Working parents have traditionally been forced to compartmentalize their roles. Make sure we don’t hear the baby crying on the Zoom. Be fully present as a parent without any distractions or interruptions. But we are whole beings, with both of those vital parts integrated to form who we are.
Here to help parents bridge that gap and shift the narrative to see how being both career-driven AND family-focused can be an incredible strength is Daisy Dowling. Daisy is the Founder & CEO of Workparent and the author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids.
Whether you are an employee, entrepreneur, freelancer, or employer, this episode will cover practical strategies you can use to help you create an ideal home and office environment that support your needs as a whole person.
It’s easy to catastrophize and we don’t get a lot of humor and we don’t get a lot of validation as working parents. So it’s really important that we think about surrounding ourselves with supportive people, but also giving ourselves that support.
Dr. Sarah (00:18):
If the term work-life balance has you laughing out loud, oh man, this is for sure going to be an episode you won’t want to miss. Being a working parent doesn’t have to mean all or nothing. And here to talk about ways that we can feel satisfied and fulfilled in both roles is Daisy Dowling. Daisy is the founder and CEO of WorkParent and the author of WorkParent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. Her work is rooted in a simple, bold vision that all working parents can succeed on the job and remain true to themselves while raising terrific kids. So whether you are an employee, an entrepreneur, a freelancer, or an employer, this episode will cover strategies on a personal, professional and systemic level that can help create a much more inclusive environment for all working parents and their families.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi everyone. I’m really excited to introduce our guest today, Daisy Dowling, who’s the founder and CEO of WorkParent is here to talk all things balancing these things that we all do as working parents. So welcome. Thank you for being here.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Dr. Sarah (02:05):
Thank you. I really like the work that you are doing in this book that you wrote. Could you tell us a little bit about how you sort of got into this particular line of work and how you came up with WorkParent?
Yeah, so I always feel like I should have a very glamorous, glossy answer to that question. And the very simple answer is I came to this workout of necessity. So about 10 years ago I was working as an executive coach inside a big successful corporation and it was my job to help other people get ahead in their careers, get that promotion, take on the bigger team, and I knew how to do that job, but I didn’t know how to do this one part of the job. So a lot of my internal clients would say to me, Daisy, thanks for all the good time management tips. It really helped with my calendar, but I just became a dad six months ago and now I have to get to daycare for pickup every day at 6:30. Can you tell me what I should do now? And I had absolutely no advice or insight as to how to answer that question.
Or somebody would be onboarding back from parental leave and say, what’s my checklist of things? What should I do in that first week or that first month back? And I didn’t really know, you can see where this movie is going. So I was thinking on this topic and then of course I became apparent myself and the number of questions I didn’t have answers to and couldn’t find good answers to just exploded. How did I tell my boss’s boss that I still wanted to be considered for that big promotion, even though yes, I was just three months back from leave on and on. How did I tell people that I wanted to leave for the pediatricians because my daughter had a fever? So because I couldn’t find the answers and I looked and looked, I actually went down to Barnes and Noble one day with my daughter in her stroller down to the flagship, Barnes and Noble here in New York City, and I said, where’s the working parent book?
Because you can get a book for anything. If you wanna travel to any country in the world, you can find that book. And the very nice clerk said, oh well one side of the store. And he pointed to it, he said, that’s the parenting section. And he said, this other side of the store, that’s the career section. And that was it. There was no overlap, but I was one whole human being trying to do both of those things. So very long story short, that was the birth story, I guess you would say, of WorkParent. And so I decided to go out and talk very informally at first to other working parents who had been there and done that, who were further down the pike than I was, and to get their advice, what works, what self hacks and life hacks were they using? What did they wish they had known?
And I began incorporating that into my own coaching work. And then I founded my own coaching and training company based on that work and wrote this book. And my vision and goal with WorkParent is that every parent should be able to achieve success and satisfaction combining career and kids, I wanna do it, you wanna do it. Everybody who has children and who is working really hard to support them wants to do it. And there’s so much wisdom and value out there in more senior or seasoned working parents and taking an executive coaching approach to this. And I, my passion is bringing that out to people who are maybe a little bit earlier in the journey.
Dr. Sarah (05:32):
Oh, I love that idea of creating this shared wisdom. I think that’s a big thing in parenting period. We all enter parenthood and a lot of parents end up having to reinvent the wheel for themselves from scratch because as a society we’ve kind of moved away from our sort of communal parenting practices that were more like back in the previous iterations of our society. And that doesn’t even touch the piece about going back to work. I think parents who go back to work have even less communal learning, communal support, shared knowledge because people really do that in silos in a lot of ways because they’re solo. A lot of working parents are kind of siloed inside of their workplace.
