew up to be higher achievers and that their sons were more likely to share in household chores. Last year, McGinn took her research a step further and it revealed that those children were just as happy as they would have been if their Mums had been at home with them. You’re leading by example when you go out to work and that’s a really powerful thing. You’re showing your kids what it’s like to have parents who go out and earn a living. You’re inspiring them to do great things.
Remember: the power of the yes. And the no.
You are only one person. There are only so many hours in the day. There is only so much you can do. So be deliberate with what you say yes to. And make sure you say no to the things that are not serving you.
Ask yourself – and be brutally honest with the answer – is this really worth an hour of my time? How will I feel about saying yes to this in a year’s time? Is there something that would be a better use of my time? This applies at work as much as at home. Can you delegate? Does this really fall in your remit? Are you saying yes to this because you want to or because you’re a people pleaser?
Saying no to the things that suck time out of your day frees you up to say yes to other things. At work this might be longer term projects or big picture planning and strategy. At home it might be bathtime with the kids or an hour with the book that you’ve been trying to finish for the last week. Prioritising your days is as much about making room for career growth as it is about getting home at night.
Remember: your power
As working parents we have an opportunity to create change. We have a power to make the future different for our kids. While you probably don’t have a tonne of spare time, there are small things that we can do to make these changes happen. Talk about your kids at work – make the joys of parenthood visible. If you’re a mother who is breastfeeding and you have to go and pump during work hours, let people know what you’re doing rather than hiding it. It’s OK to look frazzled – especially when you’re frazzled and smashing it (which we know you’re doing. Even if you don’t feel like it).
Talk about work at home. Let your kids know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you feel guilty for not being around, share your wins and struggles with them. Let them get invested in your work (when they’re paying attention).
And if you have privilege and power, advocate for others. If you’re not from an underrepresented group, how can you stand up for those that are? When parents band together, there’s a lot they can achieve. Want to see changes to parental leave policies? See inequalities in your workplace? You can make changes. Don’t be afraid to challenge the things you see that are wrong.
Remember: things don’t always go to plan
Life is messy. Life with kids is unpredictable. Life with kids and a career has the potential to be chaos. So remember that things don’t always go to plan when you’re a working parent. As soon as you accept that life is full of moments that are imperfect and unruly and can’t be planned out meticulously, you’ll be able to embrace each moment as it comes (pretty much) and move onto the next with more ease.
Things don’t always go to plan. Kids get flu. Computers break. Coffee gets spilled and deadlines get missed. But you get up and keep going. And you’ll keep showing up for your family and your job. Because you’re a rockstar. And that’s what working parents do.