How to Balance Work, Children's School When You're a Working Parent

How to Achieve Work/Life Balance

Being a working parent can be extremely fulfilling. But also, extremely hard. Not only do you have demands placed on you by your job, but you also have them placed on you by your child's school, teachers and administrators at which rightly expect you to be as fully engaged and involved in your child's education as you are in your own career.

"As a working parent, you've already got two jobs -- and having two jobs isn't easy. But you're also going to spend a minimum of 13 years with a third critical role: stewarding your child's education," says Harvard Business Review contributor Daisy Wademan Dowling. "It's a position that comes with enormous hope and pressure. You want the absolute best for your children, and you're determined to oversee their school experience in a way that will set them up for success in college and life beyond. But it's a position that can create significant practical challenges for any family."

Fortunately, Dowling has a few tips that can help you balance the being a professional with being a parent of school-age children.

One such tip is to explain to colleagues why you have to miss work when your child's school needs you.

"Instead of telling your boss and colleagues that you'll be 'out of the office tomorrow afternoon,' explain that 'I'll be leaving the office tomorrow afternoon for two hours for a parent-teacher meeting at Brandon's school. We've been concerned about his math scores, and we're talking with the teacher about how to support him over the summer and into next year. I'll be back online by 6 p.m., and we can go over the budget draft at tomorrow's meeting,'" Dowling says. "The second statement makes it vastly easier for colleagues to understand, sympathize and ally themselves with you -- and does a better job of telegraphing your commitment to the job as well."

Another tip is to institute a "family study hall." "Beat the nightly homework drama (the nagging, the power struggles, the bargaining, the tears) by setting a hard-and-fast time each evening that the whole family has study hall: silent, dedicated work time around the dining table," Dowling suggests. "The kids do their homework and you catch up on office emails or reading. When the kitchen timer rings, study hall is over, and the whole family gets to enjoy downtime or a relaxing activity like watching a favorite TV program together. This routine may not be easy for the first few nights you try it, but the kids will quickly adjust, and the benefits are many. They will learn how to focus better, to work more efficiently and to use the 'sprint and recover' approach when tackling a large workload -- all skills that will make them more successful and happier in school and in their futures. You'll also have established a clear boundary between work and play -- something that's vital and healthy for the entire family in our always-on world."

Finally, work with teachers instead of against them. "Treat teachers and administrators as you would valued colleagues (because that's what they are)," Dowling advises. "To develop strong working relationships with the professionals teaching your child … think of a favorite coworker, one who you enjoy being staffed with on tough projects. The coworker is someone you constantly communicate with, sharing all critical information; someone you greet setbacks and roadblocks with by saying, 'Let's figure out how to solve this together'; someone whose constructive comments you take graciously, offering your own in a spirit of respect, trust and good humor. Take this exact same approach with educators: Tell Mrs. Wilson that you'll be away on business next week, in case your third grader acts out; flag it when Susie is struggling with her Spanish homework -- and ask what the best way is to support her; let the science teacher know your son loved the chemistry experiment. Teachers are professionals -- and humans. They'll notice and appreciate your collaboration, and likely respond in kind."

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Questions, Comments, Suggestions?
Contact Successful Meetings Editor in Chief Vincent Alonzo with your "How To" ideas.