How to Balance Work and Family Without Feeling Like a Failure

UPDATED: May 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 14, 2021
How to Balance Work and Family Without Feeling Like a Failure

Most parenting books focus on subjects like prenatal exercises, nutrition and what it means when your baby cries. In other words, these books focus on the parenting part of life with children. 

But what about the other major part of many parents’ lives: their work?

As an executive coach, Daisy Dowling had come across working parents with questions about balancing professional and family life. When she had her daughter, she understood their concerns fully for the first time. 

Daisy combined her professional expertise with her parenting experience to write a book that would answer these questions: Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids.

“I’m one person doing two jobs. I feel like I should be proud about being a mother,” she says. “I feel like I should be proud about working hard. Those two things don’t need to exist in totally separate spheres.”

In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Daisy tells Chief Storytelling Officer (and fellow working parent) Kindra Hall about pairing your to-do list with a “done” list, how parents can rewrite their own working parent rules, and how to combat the anxieties about being that parent in the office.

Rewrite your expectations of yourself.

Every parent measures themselves against their own Working Parent Template: a mental list of expectations they believe they’re supposed to meet. These come from your own parents, friends, parenting blogs, etc.

Your Working Parent Template might include expectations like:

  • Making dinner for your kids every night
  • Going to all of your daughter’s Wednesday night softball games
  • Never being late for work

If you’re basing your idea of the ideal working parent on standards set by other people, you’re lining yourself up to fail. Different people have different schedules that suit different goals.

Maybe the friend who makes dinner for her kids every night, or the parent who never misses their kid’s softball game, goes back to work when the kids are asleep, or starts work early the next morning.

To exorcise your Working Parent Template and start over, write down the expectations you have for yourself as a working parent. Then ask yourself, what standards can I realistically achieve? Maybe you can go to two softball games a month, or make dinner every Thursday night. 

Setting your own standards helps you see that you’re not a failure: you’re a working parent managing the limitations and opportunities your particular circumstances offer.

Learn how to be a parent in the office again.

COVID-19 forced employers and colleagues to accept working parents’ balancing act more than ever before. 

But parents worry that when they go back to the office, referencing their children might be seen as an indication of divided focus, to the point that it costs them professional opportunities.

Daisy has two strategies for managing the in-office working parent balance:

  • Determine your ratio of parent-to-professional conversations. If you worry about being “that person” who’s always bringing up their kids at work, set yourself a ratio that determines how often you’ll talk about them. For example, you’ll mention your kids in three of every 10 conversations. This sends the message that your kids are an important part of your life, but that you see the majority of your time at work in a professional context.
  • Frame conversations about your family commitments on four hooks. Say you have to tell your boss that you need to leave at 4 p.m. to watch your kindergartner’s ballet recital. You would outline:
  1. Your priorities: Explain to your boss that this is very important and you can’t miss it.
  2. Your next steps: Promise that you will meet any deadlines ahead of 4 p.m.
  3. Your commitment: Confirm that you understand the importance of the project you’re working on.
  4. Your enthusiasm: Reinforce that you’re very excited that she asked you to be part of it.

Remember to find joy.

You’re squeezing in another load of laundry while dinner cooks (be honest: burns), and you realize that you forgot to book your kid’s dentist appointment because you worked through lunch. And you still have a stack of work emails to answer after you get to sleep.

Being a working parent isn’t easy, but it’s not a total grind either. When you’re caught up in a to-do list that you never completely check off, you forget all the satisfying work achievements, all the fun parenting moments, and everything you have achieved that week.

To keep things in perspective, Daisy recommends subsidizing that to-do list with a done list. 

Write down your accomplishments, big and small. For example:

  • You were on time for drop off and pick up
  • Your colleague complimented the report you’ve spent months working on
  • Your kid ate all of her broccoli

When you feel deflated throughout the week, and like you’re failing at home and at work, put down the to-do list and read your done list. You’ll see that you’re accomplishing so much more than you realize when you’re caught up in go mode. You’re making being a working parent work the best way you can.

SUCCESS Stories is no longer releasing new episodes on the SUCCESS Podcast Network, but you can still listen to the full conversation below.

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