Two out of every three Canadian women with children hold jobs. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Canadian families have both parents in the workplace. The dual role of employee and parent is a challenging balancing act, and the stress it generates has a negative impact on work and productivity.
Dual employee/parent roles and their impact
A national survey conducted in 2015-2016 found that absenteeism costs Canadian companies between 2.7 and 7.7 billion dollars annually. (1) Absenteeism in this study included 1) ill health, 2) family-related issues (e.g., sick child, eldercare), 3) emotional or mental ill health and 4) personal leave day not being granted.
For many working parents, the continual stress of maintaining an active household while holding down a job leads to missed workdays, fatigue, and a reduced capacity to focus and do their best work.
As employers adapt to a changing workforce where labour shortages are expected in practically every industry and sector, a key HR focus will be attracting and retaining quality staff. Given how many of those workers will have children at home, it’s in the best interest of the organization to establish programs and work arrangements which enable parents to effectively balance career demands with parenting duties.
How employers can support employees with children
Many working parents struggle to manage a busy schedule that includes a constant flow of child care needs, medical appointments, school visits and social activities. Workplace flexibility is one of the key elements required to ensure that staff with children are able to balance their parenting and work tasks.
A number of options that employers should consider to help their employees balance work and family obligations were identified in 2001 study. (2) While there’s no one solution for the issue of work-life conflict, employers can take the following steps:
- Make work demands and expectations more realistic,
- Increase employees’ sense of control,
- Provide flexibility regarding work hours
- Creating a more supportive work culture,
- Increase the number of supportive managers in the organization and decrease the number of non-supportive managers.
Work expectations, rewards and benefits should be examined through a “life-cycle” lens. A long-term employee might start with your company as a single person, get married, raise children, become an “empty-nester”, then slowly phase into retirement. Every one of those life stages has different stresses and opportunities, and a fixed, inflexible work arrangement will not suit them throughout their career.
Being an effective parent
Raising a healthy, well-adjusted child is arguably the most important thing a person can accomplish in their lifetime, but there is no “How To” manual provided, nor is there an in-home HR Department you can approach when parenting gets confusing or overwhelming—which it inevitably does.
It’s not possible to live inside your child’s mind and anticipate their every need. There’s no magic solution for every challenge, nor an ideal response for each learning opportunity. If you’ve set the bar that high, relax. The desire to do the best for your children is a good indication that you are consciously working at being a good parent.
There are parenting skills that can be learned which, when combined with a caring and patient heart, will go a long way towards becoming an effective parent. This in turn enables you to better balance parenting with work duties.
Children don’t choose their parents but they do choose who they look up to and model their behaviour after.
Gordon Neufeld, a Canadian psychologist and expert in attachment and parenting issues, comments that “your power as a parent stems from your child being open to being parented by you.” He remarks that all the parenting skills in the world will not help a parent until they have successfully established a connection and attachment with their child. (3)
From the attachment theory perspective, parental ‘power’ (i.e. the ability to influence and direct a child’s behaviour, decision-making, and development) is not a power of force or coercion. Instead, parental ‘power’ is the ability to command a child’s attention, encourage their best behaviour, and stimulate their learning and development.
Ways to facilitate attachment
- Attract your child’s attention in positive ways. Be approachable and involved during your child’s best behavior times. Show how pleased you are. Find ways to attract your child’s attention and keep the interaction positive and warm.
- Spend time with your child when they’re watching a favourite television show or playing a computer game. Ask what it is they like about the activity, praise their skills, make physical contact, engage them in conversation.
- Give your child signs that they matter to you and that they are wanted, special, significant, appreciated, missed, and enjoyed. Give them something to want to hold on to. Use the warmth of your voice or a sincere expression. Invite a connection that your child cannot turn down. Make your time together quality time. No matter what age your child or whether you live in the same household or not, there are many ways to spend time with your child and show them you are interested in what they are doing.
Children can misbehave for any number of reasons. They may not know any better. They may be acting out of frustration or be looking for your attention. They may simply be curious about something and uncertain what the consequences will be.
- Be a role model. The best way to teach your child how to behave in the world is to model that behaviour for them. Children are born copycats. You need to hold yourself accountable and maintain standards that you want your child to emulate. You are the child’s first role model. Be a good one.
- Learn how to listen. If your child asks “When will dinner be ready?”, it’s possible to interpret the meaning behind the question in several ways. Is she hungry? Does she want to know if she has time to watch a cartoon? Does she want to eat quickly and go play with her friends? Until you check it out, any of those interpretations could be incorrect, and your responses will vary. This is the basis of many failures of communication. (This holds true for adults as well.)
- Nurture your child’s self-image and self-worth. Children with a positive self-image values the person they see when they look inside. And they carry this sense of well-being with them in every situation. Here are some key values that promote a strong self-image and feelings of self-worth, all of which parents can help nurture.
- Empathy and compassion. Children who are empathic can get behind the eyes of another person. In other words, they can identify with them and understand why they feel and act the way they do. Children with compassion can help someone feel better because they understand that the person is unhappy or suffering in some way.
- The ability to make wise choices and problem-solve. Children of all ages face many choices and have many problems to solve. By learning to problem-solve and make good decisions your child can choose pathways in life that lead to success and happiness.
- Good communication skills. The ability to communicate well is a quality associated with children who feel understood, have good relationships, and have success at school. Poor communicators not only have difficulty getting their point across, they often don’t understand why they are misunderstood.
- Accountability and responsibility. Children who are responsible and accountable understand the consequences that their behavior has for themselves and for others, and they learn that their choices affect others beside themselves. These are valuable tools for living and getting along with others, and for contributing meaningfully to your family, their relationships, and your community.
3. Neufeld, G. and G. Maté. (2004) Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter. Random House, Inc., New York.