By Renee Brown
As single parents, most of us don’t have the option of being at home with our kids. If we don’t work, nothing works. And the stress we carry from the need to make it all happen — keep the kids happy, keep the lights on, keep the health insurance intact — can be downright oppressive.
With the exception of a couple bouts of unemployment due to layoffs or maternity leaves, I’ve worked steadily since age 16. I love to work, but I have not always loved the work, due to occasional cranky bosses or wildly dysfunctional office situations. Through the years (well, make that decades) as a single parent, I’ve discovered a solution that helps to make my work life stronger, thus helping to ground my home life. We all know that when we carry work stress home, we are short-tempered with our kids. We have little energy to cook healthy meals or sit on the couch and read aloud from Harry Potter. All we want to do is ignore our responsibilities and slink into bed with a tub of Ben & Jerry. But let’s be real, we don’t have that luxury.
Here’s what has worked really well for me:
Somewhat early on in my time at a company, I would invite my boss out for coffee or breakfast (lunch seems to be impossible to schedule). I would have an agenda ready in my head, but show up with a casual vibe, so the meeting felt more like a conversation. I would clearly lay out my situation: I was a single parent who was fully dedicated to my job, but I additionally had high level responsibilities as a parent handling just about everything all on my own. That may mean occasional sick days, parent-teacher conferences, band concerts, snow days, and so on.
I let my boss know that these are important events that I want to attend, and then I showed her what my plan was. For example, when one of my boys was sick, I would work from home and be available via phone and email. For time out of the office for kids’ events, I let her know how I planned to make up those hours. The idea was to completely plan ahead and be 100 percent proactive. My boss could see that I was dedicated to the company, and she respected and appreciated that I laid out a solid plan, so everyone knew what to expect when the unexpected happens. Because it will happen.
I found it helpful to have the best intentions and then really prove myself as a committed employee who was equally as devoted to her family life. I did my best to work while I was at work and then let it go to be fully present with my boys after hours. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. There were definitely times where the boys watched Thomas the Tank Engine while I tapped away on my laptop, but I tried my best to have two separate lives.
By working on finding a middle ground between my career and family, my boss could relax a bit, knowing that I had a system in place and that I would always do my best to fulfill my work duties. That meant I could also relax, knowing that I did a great job of planning for the worst, while hoping for the best.
Renee lives in Minneapolis and has two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary, plus three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive in advertising and an avid reader, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.