Work and family are both challenging and rewarding.
One of the most rewarding elements of life is to parent a child. But parenting also comes with challenges when moms and dads are working, juggling responsibilities and responding to all kinds of demands.
Unfortunately, a regular mantra of all kinds of parents in all kinds of jobs is they don’t get the support they need. Support can come in many forms and a study by Arizona State University points to key elements which are most supportive—and how working parents can find, expand and sustain the support they need.
A combination of support systems is best—with programs, policies and scaffolding created by organizations, communities and parents themselves. And in particular, parents can create certain types of positive relationships—creating the conditions for satisfaction and fulfillment.
Multiple Right Answers
A critical place to begin is with the understanding that work and parenthood don’t have to be at odds. Classic studies on working moms have demonstrated all kinds of work patterns, hours and routines can work for parents and children. What’s more important than working hours—whether parents work full time, part time or don’t work outside the home—is whether they are satisfied with their choices. There is a significant spillover effect. When people are happier in their work and working hours, this tends to influence their life in the home as well.
Therefore, as much as possible, seek to align what you love to do with what you have to do. You’ll rarely get perfect overlap, but more intersection is helpful to happiness. In addition, seek to align your schedule with your own preferences. This may not always be possible, but when it is, it is also a solid recipe for satisfaction.
Of course, some aspects of work responsibilities and scheduling will be outside of your control, so you can also remind yourself that doing your best is also instructive for kids. When children see parents working hard, dedicated to expressing their talents and contributing to the family and the community, these are good things which in turn influence children’s views on the importance of contributing and being part of a community.
The Support Parents Need
Parents experience support when they feel they are understood, appreciated and when they can obtain comfort and help when it’s necessary. These are consistent with the fundamentals of all kinds of great relationships—personal and work-related—where people feel seen, heard and feel a sense of empathy and compassion.
In the Arizona State University study, there were three particular elements of relationships which were most important—and here are the implications for how you can build the best relationships.
#1 – Unconditional Acceptance and Comfort
In the study, one of the primary elements of support was when parents felt they had unconditional acceptance and the comfort of friends. Everyone needs relationships where friends offer challenging support or help solve problems. But in this study, an even bigger contributor to parents feeling supported was having unconditional acceptance.
And this unconditional support can be tough to find. Parents face plenty of criticism and dogma—about everything from their children’s sleeping and eating habits to discipline and family time. In addition, parental bias can create pressure. With this type of bias, people see great parenting and assume the person probably doesn’t devote himself fully to her job, or sees great professional achievement and assumes the person probably isn’t a great parent. But despite this bias, parenting isn’t zero sum. In fact, people can be great parents and great performers at work—of course.
The implication: Find friends who tune in, check in and listen without judgment or criticism. Let friends know when you just need to talk, and when you want to avoid advice or solutions. When you find relationships where you can be vulnerable and be accepted, nurture those and invest time in them.
In addition, be the kind of friend who offers non-challenging support and a safe haven for those who need it—allowing others to disclose concerns without judgment. You can also seek out support groups of people who have common interests. Often small groups can create safe spaces to talk about circumstances or situations which are uniquely challenging or difficult.
Working parents can draw strength from strong friendships.
#2 – Authenticity in Relationships
Another aspect of support is authenticity in relationships. So when you’re seeking to create a life where you feel most supported as a working parent, this is an element of relationships to prioritize. Authenticity is when you can be real with someone and when there is a high level of honesty, trust, respect and open communication. In an authentic relationship, you can be true to your values and your personality, while you’re also deeply respectful of someone else.
The implication: Seek relationships where you can really be yourself, and invest time in these more than you invest time in other connections. Share your views, seek ideas from others, accept people even when they may have different perspectives, because this tends to create a positive trajectory for the relationship.
#3 – Satisfaction with Friendships
A third element of support is satisfaction with friendships. When working parents were satisfied with their relationships, they tended to feel greater levels of overall support. Interesting research on happiness finds when you feel a greater level of fulfillment outside of work, you also tend to perceive greater happiness within your work. The spillover effect operates from personal life to your work (in addition to operating the other way around as well).
A recent study showed that because of the pandemic, many people reflected, regrouped and reprioritized their time and activities, placing family and community at the top of their lists. In addition, people said they became more selective about their friends. The logic applies here as well. Working parents often face time scarcity in which they lack the capacity for all the demands and desires of life. So deciding which friendships are most satisfying and which relationships are most fulfilling can be an important approach.
The Implication: Be selective about the people with whom you spend time and build relationships. Prioritize people who inspire you and from whom you can learn. And nurture relationships where you have fun, enjoy similar activities and can be yourself. You can also consider finding groups where there is plenty of diversity so you can expand your perspectives and also groups where you feel commonality and kindred spirits. Both are important to fulfillment and satisfaction.
While parenting can be challenging, it is also tremendously rewarding as well—and when working parents feel supported, it can make all the difference. Humans crave strong relationships and connections, and they also crave to contribute and express their skills and abilities. So building meaningful relationships which support both work and parenting is an important way to empower yourself as a fulfilled and satisfied working mom or dad.
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