After the birth of my second child, I was forced to get real one day when I started to take stock of my own long-term goals as a parent. At the time, both my husband and I worked full-time and our kids were both in full-time daycare. And it was working for us. But when I looked ahead three years and pictured my son in elementary school, I knew my parenting goals were different. I pictured being involved in my son and daughter’s future homework, carpools, and activities. I wanted to be fully immersed in the craziness of carpooling kids to and from their playdates and goings-on, and I knew that meant, for myself, that I couldn’t be in the office as much as I had been up to that point. While I still had several years until my oldest child went to kindergarten, I began a parenting version of Goal Setting to the Now and worked backward to determine what I would have to do to make this long-term goal a reality.
The first thing I did was sit down with my boss to discuss my long-term goal. Because it wasn’t a change that had to happen in a week, my boss was open to it. Together, we began envisioning what the change to my role at work would look like if I were to be in the office for fewer hours each day. At home, my husband and I began to discuss how this goal would also impact our family, because let’s face it, fewer hours working translated to a smaller salary. Luckily, the years we had to plan for the change gave us the time to make some changes to our family budget.
My long-term parenting goal was three years in the making. But, as a result of reducing my hours at work, I was able to pick my son up at school on that first day of kindergarten and take him to get some celebratory after school ice cream together with a new friend he had met. It’s a memory I will have forever.
And because I had taken the time to plan for the change, I was able to manage the expectations of my coworkers and peers so that my shorter work days didn’t negatively impact them. No one begrudged me going on that special ice cream trip because I had already kept my professional obligations. It was then that I realized I could achieve a parenting goal and still be successful in the office, while ensuring I had no daycare surprises to negatively impact my bottom line.
Planning worked for my family and it can work for yours.
Planning Ahead for Family Needs
In The ONE Thing, we talk about the importance of time blocking our planning time. It’s the time when we reflect on where we are and where we want to be. At the end of each week, it’s important to put time aside to assess if we’re on track to meet our personal and professional goals. When we give ourselves the time to reflect like this, we can better determine the tweaks that need to be made in our lives to accomplish our goals.
The concept of time blocking our planning time can just as easily be applied to parenting. After all, it’s a job we hold for a long time, so we should make time to get it right. As Medium writer Jessi Craige Shikman reflects, “Parenting is an 18-year gig that affects men, women, adoptive and biological parents, parents with newborns and teenagers – all in different ways.” No matter where we may fall on the parenting spectrum, we should put aside time to look at what we’re achieving as parents, including where we may be succeeding and frankly, where we may fall short.
During this planning time, you’ll look at your family life in two different ways: long-term and short-term.
Kids go through distinct phases that require specific needs. Along with the changes that age brings comes an adjustment in the type of time and care we need to provide. It may seem like an eternity from now, but that baby will be in school before you know it. One minute you’re trying to find someone to meet your kid at the bus stop and the next, they’re – gasp – demolishing a line of orange cones at the DMV. (We’re talking about you, Sharlene.) And your schedule will change entirely once your child is more independent.
Get ahead of things and start planning for these moments now. Sure, life could change along the way. But when you have a map to guide you, it’s easier to navigate than when you’re flying blind.
Like I did with my own children, take stock during this time of the role you envision you’ll play five years from now in your family’s life. We understand that looking out into the parenting distance may seem difficult when we’re knee-deep in the current phase of our child’s life. But, rest assured, just like you’ve worked backward from that someday professional goal to determine what needs to be done at this moment in time, the same should be done for your role as a parent.
Once our long-term plans are in place, we then use our planning time to zero in on the week ahead to determine what our obligations and expectations may be.
During your planning time, we also suggest allotting time for planning the week ahead. When we look at our professional goals, we ask ourselves what must happen in the coming week to be on target to accomplish our monthly goals. Some weeks are busier than others, in both work and play. Your children’s lives are no different.
Many of us feel that we don’t spend enough time with our kids. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, about 40 percent of full-time working mothers and 50 percent of full-time working fathers feel that they spend too little time with their children. While we aren’t able to add hours to the day, we can help you get the most out of the hours you do have in the coming week.
During your time block, make sure to arrange for family time as well. This requires looking at the family calendar to see what the expectations are for the week.
Are there any doctor appointments, sporting activities, or school events to attend? If so, how will you handle attendance? If you plan to be there, make an appointment on your calendar to be there.
When our time is blocked out in advance, others are more likely to respect that you have something to do during that time. If someone else is attending on your behalf, ensure they have accounted for it on their schedule, as well. Communicating these expectations helps mitigate problems and keeps unexpected favors, babysitter bills, or daycare expenses from popping up. When it comes to family obligations, success can require organization and, to be honest, a village. We need to rely on others to help us meet these important commitments as well.
Get a Support System
Some companies, like Evernote, recognize the importance of parents attending these child-centric appointments. To ease the burden of parenthood, they’ve created a culture where it’s okay for their employees to take care of family duties as long as they get their work done.
One Evernote employee, Katie So’oto, explains the importance of keeping organized and looking to others for help in creating success in her own parenting:
“We have amazing leaders here that really help us prioritize our kids and our families. Whether it’s seeing the evening time blocked off on the calendar for their kids or the people who are super protective of their morning drop-offs, its inspirational and a good reminder for me to focus on what’s important….One leader flat-out said to me ‘I need to take this time for my kids because they will remember this moment, while the people in that meeting I’m missing won’t.”
Being around for your kids when it matters most requires buy-in from the people around you at work. When it is time to work, work hard. Meet your deadlines, embrace challenges in the workplace and show your workplace that what you’re doing is helping the company to succeed.
And the same can be done when it comes to your family. Let them know about your priorities outside of work. When it’s time to get your daughter to her mandatory dress-rehearsal, make sure your boss and peers know about it in advance. By clueing them in on your outside responsibilities, they can help you get out the door so you can cheer your little ballerina on.
Work matters, but so does your personal life. If the people around you know where your priorities lay at different times, they will be more willing to support you accomplish your family goals because they see how dedicated you are to helping everyone accomplish their professional goals as well. And embracing this support will help keep surprise childcare costs at bay.