Ease the guilt: Tips to balance work and family for mums AND dads
This year’s International Women’s Day called for us to #BeBoldForChange. Perhaps one of the boldest suggestions I’ve seen is the offering and acceptance of equal parental leave and flexible working options without career consequences for women and men.
It’s not the concept of parental leave and flexible working that’s bold; it’s the shift in thinking required for employers and employees to accept that parental leave and flexible working should be the norm for male parents too. If we can do that, female representation in the workplace should improve.
In fact, 81 percent of respondents surveyed recently said shared parental leave and child rearing responsibility would help break down unconscious biases and improve gender diversity in the workplace.
Yet just 19 percent said their organisation offers parental leave for male employees on equal terms to female employees, most men rarely take all the parental leave they’re entitled to and less than five percent of men currently work flexibly.
But there’s a big step between talking and doing. And while there’s a lot of issues I could write about in relation to this topic, I’m going to focus on just one today: how a working dad (or mum for that matter) can balance professional and parenting priorities.
While I don’t claim to have the perfect balance, after 19 years as a working parent (and I’ve been lucky enough to share the parenting responsibility equally with my husband) I am able to offer up some tips for dads (and mums) who are looking to enter the crazy and unpredictable world of being a working parent.
Don’t listen to the naysayers
It’s still rare for male employees to be offered let alone take their full amount of parent leave, so expect to receive comments (even from total strangers) of disbelief at your decision. When I had my first child and returned to work after four months, this would happen to me too. I’d smile and then walk away.
Thankfully cultural norms have shifted for women, as they are now, slowly, starting to for men. You only have to look as far as LinkedIn to see the number of professional men who list ‘stay at home dad’ as a current or former role on their profile. Even Lego’s introduction of a stay-at-home dad figure, portraying a man pushing a baby stroller, helps move us one step closer to accepting that men can work flexibly for family reasons, just as women can.
You can’t succeed every time
This may not be a headline-grabbing tip, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that your careful planning will, occasionally, fall to pieces. Don’t set expectations too high for yourself and know there will be days when things don’t go as predicted.
For instance, your toddler’s rash will ban them from their childcare centre for 48 hours, outbreaks of head lice will see you rushing to a pharmacy on your way to school pickup, and you’ll be invited to a seemingly endless number of recorder recitals, information sessions, book parades and assembly presentations – most of which come with very little notice. The point is, be flexible and don’t blame yourself when your well-intended plans fall apart.
The point is, be flexible and don’t blame yourself when your well-intended plans fall apart.
Speaking of plans, I couldn’t live without my diary and to-do list. At work, they keep me productive, ensure I don’t miss an important task because I’ve been awake half the night with a sick child and let me leave the office knowing that the important tasks for the day are completed so that work won’t impede on family time. Similarly, at home, our family planner ensures everyone is where they need to be when they need to be with the right equipment.
Set expectations at home
Even young children can learn the value of being organised and resilient. From packing their own lunch box and school bag, to independently completing their homework and additional projects on time- taking responsibility for important tasks helps develop skills that will serve them for life.
I’ve also found a morning routine or checklist covering everything that must be completed before you all walk out the door is instrumental to an organised school and working day, just make sure everyone sticks to it!
Set expectations at work
Make it clear when you are available and when you are not. Don’t feel the need to apologise for not being available to work colleagues at certain times; you have two jobs and need to be present at certain times for both. Turn your phone off when you say you will not be available so the message is not diluted and your colleagues don’t ignore your schedule.
You can also ask colleagues or your team to categorise their emails. If it’s not urgent or can wait until a certain date, ask them to add this to the subject line.
Have a support network
There will be occasional school events that you or your partner are unable to attend due to prior work commitments that cannot be changed. Make sure you have a trusted support network, whether that’s grandparents, an aunt or a close friend, so that an adult attends these important occasions with your child.
Get to know other working parents in your office
From school readiness advice to babysitter tips, your fellow working parents understand the juggling act and are ready and willing to share, support and offer encouragement when you need it most.
As a working parent – and especially for dads who work flexibly to take on caregiving responsibilities at home – you are demonstrating to your children the value of equality inside and outside the home. By supporting each other, you show them that together you can all achieve your full potential.
As you can see from my above advice and examples, it is entirely possible for working dads (and mums) to balance their career and their parenting priorities. You just need to be organised, willing to reach out for support, safe in the knowledge that you have nothing to feel guilty about.
If you are interested in the topic of gender diversity, you may also find some of the below articles useful:
- Come on men! Are you brave enough to do a Zuckerberg?
- How to face your fears and negotiate that pay rise
- The one trait that female leaders need to remember
- How to encourage ‘Inclusive Leadership’ with your organisation
- How to lead other leaders
- 5 ways to boost your bottom line through diversity
- Get the organisational culture right and the diversity will follow
- 4 business benefits of diversity