5 Working Parent Challenges — and How to Solve Them

A mother works on her laptop at home while her daughter looks on

Field trips. Daycare germs. Babysitting backfires. Morning meltdowns. Pediatrician appointments. Class parties. These are just a few of the extra demands that the working parent has to juggle along with career responsibilities. And while we want to be patient, present parents for our little ones, we want to be indispensable employees, too. 

The push and pull of a working parent are constantly in flux, requiring deft decision-making and delegation abilities. As a working mom or dad, you probably apply similar skills to stay on top of your administrative professional career

OfficeTeam is here to help with tips on how to juggle career and family, impress the boss, and maintain a peaceful kingdom at home and at work. Here are five common challenges the working parent faces and how to deal with them in a professional manner.

Working parent challenge #1: You’re running late for a meeting due to a morning hiccup

Being a working dad or mom requires excellent time management skills, including the ability to cope with the unexpected. If a tantrum, sick child or forgotten permission slip causes you to run late for a meeting, here are some suggestions:

  • Call ahead and let the organizer or attendees know you’re running late. Provide an estimate of when you expect to be in the office. 
  • Offer a sincere apology, especially if it’s a one-on-one meeting. But keep it brief. You’re not the only working parent who’s been in this situation. 
  • Email any information or documents you were responsible for bringing so others don’t have to wait for you to arrive to get started.
  • If possible, dial in to the meeting so you can join from the road.
  • If you’re running more than a few minutes late, or you’re a key presenter, propose a time to reschedule the meeting.
  • When you do arrive, take a minute before stepping in to compose yourself, drop your coat and bag off at your desk, and silence your phone.
  • Slip in without interrupting the meeting or calling attention to yourself.
  • Make yourself available for questions after the meeting and let your colleagues know you’re happy to follow up with them individually for updates as necessary.
  • If the meeting had to be postponed, arrive early for the rescheduled appointment.

Working parent challenge #2: You need a day off to be with your child

Whether your daughter develops a fever, and you’ve got no one to care for her while you’re at work, or you want to request a vacation day to coincide with a school holiday, field trip or class party, a working parent is very familiar with the need to take scattered days off. Consider these options when you need to be out of the office, but the work still needs to get done:

  • Make your time off requests as much in advance notice as possible so you — and your manager — can plan ahead. 
  • Team up with another working dad or mom in your department and make a pact to pick up the slack for each other in a pinch. Share your calendars with each other and schedule a regular touch-base to go over any important items that might need to be covered if parenting duty calls. Be sure your manager is informed about your plan.
  • If your company offers remote work options, utilize them. You may be able to do some work while your child naps or plays during the day, or you could catch up on email in the evening. Check that you have the necessary technology and tools at home to allow for this before you find yourself needing to telecommute. 
  • Also talk to your boss about flexible work hours. If your child is sick, you may be able to work in the morning, then return home to relieve your spouse in the afternoon. Although not a full day, such an arrangement could allow you to be in the office for key meetings or deadlines. 
  • At the start of the school year, network with a few other parents, and agree to take turns caring for one another’s children on school holidays. Establish a schedule and get clearance from your manager for needed day offs.

Read about the best work-life balance benefits and get tips for juggling your personal and professional obligations. 

Working parent challenge #3: You’re frequently called to pick up your child from daycare or school

We’ve all had those periods in parenting where a week doesn’t go by without getting a call to pick up a sick child, particularly during the daycare and preschool years. Here’s our advice for minimizing the impact on your job:

  • Focus on critical work first thing in the morning, before the calls from school or daycare are likely to arrive. Work on longer-term or lower priority projects in the afternoon.
  • While it’s admittedly difficult to identify someone who is willing to watch a sick kid (especially if the person has healthy kids at home), make it a point to find a back-up babysitter. A relative or close friend who is retired or doesn’t work outside the home could be a good option. The goal is to have someone you can call in an emergency when you absolutely have to get that report filed by 5 p.m.
  • Review your work schedule with your spouse Sunday night and discuss days and times it’s critical for you to be in the office — and vice versa. It’s a proactive way to avoid scrambling to determine which working parent is going to respond to the call if it comes.
  • Let your boss know if your child has a chronic health condition, or a nasty cold is making its way through your daycare facility. Together, you two can discuss priorities and ways of keeping up with your work.
  • If you have a child with a chronic illness, you may be able to apply for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Consult your human resources department about your eligibility or about other leave of absence options. 

Learn how to craft an effective out-of-office message if you need to be away from work for an extended period of time.

Working parent challenge #4: You’re exhausted from being up all night with a sick kid

If you’re a sleep-deprived working parent who’s been up all night caring for a sick child, try these tactics to keep your energy high throughout the workday:

  • It’s OK to reach for the caffeine, but remember to start the day with a good breakfast. A healthy balance of carbs and protein will give you instant energy and help you sustain it. 
  • If your workday allows it, think about taking a 15- or 30-minute power nap. 
  • Try to tackle your most pressing work first-thing in the morning before your energy starts to wane in the afternoon.
  • Drink lots of water and take short breaks from your workstation to stretch and rest your eyes. Getting your blood flowing, and stepping out for a little sun and fresh air will help you shake off the brain fog.
  • Keep a stash of healthy snacks at the office for days like these when you don’t have the energy to pack them in the morning. 
  • Resolve to work hard and make the most of the hours in the office so you can leave on time and go to bed early. 

Check out this list of healthy snacks to increase your stamina at work.

Working parent challenge #5: You’re distracted by family obligations 

You’re thinking about the call from your child’s teacher discussing your daughter’s difficulty acclimating to kindergarten. Your son’s winter recital is scheduled for the middle of the school day. Your spouse needs to vent about a rough morning he had with the kids. These struggles can eat away at your productivity. Here are some tips for a working mom or dad dealing with common interruptions or unavoidable gaps in the workday:

  • If you need to leave early to make it to your daughter’s soccer game or take a couple hours in the middle of the day for your child’s dentist appointment, check in with your boss first. Let him or her know when you’ll be gone and how you’ll make up the time. 
  • Try to catch up on work in the evening or come into the office on the weekend if you can’t use paid time off to cover your hours away from the office. Just be sure to communicate with your manager so the two of you can come up with the right solution.
  • Schedule appointments as far in advance as possible and put them on your work calendar so you can plan ahead and adjust your workflow accordingly.
  • If you can’t make it to every school program or class party, ask a fellow parent to snap a few photos of your kid and email them to you. Then, offer to return the favor. Or commit to chaperoning a field trip with each of your children once a year. This can help you can stay involved at school without sacrificing all your time off.

Hopefully, you work in an environment where your boss and coworkers are sympathetic to your unique challenges as a working parent. You can minimize the impact on your workflow and colleagues if you plan ahead, anticipate how you’ll respond to spur of the moment issues, and build a support network at work and home.

Read “How I’ve Changed Since Becoming a Working Parent” for more great balancing tips for the working mom and dad.

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