Friday, January 12, 2018

Being a Working Parent and Letting Go of the Guilt

One of the trickiest pieces of parenting that I did not anticipate was how working would fit into it. Would I have to work? Would I want to? How would it affect my kids? Could we live on one income if I didn't? And the big one: Who would take care of my children? Since having children eleven years ago I have taken a maternity leave, worked outside the home and worked from home with a photography business. Do I have it all figured out? Almost. Maybe. I asked my friend Melissa about her working parent journey and if you don't have time to read it all, skim to the end where she talks about regrets and guilt. Do it. 

A big thanks to Melissa for sharing her wisdom on the working parent balance.

Being a working parent–how do you know if you have to or want to go back to work? How do you deal with the guilt that can come with it?


Provide a little background to your work history throughout your parenting journey up to where you are today.

My vocational journey has been a winding road. I got hired as a paramedic when I was three months pregnant with my oldest. Being a paramedic was my dream job, and I had been working for a number of years on gaining the work experience and training needed in order to get hired. Because I was hired early in my first pregnancy, I began my career and my parenting journey at the same time.

I have four kids, and when each came along I took my 12 month maternity leave, and I worked ‘part time’ or casual relief when they were little. I worked as many as 40 hours a week and as few as 12 hours a week, depending on the season of life and the needs of our family at the time. When my youngest was born, I took a two year hiatus from the work force, returning to paramedicine when she was two.

When she started kindergarten, I went back to school to do a two year program to become an Advanced Care paramedic. I’m in my third term of that program right now, and will finish this upcoming spring. This was good timing for us because all the kids were in full time school, freeing me up to follow a new, more intense vocational path.

Explain when you went back for good and why it was/wasn't good timing. Is there ever a good time?

I would like to challenge the cultural assumption that underlies this question of women as parents and as members of the work force. It is a function of a certain level of economic privilege to assume that one parent should exit the work force while their children are young, and it so frequently falls on women to sacrifice their vocation in order to be home while they are young.

I am including myself in that cultural assumption; I took full advantage of the temporal flexibility available to me as a ‘part time’ or casual employee because I wanted to be present for my kids’ childhood as much as possible. I worked around my husband’s shift work schedule and appreciated the opportunity to be home as much as possible. I think these are amazing and positive, and I wouldn’t say I regret it. But I do think that I bought into the cultural assumption that children ‘need’ a parent at home too readily, and that my career and income earning ability and my vocational development stalled as a result.

Research actually shows that children do very well in cultures that have ready access to high quality child care and where women participate heavily in the work force, and if I had to do it again I would likely enter the ‘full time’ ranks much earlier than I did, trusting that my children, my husband, and myself are capable of more than our culture believes when it comes to balancing work and family life.
Why is it important to you to work outside of the home?

Working outside the home isn’t for everyone, and I would never presume to dictate what is right for another woman when it comes to work, family, balance, or life satisfaction. I am a proponent of flexibility when it comes to cultural roles for women (and for men), which means promoting a culture that supports all choices and all manner of creative solutions to raising kids and earning an income and continual personal growth.

For many families, being able to afford housing and food and the basics of life in our area of the country makes it absolutely necessary for both parents to work. This is true for us, too. But most of all for me, work gives me a strong sense of accomplishment by providing numerous short term problems to solve that show tangible results. My job is important, and I am good at it, which helps my sense of identity. 

I also find great personal satisfaction in contributing financially to my family both short and long term. I enjoy meeting and interacting with a vast array of people, cultures, and odd situations through my job, and feel strongly that I make a tangible difference in people’s lives. This is why it’s so important to me to do the job I do.

What is the hardest part of the working parent balance? Is there even balance?

The hardest part of being a working parent is when my kids are disappointed that I can’t be present for an event or activity that they want me to be a part of. This is partly because I work, and partly because of the nature of my work schedule. I want to be there for every game, school event, and concert but it’s just not possible when you work odd hours. It’s actually not possible for those who work regular hours sometimes, too; for example my friends who are teachers often cannot go to their kids’ field trips or school events unless they are in the evening. My husband and I try very hard to ensure at least one of us is available for the kids’ events and activities but sometimes it’s not possible, and that’s hard. Our kids understand that we both have important jobs that help people, and that we try our hardest to be there whenever we can.

The second hardest part is when I can’t be fully available or present for my job because I am a parent. When our kids are sick one of us has to go home from work, or I have to take a break while I help sort out how to get my son his glasses or the lunch he forgot. I can’t pause my personal life and be available to pick up extra shifts at the drop of a hat, because I have a family that needs me. In a prehospital system that is critically understaffed, being available more often would be helpful. These are more minor issues for me but for someone who works for a private company might find this hinders career advancement or even threatens their employment.

To answer your question regarding balance; yes, I believe there is a balance. It requires years of practice, and some flexibility as to one’s personal expectations, but yes, balance is achievable. By expectations I mean both personal expectations as far as whether one will feel balanced all the time (the answer is no), and expectations such as being personally present at every sporting event or being available for extra shifts or projects at work. And also expectations such as the level of housekeeping you will be able to maintain, and how often you will buy prepackaged salad and frozen lasagna rather than make a homemade dinner from scratch. I have historically underestimated my ability to balance work and family, but it is definitely possible.

What helps working outside the home go more smoothly? What should parents consider?

Sharing is caring. Shared roles, shared responsibilities, and a shared google calendar. My husband and I share cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, and kid raising responsibilities and the key to both of us working is communication. We share a google calendar on our phones and it makes our life possible. We also have a fridge calendar the kids can refer to, which frightens people when they come to our house to visit because each day has so many entries! My kids are definitely old enough to help with cooking and household chores. I’m also a proponent of outsourcing. I love to cook, but I will happily buy chopped salad in a bag rather than make it myself if I don’t have time. I’m hoping next year to hire a dog walker and a get a biweekly house cleaner as well. Sometimes, I will pay a tailor or a house painter rather than do it myself, because my time is valuable. When my kids were babies, we had a diaper service to cut down on the laundry work. Outsourcing helps me focus in on the things I have to do, and the things I love to do.

What would be your piece of advice for those that are contemplating whether or not to work outside the home?

My one piece of advice for those who are working outside the home or are contemplating it is to stop feeling guilty about it. We live in a wonderful country that supports and values families and women’s contributions to society. We have good quality daycare, public school, and after school activities and all of us deserve to thrive. Also, it gets easier as your kids get older! It is a bit of a hot mess when they are small, but that’s true whether you stay home, work from home, work part time, or work full time. Having small kids is a busy stage of life, no matter how you shake it.

I don’t regret working, nor do I regret pausing my career advancement to have temporal flexibility when my kids were small, but I do regret underestimating what I could manage or accomplish when it comes to working and parenting. I regret quitting for two years after my last baby was born. And I regret all the effort I put into feeling guilty for being at work. What a load of wasted energy. I have a lot to offer and gain from my family and my job, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have both.


This can be a tricky topic and there is no right answer as each person's needs and desires differ. I want to thank Melissa for her insight on this topic. You rock, girl!

Melissa is a self professed kid wrangler, medical enthusiast, and artist. She lives in Victoria BC with her husband and their four kids, aged 14, 13, 9, and 6. Melissa is a paramedic and loves human biology and the art of prehospital medicine. She also enjoys painting, creative writing, and fibre arts in her admittedly limited spare time. She is an avid lover of the outdoors and is always up for a day of hiking, camping, snowboarding, exploring a forest or sunbathing at the beach.

No comments:

Post a Comment