Hey, fellow working parent! The next time you’re having a really bad day juggling all those balls, try this.
According to Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of WorkParent, all of our juggle-related parenting woes can be filed into five core categories. All you have to do is choose one, file your ‘problem’ into it and the solution will appear. Magic!
So how exactly does this work? Well, as Daisy explains, filing our bad days and problem areas into these categories helps us better understand how to solve the real problem, rather than spending hours, days or even months feeling bad about ourselves and making everything much worse.
Here are the five key working-parent challenges, according to Daisy:
This challenge doesn’t just relate to the acutely stressful period of returning back to work, but also applies to tackling childcare over the long Christmas holidays, or what to do when your child gets really sick; or how to ‘pivot’ back to parent mode after a few days away on a working trip.
This covers all the logistics – big and small – that come with the daily rhythm of childhood and family life. Mealtimes, fussy eaters, doctor’s appointments (and remembering to administer the antibiotics), tackling a conference call when you’re working from home with a noisy toddler – you know the drill.
This can apply to making another pregnancy announcement, negotiating with daycare about nap times, managing the domestic load with your partner. And the list goes on …
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This can be in regard to your child (they started eating solids or talking (!) when you were at work), or your own sense of self – that in returning to work, you’re no longer the person you were when you left. Or perhaps in your marriage when you realise how much parenting has changed you or your partner.
Closely linked to ‘loss’, identity challenges are based in holding onto the idea that you were a go-getter at work, but now have a legitimate tug on the heartstrings when you’re forced to compromise between taking on the big projects, or being home on time for your kids.
You know the problem – now how to find the solution?
Getting clear on the root cause of our issues with the working-parent juggle makes it easier to understand where the negotiations need to begin in order to address them. And that’s where our employer comes in (at least in regard to the work-related issues).
Daisy says managers have a huge role to play in supporting working parents if they want to retain their staff and increase their productivity.
Kirsty Levin, psychologist, career coach and co-founder of The Parents Village agrees. She says that supportive managers treat working parents as an asset and focus on the employee, rather than the employment stage.
“These managers make it their duty to understand their employees’ needs, strengths and goals. They commit to empowering their team members to work to their full potential in a flexible manner, and regularly communicate with their team to review progress. These are the bosses that working parents stick with,” says Kirsty.
“In my time in the corporate sector, I was lucky enough to observe a range of innovative practices to support working parents. This included: bring the kids to work days during school holidays, weekend family fun fairs to bring everyone together, networking forums for working parents to share their experiences and learnings, personal development programs that encouraged family wellbeing (e.g. cooking for kids classes, yoga with kids), and on-site childcare centres.”
Yet, to get this right on the work front, Kirsty says there are four key things that we as parents should do before we return to work, to get things on the right track.
1. What’s changed since you’ve been away?
You need to understand changes to the organisational structure and roles within your team. Have a chat with your manager in the months prior to your return. Ask them what’s changed and also, how you can best get across those changes? Have your direct managers changed and who must you network with early on? You can also ask how your job could be redesigned to suit your new needs too.
2. What are your rights and responsibilities?
Kirsty highly recommends ensuring you’re across your rights and responsibilities as an employee and be sure that you understand the current employee policies in regard to your return. Read the employee handbook and don’t assume you know the lay of the land after time away.
3. Get a head start on your childcare arrangements
An ideal scenario would be to have a place for your child at the centre at least 2-3 weeks prior to your first day on the job. Kirsty says this allows for settling your child into their new environment and routine, and allows for some buffer time to work through any possible illnesses that so often hit kids in daycare in the first few months.
4. Get organised and make a plan at home
Spend some time asking yourself the following questions (and working out an answer): How organised are you with respect to your return-to-work logistics and general household management? How are you and your partner going to work together? Have you got back-up support in case of illness or emergency? What will you let go of and/or maintain in order to stay satisfied and keep everything running smoothly?
Nobody can guarantee that the wheels won’t come off when you’re juggling a young family and a busy job, but as Kirsty and Daisy outline, setting aside time to anticipate some of these problems – and their solutions – will make a big difference to your enjoyment of this busy stage of life.