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Making it Work as a Working Parent

If work-life fulfillment is as strange a concept to you as extended periods of well-deserved me time, our experts have some tips to make your life easier – just in time for Working Parents Day.

by Alexandra Ciuntu
1,023 views
10 min. read

They should give out medals for raising children while juggling a job – just ask any working parent. Unfortunately, the pandemic only exacerbated the work-life balance struggle for working parents, who sometimes find themselves having to choose between childcare and making a living.

In 2021, 96.5% of married-couple families had at least one employed parent and, in 62.3% of similar families, both parents were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that a large majority of American families with kids are no strangers to hectic schedules, stress build-up, burnout, and all-around work/life balance struggles.

So, as urgent emails pile up on your way to picking up the kids from school, try to make some time to read the following expert advice on making the most of life as a working parent. It just might make your life — and your family’s — much easier.

Rely on Rules

Being able to work from home can be a blessing and a curse. While reducing your commute time and getting to spend more time with the family is great, it can be tough to separate (and equally balance) the two lives. Furthermore, distractions from your personal life can impact your work productivity, while extended focus on work and disregard for break times can lead to exhaustion and cause you to snap at others.

According to Cynthia Wang, Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, families may suffer when they feel their parents’ attention is divided: “So, when it comes to attending to this challenge, it’s important for parents to set up clear norms and boundaries within their household to make sure there is a way to successfully attend to each,” she said.

Karen Kramer, Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, agrees: “Detachment has been shown to be related to better family outcomes, and other positive outcomes like better sleep,” she says. “I think detachment can be achieved by structure and behavioral habits.”

For this reason, working parents must take the extra step of training themselves — as well as the children — to actively form structure and behavioral habits, such as avoiding work talk during family time, keeping work-related items in a particular room (having an office area is ideal), or ditching phones during family mealtime.

Parenting expert Vicki Broadbent adds that transitioning from working professional to parent takes practice, but it can be done with strict rules: “I’m strict about switching off,” she says. “I put my phone away when dropping my kids off at school and during pick-up and bedtime hours so I can focus on them”.

Mother and daughter using laptop, home office

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Embrace Expert Advice

The 71% of American mothers who are currently employed can attest to the fact that switching from mom to professional and vice versa takes skill. Yet, for workers who are invested in their children — but also their jobs — work-life balance can seem out of reach. In fact, Kramer stated that “being a working professional is a state of mind that is very difficult to disengage from.”

It’s true that handling the simultaneous demands of professional and personal life is not for everyone.  This might be one of the contributing factors explaining why so many people nowadays are postponing major life decisions, such as starting a family. The good news is that it’s definitely doable. The not-so-good news is that it takes time, effort, patience and some expert help.

Read more from our experts below:

Karen Kramer
Karen Kramer
Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Achieving work-life balance is the goal. What may cause one side to thrive to the detriment of the other?

I don’t have much faith in work-life balance. This seems to be, for most people, an unrealistic expectation. I would rather working individuals, and parents, in particular, focus on minimizing work-life conflicts and maximizing the opportunities for work-life enrichment.

As for what can cause one side to thrive to the detriment of other, I would say that inability to have boundaries between work and life can be detrimental to life. Work is a better-defined domain with clearer boundaries, and life has a harder time penetrating and interfering with work. Life, on the other side, has blurred boundaries and work can easily interfere with life unless the working individual proactively sets the boundaries. Another way to think about it is that boundaries at work are many times determined by the employer and the working individual has limited ability to change these boundaries, while in life, the individual is responsible for setting the boundaries and not all of us are good at it. Simply stated, sometimes you need to say “no” to extra work, not answer emails before you go to sleep, and let work emails wait until the next workday.

In your opinion, how can one ease the transition from a professional to a family role?

I think being a working professional is a state of mind that is very difficult to disengage from. In research, we identified workplace detachment as a key for a healthy transition from the work role to the family role. Detachment has been shown to be related to better family outcomes, and other positive outcomes like better sleep. The problem is that it is not clear how one can detach from work – research also shows the negative impact of rumination of family and health outcomes.

