How Working Parents Fail at Home and on the Job
Balancing work and home life is tricky, so don’t beat yourself up if you teeter sometimes. Take some lessons from this list on what not to do as a working parent.
Today’s story will be of special interest to parents — or couples looking forward to starting a family — where both want to continue working.
Anyone who is in that situation now, or in the past, knows just how much of a juggling act it can be. Some couples manage to get it right intuitively, without guidance. But in my over 30 years “residing” in divorce court, I have seen far too many families just torn apart by a failure to systematically organize their lives.
Seeing this, time after time, I searched for a guidebook — something that set out an approach on managing home and work, topic-by-topic of all the things we deal with when two become three or four or more.
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I’ve just found that guidebook.
It is Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids, by Daisy Dowling.
Recently I had the most interesting chat with Dowling, and we looked at the things couples do wrong that threaten the stability of their marriage, their children’s well-being and career trajectory.
1. Have no vision of where you are headed or want to go as a working parent.
Consequences: Lacking a sense of where your work is leading you saps motivation. So many parents are deluged with work responsibilities, long hours, and the vast number of things that land on their plate every day — feeling as they are running on a treadmill — with no off switch. It is because all they are looking at is today.
2. Blur the lines between professional and parenting responsibilities.
Consequences: Feeling that you have to keep your eye on your workplace messages during family dinner, and you should be worrying about the kids while you are in front of your computer at work, you are not going to perform as well, will become exhausted, and you won’t have any sense of control over either sphere.
3. Try to do it all and all by yourself. Fail to delegate or ask for assistance at work. Do not obtain as much help as you need at home. Avoid connecting with other working parents who can give you advice and support.
Consequences: Taking the same approach you had before having kid — working ever harder and just trying to push through — will fail you and lead to burnout. You don’t have to solve everything yourself. Other working parents will be happy to provide insight.
4. Assume other people are clairvoyant: that your boss knows your parenting responsibilities and that your spouse or caregiver is aware of your deadlines and when projects are due at work.
Consequences: People will make assumptions or judgments about how you are handling yourself and about the help and support they think you need. This leads to being under-supported and misunderstood. Keeping your employer, family or friends in the dark is not fair to anyone, especially yourself.
5. Neglect your own career management. Fail to keep your eye on the next possible promotion, new role, building out your network, taking credit for your good accomplishments and continuing to develop your own skills.
Consequences: Your prospects will be limited if you don’t act as your own career advocate. Enhance your own value to your employer — and family — in small steps.
6. Fail to get ahead of day-to-day logistics, including food, homework, housework, and transportation: The Four Horsemen of the Working Parent Apocalypse. Come home at 6 and then think of dinner while your children and spouse are hungry and irritable. Laundry may not get done for weeks, and your messy house is filled with sad people.
Consequences: These small tasks can build up and overwhelm any working parent. They can leave you feeling defeated. So, have a weekly plan for all of these seemingly minor tasks — which really aren’t so minor after all. Delegate what you can. If you kids are old enough, enlist their help. Make it clear to your spouse the specific types of help you need.
7. Never take any time off! Convince yourself that if you stop working even for a day, that catastrophe will ensue. Consider yourself indispensable.
Consequences: Burnout. Difficulty delivering at work or being the parent you want to be. Tremendous personal frustration. Lots of indispensable people try to change jobs seeking relief and don’t find it because their mindset doesn’t change.
Peer into Your Children’s Tomorrow
Dowling concluding our chat, by asking parents to, “Look deeply into your children’s tomorrow — 25 years from now — when they are working adults with kids of their own. Today, set a positive example. We owe it to our children to give them a good model for the future.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to 661-323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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