Working Parents Need Support Throughout their Working Parenthood, Not Just at the Start

“The key trend is longer parental leave. [And while that’s important], the challenge there is that doesn’t continue helping you throughout your working parenthood.” YES, this. It’s a direct quote from the Dear HBR Podcast episode: Are you Struggling to Balance Career and Family? interview with Daisy Dowling.

It’s so true. I was lucky to get Parental Leave at all. Technically, I didn’t qualify for it when I returned to higher ed, 7 months pregnant. But my unit was humane and civilized and allowed me the same minimum 6-weeks leave that those who had worked there for at least 12 months. For that, I’m ever grateful.

Today, 7 years later – almost to the day – I’m sitting in my office, working. I work full-time (at my day job). I am a parent of a 7 and a 5 year old and as you can imagine, it is so hard to balance both a demanding full-time career and two little kids.

While I have known how hard it is, learning that has been earth-shattering for the woman across from me, who just had her first baby. Just back from maternity leave, she is bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, and has no sick leave now, because she just had to use it during FMLA Parental Leave. She’s discovering the painful realities of how hard it is to stay awake until 6 pm, when she’s still sitting in traffic, after having started at 4 am feeding an infant.

She’s learning that our VP [who never had children] does not on any level get what support and flexibility working parents need. It’s clear that our VP – and those above her – either don’t care, or are ill-informed about what it takes to raise a child these days, what the New York Times called the Relentlessness of Modern Parenting. Especially for academics, many of whom have ended up here by grad school, postdoc, or career happenstance, far away from family support.

So, yes, our workplace has a leave policy, fine. That’s at least a start.

But for the woman across the hall, she has no idea that this will continue to be an uphill battle. My org has a strict 8-5 schedule, with very little variability allowed. No telecommuting, like ever. And I’ve gotten “casual” comments alluding to my commitment to the org when I duck out in the middle of the day to grab a sick child without warning (as if fevers are scheduled?!) or leave early to catch the school play.

Even I, who have this “worked out” (j/k – flying by the seat of my pants on the daily!) know how hard it is. I’m constantly hunting down guidance, suggestions, and ways to balance my work with my parenting, and encountering new stumbling blocks and obstacles at work weekly. For instance, we’re all being forced into a four 10s schedule in 3 weeks for the summer to save energy costs. Guess what, though? That means I have to find day camps that go at least 10.5 hours per day. Guess how many of those there are for children as young as mine? One. (And 10.5 hours is generous – that means there would not have to be a single snafu in rush hour traffic. AND it means that my husband and I would have to both schedule shift so that he can go in late to drop them off in the morning while I pick them up on the way home, so they get home earlier.)

Because most childcare professionals recognize that children that young can’t do 11 hours a day.

I’m not sure if that schedule was written in the dark ages, when only one parent worked, but come on. There’s no amount of me raising my concerns that has made my VP or anyone else even consider a request to get exempted from that schedule.

I’ve got so many ideas on what needs to change, and the conversations that need to happen in order for that to take place. But we’re a long ways off where I work. So I take solace in joining those conversations where they are happening.

Here are some of my all-time favorite resources on work-life balance and the support that working parents require:

  • Workparent: Solutions and Dignity for All Working Parents – this site advocates for organizations and managers to adjust policies, and highlights solutions that working parents have found that helped
  • Werk – offers flexibility analysis of how flexible your company is and how flexible you need it to be. Sure, the carrot is that they want you to join (for a fee) and find job listings that offer that flexibility, but in my experience, none of the jobs were in my area nor my industries. Still, I find their insights and language helpful when trying to raise the issue here.
  • Podcasts – Episodes of Nerdette, Dear HBR, Advice to My Young Me, and I’m sure tons of others have had really helpful, thoughtful discussions around the issue.

Please let me know of your favorite helpful resources for working parents. Either email me or @ me on Twitter.

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