3 pm to 5 pm.
These two hours have created more heartache, friction, and unnecessary drama than any other hours in the day. Why? Because that’s where the rubber hits the road for working parents. 3 pm is when school gets out. 5 pm is when work (typically) ends.
From the day my son was born, I struggled to balance being a good mother with doing meaningful work. It’s a common problem, and one that has not gone away despite advances in technology, efforts by companies to be more flexible, and the availability of care choices.
It’s even more frustrating because science tells us that the way we work is not optimized for productivity. The human body is not designed to work like a machine, in a sustained, steady way for eight hours straight. Yet the 40-hour schedule remains an entrenched legacy of the Industrial Revolution.
Working parents have the power to change things
It’s easy to feel alone when you’re trying to figure out a way to align your schedule. Here’s some news that should help: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 69% of moms with kids under the age of 18 work, and of those, 75% work full-time. That’s one-third of the U.S. workforce. With a population that large, we do have some leverage to push for change!
It would be great if schools and employers would get together and make this problem go away, but since that could take a while, you might need to take matters into your own hands. Here are some ways to close the gap if your goal is to be a great parent and great worker:
Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you’re working full-time and your child is in an after-school program, as long as he or she is safe and happy, you’re doing a great job! We’d all love to be right there at the bus every day with a plateful of chocolate chip cookies, but that’s not realistic. Don’t drive yourself crazy feeling guilty or worrying that other people are doing this better. Life is challenging enough without adding extra self-criticism into the mix.
Negotiate. At this moment, we are in a tight labor market. Organizations are looking for new ways to attract and retain talent. It’s a great time to negotiate flexible hours or a work-from-home option, if your job allows that. Don’t wait for your manager or your company to come to you; take the bull by the horns and create a plan yourself. You might be surprised at how well it is received.
Consider freelancing. If you are a creative or technical professional (web designer, graphic artist, writer, software developer), there are lots of opportunities to work remotely and/or to work a flexible schedule. Job boards like FlexJobs and Indeed will allow you to search for these opportunities, and there are more of them today than ever before.
Job share. Know someone who does what you do? Partner up and see if you can create a job share which allows you to trade off afternoons or create a schedule that works for both of you.
If I could wave my magic wand and close the gap between school schedules and work schedules, I would do it in a heartbeat. But since this problem has lingered now for decades, it’s clear that we can’t rely on the institutions to push for the changes that help working parents keep their sanity. The good news is that you can find a solution that works for you.
AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center offers frequent networking opportunities throughout the year so that working moms—or anyone—can connect with like minds to create solutions and opportunities. Become a WLC member to take advantage of free or discounted training events along with the networking events.