What to Do When You Can’t Clock Out: Tips to Navigate Working Parenthood

Work-life balance is difficult for anyone to achieve, but for working parents, navigating parenthood and career can at times feel like an impossible task. Sheer willpower helps to a point, but nothing supports this balancing act like having a real strategy, a method to the madness, so to speak. While few would call working and navigating parenthood a simple feat (certainly none that ever tried), many would agree that it’s a balancing act that demands devotion and adaptability.

Whether you’re a working mother, father, grandparent, or guardian, how do you get comfortable in the duality of your roles? Better yet, how do you move beyond comfort and begin to thrive? In full disclosure, I am not a parent. I have closely observed those individuals in my circle who I feel balance these roles best. Subsequently, I have developed the recommendations below as guidelines to empower working parents to formulate their own strategy — recognizing that no two jobs or families are alike.

7 Techniques to Manage and Thrive as a Working Parent

1. Lean into your strengths

Think about the broad skills and talents that made you successful — is it your management ability? Creativity? Organization and structure? Your success as a working parent starts when you lean into your strengths like never before.  If you’re organized, this might mean color-coded charts that correspond with your work schedule. If you’re creative, you might think of unique ways to spend time and connect with your children during limited off hours, or a creative approach to keep the kids busy while you’re getting work done.

2. Have a vision

A defined mission and clear set of goals makes it easier to align your resources and priorities and measure ongoing success. Whatever your vision is — making it to all of your kid’s weekday soccer games, getting promoted but still being present at the dinner table, or providing for your children so they can go to the college of their choice — having a vision and clear goals gives you direction and confidence in your daily decisions. 

3. Plan ahead

There are going to be bad days, weeks, and even months. Children get sick, babysitters cancel, business deals fall through. Whether the problem stems from work or home, there will be desperate times. Though you can’t always predict when challenges will arise, you know that they will, so it’s wise to come up with contingency plans. Having a long-term plan B (and C) will give you a better shot of making it through.

4. Build your support system

It takes a custom-built team to raise a child, especially if you’re a working professional. Gather family members, good friends, coworkers, neighbors, interns, and paid support (nannys, babysitters, pediatricians, etc.) whose skills complement each other. Tell them your priorities, be clear about what you expect of them, and provide generous feedback. Reflect often on how to delegate and lean into the support others give you. 

5. Fight for flexibility

Make a compelling case to your leaders for moments of flexibility. For instance, you might pitch working from home one day a week or leaving early once every other week. Or maybe having ‘off-limits” working hours for school drop-offs or dinner time. These types of changes may barely impact your schedule and won’t affect your productivity or performance, but they will give you bite-sized moments of self-directed flexibility. Use those moments wisely!

6. Take advantage of technology

If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that more work can be done virtually than we ever thought possible. If your child is sick, work remotely for the day so you can care for them. Finish up work from the home office after your kids are asleep. Or, if you’re traveling for work, FaceTime with the family for a bedtime story. Leverage the knowledge that productivity is about purpose and process rather than place.

7. Own your decisions

You’re going to have to make some tough calls, and most of the time, there’s no one right answer. Own your decisions and afford yourself a bit of grace. You’re doing a hard thing — being a working parent — and that comes with a lot of decisions. Trust yourself and don’t allow others (or yourself) to make you feel shame or guilt for making a call.

You Can Do This!

There is no one way to live your life. Similarly, there is no one way to be a working parent. The techniques you use to get by (and thrive) may look different from anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find inspiration in the ways that others balance work and home.