The above quote, pretty much sums up mine and many others experience of being a working parent. Whilst we talk a lot about attitudes towards working parents having changed, the sad reality is that typically it doesn’t feel that way for many women. Trying to do a great job at two important roles in life – your job and being a parent – can be very stressful and the level of guilt that this evokes can often lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
In HR too often we focus on the transactional aspects of parental leave, ensuring the transactional ‘paperwork’ is completed in accordance with policy and process. We apply a ‘one size fits all’ policy that we roll out time and again, with little thought or time dedicated to the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the parent to be/new parent. Often the wellbeing side of things is left to the line manager to deal with, who typically has very limited experience, understanding or empathy in this space, particularly if they do not have children themselves.
Having recently become a mental health first aider and in my role as of Head of HR, I recognise we need to take a more holistic and personalised approach to supporting new parents in the workplace so that we benefit from the engagement of a fantastic and diverse talent pool of working parents. This change is not going to happen by introducing an amazing, fancy pants policy, process or form, but from small nudges that gradually start to move the dial on attitudes, behaviours, mindsets, assumptions and approaches towards working parents.
There are 3 ways that I am working to nudge us in the right direction these are:
- Raising awareness – holding the mirror up to colleagues, leaders and people managers so they are aware of the impact of their behaviour towards parents to be / working parents and simply talking about it, sharing information and articles so that people are more aware about the subject
- Doing something different – implementing programmes of coaching, training, advice and support for parents to be / working parents and line managers that go beyond the transactional process and policy
- Changing our ways of working – in the world of technology that we live in today managing and leading people from a position of trust than presenteeism, to allow much greater freedom on how, when and where people work to alleviate some of the pressure of juggling two important roles of working and being a parent
The most important thing to recognise as a working parent is that you are doing great and be kind to yourself. Ask for help if you need it and talk about the reality of your experience – everyone feels the same but we tend to portray an image of perfection – so be open and honest, it helps to know you are not alone.