Exactly. And there’s not a ton of template for this. Think back to your own family of origin and maybe both of your parents did work and worked really hard and that’s great and their role models to you, but you know what weren’t working in the age of the smartphone. And so the way you work and I work now is fundamentally different. And so all of us are really busy beating ourselves up saying, I should be able to handle this. I’m a really smart person. I got good grades in college, I should be able to figure this out. But you were never handed a specific role model or an set of examples on how to do it. And unless you’re connected to a lot of other working parents, which is probably hard given you don’t have a lot of extra time, that’s not going to happen. And so then in isolation it makes a tough situation even trickier.
Dr. Sarah (07:10):
And I can imagine it leads to a lot of feelings of self-criticism or guilt or loneliness. I’m curious what you see, you work with parents who are navigating this. What do you see when you’re coaching them? What are you talking to them about? What are they talking to you about?
Yeah, mean every conversation is different, but there are so many themes that come up in virtually every conversation. So there’s commonality but distinction. So the top things, and I say this to whoever’s listening, if you feel like you are alone in these things, I want to assure you as somebody who has spoken to tens of thousands of working parents that you are, not that everybody is experiencing this, but top things first is a sense of time famine. So I’m running really hard on the treadmill. I’ve always been a responsible person. I’m trying to fit it all in and make it all work, but I just can’t put this much responsibility and stuff into a 24 hour workday and I’m sleeping less and less and I’m trying to find different ways to compensate and those are grinding me down and how do I solve for this?
So that’s one really big thing. Another really big thing is no surprise here, the G word, guilt. It comes up in virtually every conversation. And as I tell working parents, guilt is, it’s sort of like your conscience yelling at you too loudly. Guilt can be productive and healthy, it keeps us on point. We feel guilty when we do something that’s in contradiction to our values. And if you take that emergency work call when you promised your toddler, you would be playing Legos with them, you’re going to feel a little guilty because you just broke your promise and maybe you’re not being a good parent, but you are trying to be a good parent cuz you’re working really hard to take good care of your child and you have that one work call, you can’t help that there’s some friction between these two sets of responsibilities.
So it’s learning to see that guilt in a new way, but also to diffuse it. And I usually have some specific techniques and tools that I can talk about too. But in terms of the greatest hits, that’s one thing that’s really top of mind. Another thing that’s important, and I can go on and on here, but why I do just share this third one, another thing that’s really important is communications and not knowing how to handle them. So you go back from leave, it’s your first couple of days back, or maybe you have a five-year-old already, right? But what do you say to your colleagues when caregiving responsibilities crap up during that important meeting? Or how do you advocate for the schedule that you want or that you don’t want now that you’re a parent and you’re trying to spend some good focus time at home? How do you tell your five-year-old that you are leaving for the business trip when he or she is clutching at your leg and really upset that you’re going or that you have to go to back to the office for example? I think that sense of my intentions are good and I don’t know what to say of being misunderstood or potentially misunderstood is really powerful. So as I do coaching work, those are some specific things that we dig in on and look at specific techniques that are going to work for each individual.
Dr. Sarah (10:28):
Yeah, I mean honestly, every single thing you said I resonate with personally as a mom who works. I just feel all those things all the time.
And me too. Listen, as the parent of a nine and 10 year old, I joke that I, I’m doing this work because I need this work, but it’s no joke. We all feel this way. It’s n it’s okay, it’s normal, it’s part of what we’re dealing with. But there are techniques that help and that’s the piece that I’m really excited about in this work.
Dr. Sarah (10:59):
Yeah. So tell us what are some let’s, I think this idea of guilt and the being pulled in two directions, I feel that strongly. I know that parents who listen to this podcast feel that strongly. If you’re sitting in the room with a parent who’s grappling with these feelings of guilt and that friction you speak of when I’ve got two things pulling me in different directions and they’re kind of mutually exclusive in this moment and I know I have to pick one and whichever one I don’t pick, I’m going to feel some level of guilt around what are your strategies for parents navigating that?
Yeah. So two immediate strategies there. The first thing, let’s take this example. You’re playing with your toddler, you said, yes, mommy or daddy will be play with you and you have my full attention, we’re playing Legos. We’ll spend Saturday afternoon together and you get dragged into that important work call. So you’re feeling all kinds of guilty. What I want you to do immediately is restate, retaking means kind of planting your emotional flag again firmly. And even if you’re in really rocky territory, and you might say to yourself in this example something cuz the guilty tape is playing, you think, oh, I’m a terrible parent. There I go again. I’m not spending enough time with my child and I just broke my word. And whatever. You’re criticizing yourself crazy and feeling guilty, stop and say I am a 100% committed and loving mother or father. Which is why I wanted to spend all Saturday afternoon playing Legos with my three-year-old because that’s his passion.
