Cracking the code of working parent burnout: Overcoming the guilt
Serial entrepreneur, angel investor and Co-Founder of Kinhub, Erika Brodnock, gives practical tips for leaders navigating parenthood and their careers.
There are currently 13 million working parents in the UK’s workforce. Over 80% of them are reporting signs of burnout.
Being a working parent is one of the most universal career experiences there is – yet there are still distinct delays in workplaces providing the necessary support to ensure a positive experience on all sides.
I know this from experience. As a mother of five, I’ve had my fair share of the trials and tribulations that trying to balance parenthood with a career can bring – working parent guilt in particular.
At Kinhub, I work with employees from a wide array of different industries and familial backgrounds, and I can safely say that guilt is a daily running theme in parent’s minds. As employees strive to meet deadlines, attend meetings, and fulfil job responsibilities, a nagging sense of not being present enough for their children is often eating away at them. The fear of missing important milestones or not being available during times of need can create a near-constant tug-of-war between work and family responsibilities.
From guilt to action
Firstly, for any working parents reading this: you are not alone. Just acknowledging that working parent guilt is a shared experience can be the first step towards tackling it.
One of the key things that I try to pass on to parents that I have coached over the years is that guilt is one of the most useless emotions that you’re going to encounter. It is very rare for guilt to facilitate anything productive – it just makes you feel worse and worse about yourself, further preventing you from doing the thing you’re feeling guilty about in the first place. If there is a way to shift that guilt and consciously choose another emotion, I always advocate for that. Anger and worry, whilst unpleasant, are far less debilitating, and often lead towards taking an initiative or a course of action.
In that same vein, however, it is essential for working parents to be kind to themselves and understand that they are doing their best to provide for their families and create a brighter future for their children. There is so much pressure to excel in every capacity: as a professional, as a parent, as a homemaker, as a human being – and it’s not realistic to be able to do all of these things all at once, all the time.
A turning point for me, both in my personal life and in the lives of the people I coach, was learning how to compartmentalise. I now create a ‘today list’, as opposed to a ‘to-do list’, splitting my time into chunks that cover all of my responsibilities for the day, both professional and parental. I’m a big believer in Brian Tracy’s “Eat that Frog!” methodology, often delegating the beginning portion of my day to covering the most difficult or strenuous tasks, so that when they are done, I’m able to get on with my day without worrying about completing them.
Another benefit of this system is that it allows specific time for “rewards”, which for me will often look like an hour or two to read a book or spend some quality time with my children.
Another predominant issue that we notice is inflexible working conditions for working parents. There are a multitude of different ways that businesses can make life easier for their employees, and yet, there seems to be widespread reticence in their implementation.
The provision of adequate parental leave, for example, is a critical aspect of supporting working parents. It provides security during a vital transition, allowing parents to focus on their family’s needs, and of course, goes some way toward reducing parental guilt. Granting parents the opportunity to prioritise their children’s well-being without compromising their financial stability is as important for Dads as it is for Mums, so I highly recommend parental rather than maternity and paternity leave to our partner organisations. Enabling parents to solidify their routine and bond with their children before easing back into work, reduces attrition, whilst engendering company loyalty.
In addition, offering flexible work options, such as remote work or flexible hours, is key to empowering parents in the workforce. Not only does this allow employees to be present, both at work and at home, but it also conveys a sense of employer empathy and trust and results in a happier, more dedicated workforce.
Being a working parent is an intricate and fulfilling journey, but it comes with its share of challenges. Employers can play a significant role in creating a family-friendly working environment by implementing supportive programs for working parents, fostering a culture that values work-life balance and acknowledges individual needs. With mutual support and understanding, working parents can navigate the juggling act more smoothly and cherish the joys of both their professional and family lives.
Serial Founder, CEO, MBE, and a working parent of 5 children, Erika Brodnock has encountered the realities of racism, sexism, and maternity discrimination, all of which served as the driving force behind the creation of Kinhub. Through the company, she aspires to create a fairer workplace for everyone, envisioning a future where the narrative is transformed to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.