I think detachment can be achieved by structure and behavioral habits. For example, have rules like “no phone during dinner” and “not answering emails after 7:00 PM”. Also, get to behavioral routines. Get out of your work clothes as soon as you get home, turn off notifications from work email, place all work-related stuff like documents in a different room, etc.

Is work-from-home beneficial for parents or not – and if so, in what ways? How has working from home affected working parents and their families?

I think it is good for some and bad for others. It really depends on how old your kids are, how supportive your boss is, whether you have a home office, and more.

I think that work-from-home might be good as a short-term solution to address specific needs or emergencies. In the long-term, I am afraid work-from-home will negatively impact workers’ career growth. I am especially concerned that it would widen the gender gap that has been (very) slowly narrowing. After all, most parents who stay at home are women, and if the reality of work-from-home would be (probably already is) that it is mostly women who work-from-home and mostly men that go to the office, women’s careers would suffer.


Cynthia Wang
Cynthia Wang
Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations
Kellogg School of Management
Northwestern University
Achieving work-life balance is the goal. What may cause one side to thrive to the detriment of the other?

Our research has found that when occurrences at work calls into question whether someone is a good parent, work can suffer. For example, I might need to work late into the night on a presentation because I need to meet a deadline or travel for work and, unfortunately, miss out on my child’s cello recital. In these situations, my identity as a parent might be threatened because I perceive that this occurrence at work has called into question me as a good parent. Across multiple studies, we find that this parental identity threat increases working parents’ shame, which in turn reduces work productivity. However, what also occurs when there is greater threat is we spend more time parenting and spending quality time with our children – so parenting thrives to the detriment of work.

Is work-from-home beneficial for parents or not – and if so, in what ways? How has working from home affected working parents and their families?

I think it has its pros and cons. On one hand, we have more time we can spend with our families – we no longer have to commute to work and transition between locations. On the other hand, more time doesn’t necessarily mean quality time. Parents have a lot less work-family separation when they work from home, and it means that there is a constant struggle to balance both at the same time. In some ways, this lack of separation may cause greater parental identity threat because both family and work concerns are salient in this type of situation. Families will also suffer because they will see that parents’ attention is divided. So, when it comes to attending to this challenge, it’s important for parents to set up clear norms and boundaries within their household to make sure there is a way to successfully attend to each.


Vicki Broadbent
Vicki Broadbent
Broadcaster, lifestyle blogger and parenting expert
Author of “The Working Mom
Achieving work-life balance is the goal. What may cause one side to thrive to the detriment of the other?

It’s a juggling act, and balls are dropped constantly for all working parents. I often find when my work life is going smoothly, it’s sometimes at the expense of my family life and vice versa. What has helped me hugely, though, is to work smartly, to limit my workload to the most fruitful and enriching work which pays the most, so I commit to fewer campaigns and projects, freeing up more time for my family whilst my business continues to grow. I did work incredibly hard for 8 years to get to this position enabling me to work part-time (with the help of a small freelance team), so I can tell you first-hand that overnight success is a myth. Working remotely and flexibly is the key when it comes to running my own digital business around my young family. I’m lucky to have a robust support system, too, with family helping with childcare and close friends nearby. That help is invaluable.

In your opinion, how can one ease the transition from a professional to a family role?

I’m strict about switching off. I put my phone away when I’m dropping my kids off at school, and during pick-up and bedtime hours so I can focus on them (which is why business contacts will usually receive emails between 9 and 11 PM). When I’m working, I equally focus on the job at hand.

I work a 2-day week currently, so on the days I’m not working, I focus on my baby and older children. It was tricky at first (we’re all attached to our phones), but I’ve become good with the transition. It takes practice, but I don’t want to miss out on being there for my kids. Having my desk tucked away in the spare room helps (I moved from the kitchen as that was merging my two worlds too much and I couldn’t focus on either), and I have an out-of-office email switched on whenever I’m unavailable/not working. It’s so important to exercise boundaries.

Is work-from-home beneficial for parents or not – and if so, in what ways? How has working from home affected working parents and their families?

I think it is because it offers me a way to work more flexibly. The internet never sleeps, but my kids do, so I can work when they rest. I couldn’t do that if I was in an office. You do have to be strict about your work and home life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.