And because I love spending time with him today because of circumstances completely out of control, my control, I had to take an emergent work, phone call that is work that I do to provide for this family, to give my child opportunities and resources maybe that I didn’t have to give my child a safe and stable home because I am a committed and 100% loving mother or father. In other words, kind of bring things back again full circle. Yeah, it’s you feel crummy, you wish you didn’t have to take the phone call. Bummer. It happens. And I don’t mean to dismiss it or be glib about it, but at the same time it should not shake the bedrock of who you are. Restate, clean that territory back. Yeah, that’s the first thing. The second thing, which is kind of a little bit more lighthearted is I want you to push back on your guilt and I want you to push back on it using one single word, which is: really?
So the guilty tape begins to play and you’re labeling yourself, I’m a terrible mother, I’m an awful dad. What kind of parent does this? Et cetera, whatever the guilt, oh, I only worked 11 hours yesterday. I should be working harder. Whatever the guilty tape is telling you just starts pushing back. Almost pretend you’re your own best friend or a coach, really? Are you really a terrible parent? If you’re really so terrible, should we be doing something about it? If you’re really that bad, as you’re telling yourself, should I call child protective services, is it really true that only working 11 hours yesterday really makes you a terrible worker? And as soon as you start doing that, you’ll realize, first of all, nobody else would ever speak to me like this, right? At least I hope nobody would unless they were an enemy of yours. Second, that all of those things that you’re telling yourself are preposterous. Of course you’re not a terrible parent, you just had to take a phone call and now you’re going to go back to playing Legos. It just takes the drama down, it deescalates. You might find yourself laughing or being a little indignant even, but it’s a way of just taking a pin and putting it in that balloon of guilt and having it deflate.
Dr. Sarah (14:50):
Yes, I love that. I like that. It’s funny cuz that’s a little strategy that we use a lot when treating anxiety or OCD, is to you find that voice, the part of you that’s worrying and you sort of boss it back a little bit. You say, you don’t get to tell me what to do. And I like that cuz it’s very similar to this idea of we’re identifying the guilty thoughts and we’re saying, you don’t get to be in charge of me right now. I’m going to boss you back a little bit. I’m going to challenge you a bit and say, really, I like the levity of it. And I think that that’s kind of a nice foil to the seriousness of our self-talk sometimes. Cuz we can get really intense inside of our heads.
We can, it’s easy to catastrophize and we don’t get a lot of humor and we don’t get a lot of validation as working parents. So it’s really important that we think about surrounding ourselves with supportive people, but also giving ourselves that support.
Dr. Sarah (15:49):
And support can come from that compassion and that really, hey, I am really good. I know the first strategy, the retaking and I love that. And I think it can also come in the form of some levity and some dry wit too, cuz there’s a, there’s room for both. And I like that you’re playing with both of those voices.
Listen, no one technique is going to work perfectly for each person. And actually in the book, I have a whole chapter on feelings and there’s 10 different specific strategies all over the place. It’s like the smorgasboard table of strategies for dealing with guilt. And that’s deliberate because what works for you may not work for me, but we all have to get in our groove and find the thing that’s going to allow us in the moment to diffuse some of those things. Because guess what? Your kids and your colleagues and your clients, they don’t want the beaten down, guilty looking version of you. They want the one who feels a little bit more good with themselves and self-confident.
Dr. Sarah (16:52):
Yeah, yeah. And especially our kids, they feel our energy. If you walk into that room after taking that call and your kid’s sitting there with their Legos, maybe a little frustrated or sad or, you know, that you left and now you’re back, how do you wanna enter that room? Do you wanna enter that room still playing back the tape in your head of how bad you feel and being half present because you’re dealing with these guilty feelings that are pulling you away from that presence in the moment? Or do you wanna walk in and say, that really was, that was hard that I had to take that call. I’m sorry that happened and now I’m here and let’s get back to what we both wanna be doing, which is playing together and have that energy be full of intention and presence and confidence. What’s going to feel better to your kid, let alone for you in that moment?
I’m so glad that you just said that because that’s actually one of the other things that’s a huge common thread through a lot of my coaching work is the difficulty people have making transitions. So let’s say you’re working in a physical workplace, wherever that is. Well, the average American working the business days that we have in a year, the average number of work days per year is 252. So even if you’re not working at home and toggling back and forth between kids and career stuff in the moment you enter work, you leave work, you enter your home, et cetera, that’s going to be more than 500 transitions every single year. And your transitions are the points where you can either feel totally disingenuous, ground down, but behind the ball, whatever phrase we wanna use. Or you can think about how to make them and use them intentionally. And a lot of working parents I know have developed techniques and we work on this together, developed techniques where before putting the key in the lock at home or shutting the laptop and going into the living room where they take a moment to regroup and to show up as the parent they wanna be. And then when they get onto the zoom call or walk into the workplace, they do the same. So they’re at their top professional self and they feel that self-confidence going in, you can master the transition, your day will be better.
