Answering Parents' Hard Questions

December 14, 2023 |

How do I juggle childcare and self care?

What are some tips for returning from parental leave?

Back when she was working as an executive coach inside a big corporation, Daisy Dowling was tasked with helping people get ahead in their careers, grow a team leader, get a promotion, etc. And she says she had developed the checklists and the tools to help people work on all those things. 

But then people started asking her questions she did not have answers to, like “I just became a dad six months ago and now I have to get to daycare for pickup every day at 6:30. Can you tell me what I should do now?” or “I am onboarding back from parental leave, what’s my checklist of things?” or “How do I tell people that I wanted to leave for the pediatrician’s because my daughter has a fever?"

So she said she looked for a book on the subject, because there is always a book: “I actually went down to Barnes and Noble one day with my daughter in her stroller down to the flagship, Barnes and Noble here in New York City, and I said, where’s the working parent book?... And the very nice clerk said, ‘oh well, one side of the store.’ And he pointed to it, he said, ‘that’s the parenting section.’ And he said, ‘this other side of the store, that’s the career section.’ And that was it. There was no overlap, but I was one whole human being trying to do both of those things.”

And so Workparenting was born. The book was built on Dowling going out and talking to thousands of other parents about how they had finessed this or that part of the dual roles of parent and worker. “All of us are really busy beating ourselves up,” she says, “saying, I should be able to handle this. I’m a really smart person. I got good grades in college, I should be able to figure this out. But you were never handed a specific role model or a set of examples on how to do it. And unless you’re connected to a lot of other working parents, which is probably hard given you don’t have a lot of extra time, that’s not going to happen.”

The weighty (576-page) book really struck a nerve and has hit the mark with parents, who in their reviews regularly call it “the sequel to What to Expect for working parents.” And many tout Dowling’s clear and easy writing style, “a combination of friend, mentor, favorite aunt, and clinical professional” that “made me feel immediately comforted, assuring me that I am not alone, and then explaining tools and strategies to make things better and easier.” It is, one parent reviewer wrote, “THE how-to book for anyone who is a working parent, hopes to be a working parent, or wants to support the working parents at their organization. Just as What to Expect When You're Expecting has become required reading for anyone with a baby to come, this book should be required reading for anyone who aims to optimize their happiness and success as a working parent.”

Speaking of happiness and success, one tool that Dowling says she often uses when consulting with clients is the “future anchor.” She says it is “a positive vision of where the client wants to be personally and professionally at a certain point in the years ahead.”

“If you can create a mental picture of where you want to be professionally,” she says, “personally, and as a parent years from now, it will make the responsibilities of working parenthood look much more feasible today. With a specific positive outcome in mind – an outcome that you’ve chosen – all the smaller, daily decisions you face will become more straightforward, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that all the hard work you’re putting in right now is serving an important purpose. With a sense of momentum toward that goal, you’ll also feel more energetic and motivated.”

As our nation’s 52 million working parents struggle to get back to a new normal post-pandemic, she says, there are a few things they need to unlearn from that long, dark two years.

First, we need to dial down the “always on” mentality. “We are so committed to the idea of always being on and available to our families and to our work that we can’t draw any distinction between the two,” she says. “We’re just sort of constantly at a boil. If your mind is constantly on your kids, you’re not going to be the person with the most creative comment in the meeting. Your kids don’t want you distracted either. The No. 1 thing here is to unlearn work-life integration. You can be one person, with two distinct roles. We have to learn how to draw those boundaries.”

Second, she says we need to unlearn isolation. “A lot of working parents have gotten into the habit of not talking to other working parents who can advise and support them, who provide that practical information and camaraderie. One of my standard questions with new coaches – in addition to, “When’s the last time you had a day off?” – is, “How many other working parents are you talking to? Who’s in your phone-a-friend network? What does that look like? And what kind of conversations are you having with them?”

Dowling’s talk on March 3 at Festival Boca is sure to be informative and entertaining. Future-anchor yourself now to attend by reserving a ticket today.

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