I’m a new working parent. Here’s what I want my team to know
This post isn’t an ask to solve the lives of working parents, and it isn’t a pity party. Instead, I wrote this to give you a glimpse into the world of a parent help you empathize with the parents that you work with daily. I want to caveat that I am not a mom or a single parent. Those are experiences I can’t speak to but are crucial in this conversation.
At the beginning of 2022, my son was born. Everything changed. The way I viewed the world, my perception of time, and my priorities were all blown up. This was by far the most disorienting life change I have been through.
Being a parent is exhausting and challenging, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I freaking love my kid, and watching him grow and develop new skills is mind-blowing.
Yet after transitioning back to work, there are some things I want my non-parent friends and teammates to know. Not to fix, but to know. Work has been a gift for me, but balancing work and parenting comes with its challenges, even if you have an incredibly supportive partner like I do.
Parents don’t get days off
“What are you doing this weekend?” Playing with my kid, bathing my kid, feeding my kid… Even if we have a fun weekend planned, my priorities will be keeping my kid alive and safe. Hopefully, we’ll find time to rest in those small chunks when our son is napping. But my days look way different now.
In my experience, gone are the days of binge-watching shows and lounging around all day. Of course, you can still find rest when you have a small human to care for, but that rest comes in much smaller chunks. As a parent, your free time becomes a precious commodity. This makes rest so hard to achieve.
When work is chaotic, caring for a baby may not be the reprieve you need. Sure, parents want to use their PTO to take time off work, but making work sustainable, fun, and peaceful could impact your employees’ rest as much as their days off.
Make work less chaotic. Parents and non-parents will thank you.
When working parents end the day, they are “on duty”
Logging off work means putting down my laptop and picking up my kid. I love this, but I am not really “off” until he is asleep around 8pm. Then, I typically do some chores and fit in some playtime: catch up with my partner, watch a show, draw a picture, and maybe write a blog post.
I long for the free time I used to have. My days are packed.
Sleep looks a lot different
When you have a baby, sleep looks different. We have all had bad nights of sleep and know how hard it is to function after. But the tricky part for parents is that making up for sleep deprivation becomes tougher. Before becoming a parent, when I had a bad night’s sleep, I would sleep in the next day or take a nap. Unfortunately, that isn’t always an option anymore, and it definitely isn’t a choice I can make alone. I have to communicate and coordinate time with my partner. It may take a week or two to recuperate from sleeping poorly.
I used to get annoyed when parent friends would say to me you won’t know what tired is until you become a parent. Tired is tired. But when you experience it day after day, that is a grind. That’s the ‘tired’ they are talking about.
Being a parent has brought new meaning to multi-tasking
I now have more responsibilities and less time. So I’m constantly scheming about what I need to do, how I can optimize my time, and how I can fit in the things I want to do in life other than just survive.
There are always more tasks to do than you can pull off.
This has led to a mushy mind at times. I used to be great at responding to people over text, email, and Slack. But unfortunately, I’m managing so many things that I often reply to stuff in my head but do not actually reply.
Sometimes I need reminders. Be gracious.
Flexibility at work is so helpful
I need flexibility more than I’ve ever needed it before. So I’m thankful for a flexible job. I can’t imagine pitching in and helping out with my son without it. Being able to start my days later, finish earlier, and makeup time in the evenings has been a huge help.
If you’re a manager, your parent teammates will be far more successful if you focus on outcomes rather than a perfect process. Give them flexibility and let them do their job during the day when they can. This can help parents and non-parents alike.
Work travel can be exciting, but it’s hard
Now that companies are picking up where they left off two years ago, work travel is ramping up. Offsites while working on a remote team are great ways to build better relationships. They have been life-giving to me over the years as a remote employee.
But... Now that I am a parent, work travel is stressful. When I leave, that places a ton of pressure on my partner. For however long I’m gone, she gets less respite in her days. As parents of small humans, we need respite. Though she feels the brunt of it while I am gone, it doesn’t mean I won’t feel it.
For parents, there isn’t a good choice. You can say no to work travel, but you’ll miss out. You can say yes, but you create stress for your family.
What you can do for working parents
Ask them what they need. Check-in. Give them grace. As parents, we carry a ton of weight that isn’t often seen. But when it is seen, I know I feel seen, and most of the time, that’s what I need.