Dr. Sarah (19:12):
Yes. I think that is so true and I think that’s especially challenging now in a post covid world. I think that was hard in the working world, transitioning between work and home life before. But post covid where it got real blurry, I might be working in my basement, I am, I’m currently in my basement right now working. That never happened to me before Covid. And so that transition, I used to have a 45 minute train ride every morning and two and from work where I would decompress and move from one roll to another with this sort of really concrete, this is what is physically happening to me, I am physically transitioning and now it’s like I just go upstairs and I have to switch like that. And it’s very hard to remember to be intentional about that transition because it’s happening so quickly now that we sometimes no longer transition at all and where everything is a big giant blur all the time, which isn’t helpful for us and it’s not helpful for our kids.
So hack yourself. And that’s what I do a lot in coaching. And again, what works for you won’t work for me vice versa. But if you are working in the basement and there’s a door you have to go through to get to the stairs that go up to the rest of the house, put a big sign on the back of that door that says stop and breathe or have a rule where when you do get up from your work chair that you have to take off your jacket that you work in or take off your work shoes and put on your flip flops and go into the rest of the house. These are small and kind of silly seeming ideas and in a way they are, but what they’re doing is allowing your brain to catch up with your reality. So mm-hmm Work your neuroscience a little bit and say, Hey, it used to be my transitional thing was a 45 minute podcast. Well I don’t have that now, but I do have the routine of always washing my hands in the kitchen before going in, picking the kids up from the next room or whatever.
Dr. Sarah (21:25):
Yeah, I love that. I love that concretizing, these sort of markers, these physical actions we take or places that we go to. So even if it’s just I walk through this door and that’s my cue. Exactly. Or I walk into the kitchen and that’s my cue to do these things. I often tell parents the mantra that I like to use and that I teach parents to use is to check in. And this is true for transitioning from work to home or anything, but this idea of what is my role and what is my goal? What hat am I trying to wear and what am I trying to do right now? Cuz it’s different depending on what self state we’re in. And we wanna be intentional about moving from one role to another and thinking, what am I trying to do here? Yeah, I wanna do, be totally on a game with work. Do I wanna be completely present with my kid? Do I need some time for just me right now? Do I wanna be sort of quiet and still what’s my role? What’s my goal? Yeah, that’s kind of my hack that I’ve been trying since transitioning to working from home.
But role meaning one role, not trying to do six roles or two roles all at once, which I think is where a lot of people find themselves. It’s this, I need to be constantly multitasking, always on, I’m nursing the baby while checking my emails. I’m doing that is, it’s not a way that the human brain really works very well. It’s very draining. And if you can set some of those boundaries, even if you’re moving back and forth between roles in 10 minute increments, that’s easier and better than trying to do three roles at once.
Dr. Sarah (23:09):
And I think that is so important and such permission giving to parents to say, even if you are, you know, can have many, many roles and almost all of us do, whether you’re working or not, we have multiple roles. We are, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a business owner, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a friend, I’m in relationship with myself. I have all these different roles and I can’t do any of them justice and I’m trying to do more than one at a time. And I think when we do, and there’s so much pressure to not just to do multiple things at once, but to think that we’re able to, I think a lot of times that’s like the recipe for burnout.
Yeah. Yeah. I think what you’re saying, which I say to a lot of my coaching clients is be very careful what bar you set for yourself. And if the ideas, I should be able to do three different roles at once. Well maybe you try that, but that’s going to be extraordinarily difficult. So find ways in which you can set yourself up for success and allow yourself to do what might be a little bit more realistic.
Dr. Sarah (24:18):
Yes. I mean, when you’re working with parents who work and are trying to figure out where that bar is for them, I, I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I wonder what are some of the strategies for giving yourself an awareness and also permission to do one at a time.
So we’ve been talking a little bit about in your mind and thinking about your kid and playing Legos with them. So flipping it into the really professional context here, one of the things that I ask a lot of parents to do is to play back for me the feedback they’re getting at work. Because so many times somebody will say, I’m dropping the ball, I’m not meeting expectations. I used to be working harder before I had my first child. They’re all kinds of catastrophizing and beating themselves up and painting a very bleak picture about what they’re contributing. And so I try to anchor that back in reality and I think this is something we all need to do. Okay, great. What are you hearing from your colleagues? What has your manager said? What have you been over the past three months as you look over your to-do list?
