I just had the joy of taking care of my 20-month-old granddaughter for two days. Her day care center was closed this week, so my husband and I flew out to LA to have some fun and help out.
It reminded me how hard it can be to balance a career and a young family. Parents take turns getting ready for work while watching small children. Getting kids out of the house with all their necessary supplies can be an organization challenge in itself. One parent does the drop off and the other may handle the pickup. Figuring out who has to be at work by when and who gets done in time is the family dance. If there are long commutes, multiply the challenges and logistics. And then there’s the home front again after a long day — get dinner on the table, clean up, do bath time and quiet down for bedtime. And try to squeeze in some relaxed, fun family time.
It’s been many years since my husband and I did the same juggling act. My daughters started in daycare centers at 6 weeks old. They were 1 and 4 years old when we moved to the Chicago area; both of us drove long distances in opposite directions to our workplaces. We coordinated daycare center pickups best we could. I’m sure we paid our share of late fees.
I was promoted to my first manager job a year later. When they were 6 and 9, I started graduate school for my MBA and did it at night over a four year period, adding coursework to an already busy family and management work schedule. My husband and I shared all the home front duties and somehow made it all work. We had no local support system.
There were moments when I didn’t know how I was going to be all things to all people — super manager and super mom. At that time, women of my generation worked with many men whose wives did not work outside the home. They didn’t necessarily understand what women like me were trying to balance.
There were fewer women in management then. In fact, I was the only woman on the IT management team at one company for a 5-year period. Informal strategy discussions in the boss’ office seemed to start after 5 p.m. just when I had to head out for daycare pickup.
Fortunately, times have changed and there is more support in the workplace for parents doing this family dance.
If you are a young parent and this balancing act sounds familiar, hang in there. It gets better. Make the choices and tradeoffs that work for you and your family. You have plenty of time to grow your career and meet your long-term goals.
If you manage parents with young children, be patient and flexible to the extent possible. Doctor appointments, sick kids, and unpredictable daycare situations are a reality that young parents deal with. Have reasonable expectations of when the work day starts and ends and that weekends really are weekends. Consider offering flexible schedule options. Today, companies need to establish a family friendly environment and policies if they want to attract and retain young talent.
And if you are lucky enough to be a grandparent like me, be helpful and supportive as much as possible. Young parents need support and encouragement. Don’t add to the pressure they put on themselves.