The single working parent manages a delicate balancing act between parental and work duties, even when things are running smoothly. But as any parent knows, life with children can be anything but predictable. A child goes to bed fine and wakes up feverish. A bad day at school ends in a period of suspension. An arrangement with a babysitter falls through – there are many ways in which your carefully planned work/home balance can tip over.
While no plan is ever foolproof, there are ways you can hedge against having to choose between your child and your job. The choice may be a no-brainer, but trying to raise children without a regular wage may not be the best option, so brainstorming coping mechanisms is a necessity.
1. Call your workplace
Always let the boss know what is holding you up rather than just not turning up or pretending to be sick yourself. If you have a good boss, there should be no problem to take a day off to care for a sick child. If there is urgent work that needs to be done, ask if you can complete the work from home. If work is uncooperative, check your rights to time off for caring for sick children in your country or state. No one really wants you to leave a sick child home alone or to drop him off at the emergency center and run.
2. Plan ahead
When you are a parent or planning to become pregnant, caring for your children in an emergency is something you have to factor into your working life. Discuss with your partner what these emergencies will mean to both of you and your work. Your plan might include both missing half a day so someone is always at home with the child, both working part-time or one working from home, or whatever arrangement works best for both. Lay all your cards on the table and work out a flexible plan that will work in most emergencies. If you are a solo parent, you will still need to plan. Look at working from home, sharing a job with someone else, arranging to work online with your employer when there is an emergency or letting a trusted relative live with you.
3. Plan for those emergencies which might not fit your schedules
Emergency backup plans can include parents, grandparents and other relatives or close friends who may be able to help you out, but always discuss it with them first. Never just turn up on a doorstep with a vomiting child expecting someone to be home or able to take care of the child. Make sure you are able to bring medicines and clothes or cover the cost of anything needed. If there is a virus going around check that your backup person isn’t as sick as your child. Never take your backup person for granted, and always show your gratitude for their help by cooking dinner or returning the favor. Backup plans that involve relatives or friends must always be treated with respect.
4. Opt for optimum health
When you’re busy and stressed over stuff like taking time off for your kids, it’s easy to fall into poor health patterns like grabbing takeaway on the way home from work or snacking on cookies and coffee to comfort yourself at night. Fixing up a cold chicken salad doesn’t take longer than a burger drive-in, and grabbing a piece of fruit and a glass of tomato juice takes no longer than tearing open a bag of cookies. The benefits will be the way you and your family feel. Get away from the cellphone and the digital games in the evenings and wind down with a book or board game. Get out at the weekends for a walk in the park. Living a healthier life does not have to be expensive or boring. But it could mean fewer sick days and less stress on your parenting and working lives.
5. Campaign for a better deal
The struggles working parents have to go through to be fair to their children and employers, and the expense involved, is unacceptable in the 21st century. Get vocal on your concerns about caring adequately for your children while holding down a job. It is your right to be able to do both without losing your mind or your job. Lobby governments (state and federal), companies, unions and other organizations that have a responsibility to the health and well-being of the workforce, especially parents in the workforce. Write to your representatives at the state and federal level, get up petitions and offer solutions. This is an important issue. Make those in power sit up and take notice. It is as much to their benefit as yours to have a workforce that can give its best without worrying what is going on at home.
While no plan is perfect, these strategies will help you cope and give you a strong focus until real changes can be made in the workforce. Take every opportunity you can to discuss this situation with your colleagues and friends and keep raising awareness that changes need to be made to create a better, fairer future for all working people.