Supermoms and Superdads, many of us at Imprimis Group are in the same boat with you, trying to balance our professional and family lives. Being both the best parent and professional you can be seems like an insurmountable challenge at times, even with an employer that cares about working families. To make matters more stressful, many working parents log odd hours or have employers that are not empathetic to their needs.
So how should you handle those inevitable moments when parenting and work come into conflict? Rather than bore you with platitudes (e.g., it’s all about redefining your priorities), we asked our own working parents to provide their best strategies for these challenging scenarios.
Scenario 1: The School Nurse Calls on the Morning of Your Big Presentation
You are urgently needed in two places at once. The key to handling emergencies like this is anticipation. Have a conversation with your manager and colleagues before this type of situation arises. How will you communicate the emergency—by call, email, or text? How will you make yourself accessible during the presentation, if possible? Remote technologies enable you to be there and to conduct presentations from home. The situation may require moving the presentation up an hour for you to be there in person or for you to be available online.
There may be times when your child is seriously ill and you won’t be able to participate at all. For these times, plan on who will step in to cover for you, and make that a reciprocal arrangement. At all costs, avoid leaving your manager hanging under the pressure of your change in plans.
Scenario 2: Your Child Is Being Awarded, but You Aren’t There
For working parents, especially mothers, there is guilt associated with “failing” to be present for awards, recitals, concerts, big games, and other memorable moments. But women may be holding themselves to impossible standards, according to a Harvard generational study. Working women spend double the hours caring for families and doing housework as working men in two-parent households.
So will children feel let down in the moment? Unfortunately, yes; the extent depends on the individual. Years later, will they resent our absence? Not likely, as the Harvard study reveals. Women who were raised by working moms have higher incomes than women whose moms stayed at home full time. Men whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to contribute to housework and caring for family members. In other words, we do a better job preparing our children for a successful work-life balance when we do the same. In the long run, it’s fair to say the positive modeling more than offsets the disappointment from a missed event.
That said, digital technologies allow you to be present, even if not in the moment. Have the attending spouse or a family friend take video of the event. Later on, watch the video together as a family and go out to celebrate the child’s accomplishment. To a child, it’s the demonstration of caring and involvement that matters most.
Scenario 3: You’re Suffering from Ongoing Lack of Sleep and Self-Care
There is only so much that you can do to successfully maintain a work-life balance after taking advantage of flexible scheduling, remote work, and mobile technology. There will be weeks when you are not getting enough sleep or taking the time you need to find sanctuary from the stresses of your life.
Once you have established a strong working relationship with your boss and colleagues, talk to them about what to do for yourself when the pressure builds to a boiling point—before the fact. Many managers have been in the same position, and understand. You may need to use PTO for a spa day or you may want to plan a short getaway without providing much lead time. Disconnecting and resetting is crucial to your well-being. If you have proven yourself valuable, a good boss and supportive teammates will agree that you are entitled to reinvigorate yourself after weeks of feeling drained. It’s in everyone’s best interest.
Transparency and proactivity are recurring themes to successfully handling each of these scenarios. That should come as a relief. You can be honest and upfront and as long as you prove yourself valuable, and you can collaborate with your team to get through your toughest moments as a working parent.