Ahh, the joy of parenting. Isn’t that what’s going through the minds of working parents all day while they’re at the office?
While parenthood is amazing and joyful, and career life can be fulfilling and exciting, combining the two comes with plenty of challenges. Chief among them is not feeling understood at work. A 2014 study found that 48% of working parents are concerned their family responsibilities could get them fired, and in a 2011 report, almost half of working mothers said their childless coworkers don’t understand the stressors in their lives.
Being a working parent is in no way a handicap, but we do operate in a workplace environment with different restrictions and realities than that of our coworkers without kids.
Want happier colleagues? With a little understanding, coworkers of working parents can help make the office a little less stressful—an effort parents will love you for making. Here’s a list of a few things we wish our non-parent coworkers knew.
Moving That Meeting Might Be a Big Deal
A working parent’s schedule is a house of cards. And when a meeting gets cancelled or rescheduled, the whole house could tumble.
“Simply making that early morning meeting or committing to an after-work event requires more coordinating and planning for me behind the scenes,” says Melissa Polsky, a parent and analytical lead for Veterans United Home Loans.
We know, everyone has a life outside of work. But rearranging sitters and daycare and transportation for kids is tough—and stressful when intertwined with work. Nearly 40% of parents say they get nervous when having to tell a boss they need to miss a work event because of family obligations.
We understand things happen and schedules change. Sometimes that’s unavoidable. But, try to give a heads up on any changes as soon as possible and provide remote options if a parent just can’t get a sitter to attend in person. That will make a difficult situation much easier to handle.
Pumping Is Not a Coffee Break
It’s uncomfortable. It gets on our clothes. And between monitoring each ounce and obsessively wiping and sanitizing every piece of the whole contraption, moms are trying to check their emails and listen in on conference calls.
Allow new moms to block uninterrupted time on their schedules to pump. Your support and encouragement can actually help keep them breastfeeding longer. And don’t count this toward their daily lunch break. There’s no time to eat or do anything besides, well, pump while pumping.
Parental Leave Is Parental Leave
Unfortunately, parental leave is not actually a free vacation! It sounds fun, but what parents learn during those first few weeks is that babies are sooo much work. Add to that the pressure of knowing that you’re building the foundation for bonding and family dynamics for the rest of the child’s life. Not exactly a month at the spa.
“As a father, I can tell you that my paternity leave, however brief, was invaluable to me, my wife, and my newborn child,” says Harrison Brady, communications specialist at Frontier and father of a seven-month-old. “And my time caring for my baby was, for me, an amazing, though very tiring, experience.”
Fathers in particular feel judged for taking parental leave. Despite the many benefits of paternity leave to families, a 2016 Deloitte survey found that 57% of men felt taking it would make it appear they weren’t committed to their jobs.
Expect and encourage every parent to take all the time they can with their family after a new child arrives—and applaud them when they do. Nothing could mean more.
Sometimes, We Just Need Another Adult to Listen
Like everyone else, working parents need to vent sometimes. Try your best to lend your ear, and hold on the advice. Right now, that parent may just need another adult to hear them. Kids are great and all, but not always the most sympathetic ear.
“When relaying a story about why you’re late to work because daycare was closed, your child got sick all through the night, or they got so messy they had to be taken home, we’re not making excuses, just looking for a bit of sympathy from another adult,” says Colton De Vos, a father and communications specialist from Resolute Technology Solutions.
Similar to when you’re relaying your problems to friends, sometimes people just need to be heard. And for a working parent, coworkers may be the only adults they get to interact with in a day. It’s okay if, as a non-parent, you may not exactly know what we’re going through. Just listening without throwing Cheerios at us is enough.
We’re Working Harder Than Ever Now
We’re not slighting you by having a quiet lunch at our desks or skipping the pre-work chit-chat. Working parents often develop a deeper state of focus and efficiency. We have to.
“Having children at home waiting for me each night and relying on me means that I am more motivated than ever to leave work on time and not have to think about it after hours,” says a counselor and mother of two from Columbia, Missouri. “Therefore, I have pushed myself to become as efficient as possible and learned to be much more mindful, so I can fully throw myself into each thing I am doing.”
That’s also why, even when we’re zipping out the door at 5:01PM or arriving late after parent-teacher conferences, we’re not shirking our duties. We’ve got it covered.
We swear, parent and non-parent coworkers can coexist. In fact, working in a parent-friendly workplace can make parenting and work less stressful. In the right environment, the office can even be somewhere parents can feel like their former, childless selves. As much as we love our kids, that kind of mental break feels pretty nice once in a while. And since happier coworkers make life better for you, it’s definitely worth the effort.