I’m a working parent and the mother of a toddler. I am also a later-in-life parent, who learned to be a working parent more than 15 years into my chosen career. I am still learning. But some lessons are already worth passing along.
Here are some things that I have learned so far:
- Know your why. If you don’t know why you work, the hard days will make you question your entire existence. When I came back to work after maternity leave, I had to get very honest with myself about why working was the right decision for my family. Go through the uncomfortableness of figuring this out for yourself. Here’s the letter I wrote to my daughter to capture my why. On those really hard days, I re-read it and remind myself.
- Talk about the struggles. It is a struggle for both genders to work and raise a family.Talk about the hard decisions, talk about the payoffs, talk about your feelings of failure, and talk about your doubts. The working parents in my firm have become my own little support network. I’ve connected with new friends based on nothing but this shared struggle. Burdens are less heavy when we bare them together. And, I’ve learned some cool tricks along the way to help carry the load.
- I can’t do this alone. First, let me emphasize that my spouse is as actively involved in raising our daughter as I am. But it takes even more than that. It takes family (those by blood or those by choice). It takes friends. It takes my church. It takes my team at work. It takes me asking for help from all those people. My own independence nearly killed me until I learned that it really does take a village. No one reaches their full potential alone—that is as true in my family as it is in my career.
- Everything is a tradeoff. I won’t be 100% to everybody at all times, ever. Saying yes to one thing requires I say no to something else. The lie of “balance” leaves way too many parents feeling like failures. Balance is a lie. But we do get to make decisions that prioritize our lives—family and career—every single day. Tonight, I won’t put my daughter to bed because I’ve prioritized a work event. But we’ll FaceTime to say goodnight. Tomorrow, I’ll leave work early and spend a long afternoon with her, just the two of us. And, I’ll likely check some emails while I do it. Next weekend, I’ll completely unplug from all of it for a much needed vacation alone with my husband. What a gift to be able to make it all work in a way that works for me.
- Only your family can decide if it’s working. I have not adopted every piece of advice given to me since I became a working parent. Not because it’s all been bad, but because it’s not all worked for my family. We do some things in our family that others would never consider acceptable, I’m sure. But only my family can decide if what we’re doing is working for us or not.
You know, last week a colleague did the simplest and most impactful thing for me. She encouraged me. She has teenagers, and instead of lamenting about the difficulty and sharing the “just you wait if you think it is hard now” mantra that too many of us have heard, guess what she said? She said, “Oh, every age is so special! Enjoy it!”
That’s my last lesson. We all need encouragement. So, to you—the working parent reading this—you’re doing a good job. Every phase and every stage is so precious. Keep learning. We’re in this thing together. Enjoy it!