What are some of the milestones you’ve achieved in terms of your sales quota, your patient satisfaction scores, whatever the metric is. And by key performance indicators, what are your KPIs? And then people will say, well my boss said things are going really well, or I got an outstanding performance rating or I’ve billed more hours than everybody but three other people at my firm this past quarter or something. Not, I mean it’s not always sunshine and roses, but for the most part people will share a factual picture that does not match the sort of gloomier view that they’ve come to because they feel that they’re somehow not giving their all. And I think it’s really important for each of us to understand that you can be objectively doing extraordinarily well, but don’t beat yourself up for not working even more or working in a way that might be very different than before you had children. Maybe you are taking a break for that bed bath dinner hour or two now instead of working straight through until 7:30 PM. But if you’re still getting the same amount of work done that and you have a workplace that where it’s feasible, that shouldn’t actually matter.
So I think again, kind of playing back that reality tape for inside our own heads can be very helpful and very anchoring.
Dr. Sarah (26:59):
Yes. And I wonder, can you do that the same way in the other direction? Right. Do you have parents ever do that where it’s like, if the guilt is directed at how not enough I’m giving my child, cuz I imagine that’s present too. Can you play back the tape there? Right? Yeah. What are your kids showing you? What are your kids telling you? And not only filtering for the negative, right? Because we have biases there too. We tend to take in the feedback that is the more painful feedback, the harder stuff in here, the negative stuff. And we don’t also take in all the good stuff. So maybe my child is really clingy lately or has been whining more about wanting to spend time with me and maybe I have missed some things that I wish I didn’t have to miss. But also what else is my child telling me? What are they communicating to me in their behaviors or their words? Do they want to snuggle with me at bedtime? Does that feel good to them? If we’re not filling them up, they wouldn’t want us to, wouldn’t keep seeking that piece out from us and feeling really satisfied with it. Are they happy when they’re with us?
Yeah. Yes. And at the same time also keeping a little bit of an eye to some key developmental trends or milestones. And by that I mean I think all of us, or I’ll speak for myself here, I anyway was really good about knowing when my baby was supposed to smile and crawl and do some of those early important things and be able to pick up her own bottle and all that kind of stuff. And I didn’t pay quite as much attention to some of those things as she got a little bit older. I have two little girls now and that was tricky because then as a working parent, misinterpreted some of what my kids were going through, which was completely normal as somehow evidence, evidence that I was failing as a working parent. So when kids get to that stranger anxiety, stranger danger phase, any kind of transition is hard for them.
It’s not just about being afraid of strangers, it’s about transitioning. So if you go pick your 10 month old up from daycare and the baby starts to cry, that doesn’t mean that your baby is upset or resentful of you for having been at work. And it doesn’t mean that they’re more attached to their caregiver than to you. Your position as this child’s parent is totally unassailable. What it means is that it’s really natural and normal for 10 months old to have difficulty transitioning and they just spend a number of hours with a different caregiver and now they’re transitioning to you and they’re tired and it’s the end of the day and they probably need a bottle. Okay. Yeah. So I’m not dismissing any of that stuff. You do wanna be really attuned to your kids and the emotional tone and so forth. But I know a lot of parents also who clobber themselves on the, well, my child had a tantrum. It must be because I’m a working parent. I’m like, whoa, time out. Cause your child’s two and a half.
Dr. Sarah (30:11):
Exactly. And I think that’s my idea. I love this idea of playing the feedback back or getting the facts from the workplace environment to challenge some of the sort of distorted thinking on your performance at work. And I think you can do very similar things with your kids. What are the facts you’re saying? How do I not project my fears onto my child’s behavior Exactly. And interpret their behavior as a sign that I’m failing in some way. But see it in the context of where is their development at this moment in time? What other information do I have and including the positive stuff that I might not be paying attention to that I wanna make sure I’m counting also.
And I think that because I do think parents, just like you’re describing a parent who would have a bias, like a distortion about how well they’re doing at work and when you actually challenge it, they’re like, well actually there’s all these things. I definitely know parents do that too with their kids. We think, oh my God, I’m totally messing up my kid because I’m missing all this stuff. And in reality, our kids are showing us quite the contrary that they’re forming these solid safe relationships with us. They love spending time with us when they are with us. And yes, they might have other issues like having tantrums when we leave to drop them off at daycare and that doesn’t mean it’s because we’re working, it’s hard to say goodbye period.
Right. Exactly. Yeah. One of the working parents who I interviewed from my book, who is a very successful consultant at a major consulting firm said that one thing that she does with the working parents, she mentors within her organization is that she asks them to fill in the script or to say the words that when that person’s, the younger parents child is an adult and is talking about them to their friends or to a new prospective partner, how they would describe you as a parent. And the way in which they’ll say, well, my mom was always worked really hard, she was really passionate about her career. She really, really loved serving people in this way or working with her clients, but she was always there for my math homework and always made breakfast for us. And always, if you can create that kind of a narrative picture, a balanced one, it can be incredibly soothing and motivating because that all the day-to-day stuff that you’re dealing with is moving you towards that positive picture that you’re not just kind of slogging through a temper tantrum or guilt or whatever, but that you’re planting seeds towards that relationship and that outcome.
