The Parenting and Work Juggle
I came back to work three and half years after having my child. I was so ready to start having adult conversations that were not based around how my child had slept the night before, or the struggles about how they napped, or what they had eaten. It was time. And I was more than ready.
After the thrill of securing a full time role wore off, reality came knocking. Conversations about childcare and the realignment of responsibilities needed to be had. Fortunately for me, I have a very supportive husband, who accommodated and adapted to my new schedule. Despite the typical challenges that occur when we trade in our old routines for new ones, everything was ticking along great; there were no major hiccups for anyone in my family, and the adjustments seemed to have happened without much strife or drama.
But then my child got sick. Like, up all night with a fever sick. Luckily this all went down on a Friday night, so I anticipated that things would be sorted by Monday morning, and we could continue as regularly programmed. But that was not the case. It was clear on Sunday night that someone needed to stay home on Monday. And that someone needed to be me.
I was nervous to let my employer know. I was relatively new to the organisation, and I was apprehensive about how me having to take a day off for a sick child would be perceived. How would that request be viewed? Am I really even ready for the work/family challenge? Should I just stop working all together? Dramatic?— sure! But, as someone who never took time off prior to having a child, and this being the first time I’d needed to take time off for a situation that was totally out of my control, those worst case scenarios took centre stage.
After I mustered up the courage to send that Sunday night email, the response back was not only fast, but very supportive. There was no trace of the negative comments that I had so enthusiastically envisioned. Relief set in immediately which enabled me to then focus on my child, who after what seemed to be our umpteenth visit to the doctor, was diagnosed with not one, but two, ear infections.
As winter is finally behind us, fewer sick days for my young child are undoubtedly on the horizon. But the experience has stayed with me. Why was I so nervous about taking the time off to focus on my child? Why was I so apprehensive about prioritising my personal needs ahead of my work life in this situation?
Parents—and mothers— have been managing this delicate balance between home life and work for a long time. It’s not a new situation, but the greater acceptance of flexible time, along with supportive employers, is relatively new. The landscape of employee values is changing, and I can attest to that change. Not so long ago, I didn’t appreciate how critical it was to have the ability to take time off for a sick child, but I now do. And that change in thinking got me curious about what that means for many of us on a grander scale; who else needs that ability to utilise flexi hours and an employer who appreciates that sometimes, personal life needs to take the centre stage?
Enter Madison’s Employment Market Report. Filled with salary information and loads of great information about the job market across multiple industries here in New Zealand, the section labelled ‘Themes and Insights’ was where I found my answers. Both men and women have indicated that ‘flexi working opportunities’ are highly valued by employees when looking for a new role; to the tune of 91% of those polled. More specifically, ‘flexible hours’ scored 90% of what is attractive to potential employees. ‘Remote/working from home’ came in a strong second at 89%. And, I know, that not all those who participated in our survey are working parents, many people want flexi hours for multiple, valid reasons.
For employers of today’s workforce, paying attention to the values of employees, including those who are managing both work and children and other responsibilities, will serve them well. Promoting the ethos that employers understand and empathise with working parents not only makes good business sense, it fosters a relationship of genuine good will between employers and employees.
I know that my experience is not a unique one, and will undoubtedly happen again, because, let’s face it, young kids get sick—and often. Having the support of my new employer enabled me to feel reassured that not only could I take the time off to focus on my child, but that were not negative repercussions. Thus making my return on the Tuesday something to look forward to, rather than something to dread.