Dr. Sarah (32:57):
Which is so important. And we’re probably already doing so much work and I think it’s so important to stop and note it and log it because it’s absolutely, yeah, we’re quick to look at our shortcomings but not look at the work that we’re doing. That’s really amazing. I’m curious too, like you mentioned before about workplaces and advocating for yourself for the schedule that’s flexible or the promotion and even this idea of you have working with someone who’s offering services at work for parents, there’s a place I would imagine in the work that you do that’s not just with the parents that are working and how to navigate that, but this other bigger piece of the puzzle, which is our society’s stance on working parents and the amount of support and systemic support that is or is not available to some parents in the workplace. Your take, what’s your thoughts on that?
So I do work with organizations as well as with individual parents. And that work can come really in two different ways. One is with senior executive teams, with senior leaders, with managers, with either sensitizing them to the working parent reality or challenge and also giving them the tools to deal with it. And when I say tools to deal with it, I don’t mean to make it go away to wave a magic wand and sort of solve working parent challenges because that’s not realistic. But there are a lot of things that senior managers and leaders can do to signal support, to create situational flexibility that goes out beyond what you might find in a company employee handbook or e manual to basically make their culture of their organization a working parent friendly one. And one of the really kind of small, and it’ll sound goofy, but it works, one of the small things in my manager and senior leader workshops that I teach. And sometimes I’m just talking about what working parenthood looks like and why they should care about it, making that business case. But when it’s a how-to workshop, one of the things that I tell people is that the next time somebody comes into your office and says that they’re expecting, and it can be male, female, somebody you were expecting to make this announcement, somebody you had no idea was planning to become a parent whatever it is. But they say, I have news and I’m expecting stand up.
If you’re behind a desk, even if you’re, you’re on Zoom or in person, if you’re behind a desk or you’re sitting down and you say, oh wow, congratulations. That’s going to read as tepid, it’s going to read as less supportive than it could be. It’s going to send the person who just gave that announcement to you home worried that you didn’t really accept the news or are you going to be supportive while they’re on leave, et cetera. Somebody just honored you with the announcement that they’re expecting a new person in their life. The respectful thing to do is to stand up in honor. And in recognition of that, even if the person isn’t performing all that well, even if you don’t personally like ’em matter, stand up and say, I’m so excited for you and you’re not promising anything. You’re not saying, okay, you can have twice as long of parental leave as the policy is.
You’re not going out on a limb in any way. But what you’re doing is making unambiguously clear that you are as a colleague, as a person, that you are honoring them. And that is one small thing that they’re going to leave that room, that office, that zoom call, whatever, and they’re going to say, it went really well. Bob stood up and said, I’m so happy for you. So I think the conversation went well and all of a sudden you’ve directed the course of how somebody feels about being a working parent in your organization. There’s hundreds of things like that that are easy, free, et cetera, that we can teach. So the first thing is sort of equipping people. But the other thing that I like to tell organizations or work with them on is that there’s really three ways that they can help push the working parent sort of situation forward.
There’s programs like mentoring programs or backup daycare for example. And it’s great if you offer good working parent programs. There’s policies which are things like how long you get for parental leave and then there’s practices. And practices are the small ways that people interact with each other. They communicate with each other whether or not you get a lot of messages over the weekend, how people relate to you, how feedback is delivered just all that kind of stuff. The kind of the textural things of your day-to-day as organizations. Most organizations that are with it in terms of working parenthood, spend a lot of time and sometimes a lot of money on programs and policies and they give short shrift to this practices thing. Now you could have the longest parental leave in the entire world, but if you have that parent coming back to the workplace and nobody says anything and nobody reaches out and nobody checks in on the person and says, how are you doing whatever that’s going to read as working parent unfriendly, even if the leave itself was very long. So there’s so much lift and so much power in examining those practices and I think that’s where as a society, as institutions, et cetera, not that we don’t need those programs and policies, don’t get me wrong, we desperately need them and I advocate for them all the time, but we have to have that third leg of the stool. And that’s also where I think we can make the quickest gains.
Dr. Sarah (38:46):
And I think that’s so important cuz I think what you’re really tapping into with the practices piece is that at the end of the day working parents just want to be seen. We want to know that our experiences is seen and it is felt and it is acknowledged, it doesn’t need to be rescued. It’s a tough journey and we’re gritty, we can handle it, but we want ’em know that people are like, Hey, how you doing? How are things going? Is there a welcome back acknowledgement when you come back to work after having a baby? Is there some level of check-in while you’re out to see how you’re doing And if you need anything? It’s this idea that we’re like a full human being going through a challenging, albeit hopefully very wonderful, but challenging nonetheless time in our life and need to be seen for that and have it named. And I think that the quality of that practices piece is a big part of that.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Dr. Sarah (39:50):
That’s beautiful. I’m so glad. It’s so great that there are places and organizations like yours that are doing this work not just at helping parents through the process, but working with companies and bigger places, systemic structural places to give them tools like this because I think we all are either have parents or will be a parent, there’s so much of this part of our lives that are touched by parenthood, even if most people listening to this podcast are probably parents, but even if you’re not a parent, knowing that your workplace takes care of parents feels good.
Absolutely. It’s kind of a barometer for how they take care of people in general. And I think everybody else had a rough time during the pandemic. I feel very fortunate in my life, but we all had to change our lives in various ways because of what’s happened over the past three years. But I think the positive thing, one of the positive things that came out of it, and I hate to even say that cuz it was a pandemic, was so bad but is that it really put an issue that was there all along out onto the table. So working parents were struggling in 2018 and 2019, but the pandemic kind of pulled back the curtain, let the genie out of the bottle. And I think a lot of institutions and organizations and managers that before may have not have been as aware or sensitized to what working parents deal with now are very focused on it and are thinking about how to raise the game. And that’s a positive.
Dr. Sarah (41:35):
I agree. I agree. I mean it’s funny cuz in the last couple years I’ve started a group practice. I now hire clinicians to be a part of my group practice. And our biggest thing that we say when we are hiring clinicians is we are a mother slash woman-led company and we are looking for people who feel taken care of in that environment. We know what it is like to be a working mom and we’re very much seeking to create a workplace culture that honors the balance that comes with being a parent and an employee and having a passion for your career and wanting to learn and build and do stuff that’s really cool and exciting and stimulating, but that also understands that you might have to leave to go pick up your sick kid unexpectedly in the middle of the day. And that’s part of what we allow for and expect and build around, build support around. So I’ve never had to think about it on the other end. I’ve always been the mom who works and trying to figure out how to be in a workplace that can support me and my family and as well as my career goals. But now being on the other side of it, it’s a totally different ballgame of how do I create a workplace culture that honors the working parent?
Dr. Sarah (42:53):
And that’s not as easy. You really have to be intentional about it. And I think it’s been a really amazing learning experience for me too.
Yes. To be the entrepreneur building the business.
Dr. Sarah (43:07):
And making it so that parents feel safe and seen and held and people who aren’t parents because someone who’s on my team that’s not a parent right now might stay because they know they could be.
Dr. Sarah (43:20):
That feels good to me.
Yeah. I have a chapter in the book about for working parents who are self-employed freelancers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, et cetera. I think one of the things, just backing up, one of the things that always got under my skin a little bit about the working parent dialogue is that sometimes it excluded certain groups of working parents or spoke just to people with certain conditions or levels of resources or demographics or what have you. And so many working parents in this country and other countries too are working not in large traditional corporations, they’re trying to do what you’re doing or what I’m doing, which is build something themselves or freelance or be a sole contractor or whatever. And they don’t get a lot of advice or support on how to be working parents. But one of the entrepreneurs that I interviewed a working dad who started an eyewear company, a really interesting person said one of the things that attracted me to doing this was that I get to be part of the solution.
I am now setting my organization up in a way where I can take everything I saw before and thought that doesn’t really work for working parents and I can totally flip it around and I can attract great talent because of it and I can do what works. And so they have non-gender specific parental leaves, everybody gets exactly the same and they did. There were all these different things that he had all these different thoughts that he had put into it. So it is a really exciting place. It’s daunting sometimes, but it can be an exciting place to be not in a traditional job or not in standard W2 type employment.
Dr. Sarah (45:09):
Yeah. Cuz it has its own challenges for sure, because especially if you work for yourself, no one’s paying for that maternity leave. You have to figure out these things that it could be a lot scarier to be on your own with no supports from a institution. As much as we might complain about some of the ways that corporations do or don’t support parents, if you are doing it by yourself, you, it’s just you and it’s very hard. So I love that there’s this idea that every working parent, no matter where in the world or how you work, has your own unique set of challenges. And just to name that reality and allow those parents to feel seen too, I think is so validating.
Absolutely. But also other parents who might not have felt themselves traditionally to be part of the dialogue. So dads sometimes I think feel like they’re going through a lot of the same thought process, but maybe they’re not as permissioned or don’t feel as comfortable kind of talking about some working parent stuff. So in 20, back in 2017, I think it was when I first started writing on Working Parenthood for the Harvard Business Review, they had never had anybody publish on Working Parenthood before. And they said, okay, we can green light this strange little thing that you wanna write about. And I said, 52 million Americans are doing this. It’s not strange or little, A lot of people are doing it. But anyway, HBR hadn’t done anything on it before and they very graciously offered me the ability to write on it. And I was really surprised at the beginning that cuz as an author you have your email addresses attached and you get all kinds of unsolicited reader emails, which can be kind of fun.
And about 70% of the emails that I got were from men from fathers. I thought it was just going to be women reading my column or I thought it was going to skew heavily female. And a lot of dads wrote to me and said, I really appreciate that you used both male and female pronouns in your piece, or I really felt included. I could just one actually LGBTQ dad sent me a message, which I still treasure and reread and it’s years later, but said I read your piece and for the first time I just felt like a hardworking dad. It wasn’t about who I was or part of this dialogue or this is what working parenthood means or looks like or whatever. It was just common concerns and I we’re all going through same and welcome and that’s really what I wanted to create.
Dr. Sarah (47:42):
Yes. I think that representation totally matters and this idea that only working moms get to need the support. No, and the more in fact that working dads take support and demand support and then use the support the more we’re also restructuring the systems, the imbalances. If moms are the only ones who take the support, take the parental leave, and even if dads are offered it but they don’t take it, it just rewrite the system we want. The best thing I think a dad can do is take his full, one of the best things is take his full parental leave because I think it levels the playing field too. I’m curious your thoughts on this, but I feel like it levels the playing field cuz as much as it’s important for workplaces to offer these supports to families, it’s also important that if we take them, we’re not penalized on in some way because you missed out on the promotion or you missed out on this big work meeting because you took the leave and it’s like if everyone is taking the leave, one more places will offer it. But two, it levels that playing field of the gap in the career trajectory for a lot of parents who take leave.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think it’s really important to get the idea across that this is normal and right, normal and is something that we all need to really strive for. I got hired at one point a couple years ago to work at an investment firm, mostly male, just as the demographics fell mostly male. And I was hired to work with a partner who is probably in his mid thirties or so and who was interested in taking parental leave but was sort of on the fence, can I do this? Is there going to be backlash? Do I need to do this? Is it going to derail my career, et cetera. And brought me into work with them. And we spent a lot of time talking about how there were going to be many, many, many people who even if they didn’t admit it would be watching him as a barometer for is this possible in this field and in this firm.
So if John takes leave I might be able to, or this is feasible, this is the kind of organization I wanna be part of or not, I need to change careers, I need to change firms, et cetera. And that he could also work very closely on some of his messaging with some of his peers and some of his partner peers and some of his clients in a way that could frame this in a positive light and actually be very connective, which he found to be true. So a lot of his outside clients said, wow, I’m going through same, I didn’t realize that, but this, you’ve been a great role model for me. Or gee, this is terrific. We have a diverse organization, we have people going on leaves all the time. It’s great to know that you guys are also. So I think it’s not, again, not all sunshine and roses, but I think that normalization and figuring out ways in which to make some of these things work to set a better template and model Yes. Is really, really critical.
Dr. Sarah (50:59):
I love that. And that feels like that falls right into this idea of we can have all these policies and systems, but if you gotta have the practice too.
Exactly, if you say, oh, everybody can take leave, but nobody does. Well is it a policy or is it a paper policy? In which case it doesn’t really provide too much of a benefit.
Dr. Sarah (51:17):
Yeah. Yeah. Well this has been so helpful and I feel like a lot of the strategies that you talked about earlier in this episode of ways to challenge guilt and ways to find transition, ease transitions, and even just this part of how do we create workplace culture, whether you are running a company or in working in a company, how do we start these conversations? How do we normalize this stuff? How do we represent parents all over the place by taking, just showing up in this way where we’re not hiding it and we’re not trying to undermine the needs of our families and ourselves and our workplace, but we’re actually putting it out on the table and talking about it. It’s a good thing cuz it is.
Dr. Sarah (52:07):
I love it. Thank you so much for being here. If people wanna learn more about the work that you’re doing, if they wanna explore coaching with you or check out your book, how can they get in touch with you?
So you can follow me or contact me through LinkedIn where I’m active. Or you can go to www.workparent.com. I’ve got a whole bunch of old articles and material and advice available there for free. You can click through and find your own copy, buy your own copy of the book, and you can also sign up for my coaching newsletter, or contact me direct through the website also. So it’s one size fits all, all purpose to get in touch.
Dr. Sarah (52:45):
And I get your newsletter and I love it. So I think it is fantastic. So I highly recommend it.
Thank you so much.
Dr. Sarah (52:53):
Yes. All right. Well thank you for being here. And we’ll put links to all that in the show notes too, so people find out more about the work you do and thank you. Thank you for doing the work you do, honestly.
Oh, well, it’s really my pleasure. And again, I learn from my clients as much as I teach. So it’s something I wake up every day just really excited to do and be part of.
Dr. Sarah (53:17):
Oh, that’s amazing. Well, thank you so much.
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