The Parentess

The Parentess is the fully accountable physical parent who also maintains a job or career. This working mother has chosen or accepted a role that puts children before career. This does not mean that her job is not demanding or meaningful.  She may have a high-powered job but her income is discretionary to the financial health of her family.  And because her income is not required, she has flexibility with her job choices. She may change jobs or reduce her work schedule to accommodate parenting demands. 

She acknowledges that her choice to act as the primary physical parent has probably altered and slowed her career progress. But she values her work and would not want to “opt-out”. Among woking mothers responding to the PRIMARY DIMEMMA™ research, 22% identified themselves as a Parentess. The following profiles of Samantha, Jodi and Whitney demonstrate their approaches for managing career and family.

Samantha (College Administrator): “I gave up my career working in a demanding position in our court system. So in essence, I gave up my career for my children. But it has led me down another path working at a college that I have more passion for and feel that I have a real purpose. So to me, I was originally resentful, but life had a way of putting me on the path that I should be on.”

Jodi (Social Worker): “My partner is extremely supportive but I am the go-to person for the kids’ activities, scheduling, field trips, sick days. Therefore, I have a job and he has a career. It may not be that way forever. But it works for our family now.”

Whitney (Publishing): “It was a milestone when I met my now job-share partner. We both have young kids and the job-share has allowed us to maintain challenging roles in a large company while also working part-time. This arrangement is also more satisfying in that I have a true ally in an otherwise very competitive environment. Someday, I hope to go back to full-time work. But this keeps me in the game, while still letting me be a very present mom.”

Each of these women is a Parentess and each has a very different perspective on her career. Samantha has reinvented herself in a new career that allows her to be available to her kids. Jodi recognizes that her work is important but she is not burdened by building a career. Whitney is a transitional Parentess. She has modified her career to part-time. But she maintains the desire to accelerate her career in the future.

Work: There is broad variation within this method for job demands and career commitment.  For many Parentesses, this method is transitional – bridging them through to a time in the future when their children are older and they can return to life as a Workable. For others it reflects a philosophical approach to work-family balance where work is only one part of living. If you are transitional, then make sure to choose your work roles carefully to keep your career progressing. Walk the delicate balance of demanding flexibility at work but avoid being mommy-tracked. You will need to over-perform to accomplish this.  Keep your employer and co-workers focused on WHAT you do, not HOW you do it.  Results are what matter.  Good talent gets recognized.  And you will too, even if you need to leave at 3pm to pick up your kids at school.  If you choose work but aren’t interested in building a career then choose a job carefully.  You want a job that you won’t take home.  Don’t get sucked in.  Remember that that you have made a choice.  Say no to demands beyond the scope of your job.  Click here for more information on work.

Childcare: The Parentess still needs help with childcare. But the care may be supplemental as opposed to full-time.  After care at school, a part-time baby sitter or family members may be enough.  A huge mistake reported by the Parentess is juggling work and childcare AT THE SAME TIME.  Perhaps this is a familiar scene in your world…you are working on your computer with children at home.  Your child is begging you for attention.  You are not truly focused on anything.  Work suffers, your children suffer and you suffer.  An important lesson is to invest in childcare.  No one can do two things well at exactly the same time.  Respect the importance of your work and your parenting.  Especially if you are a transitional Parentess who will be seeking career advancement in the future.  Extra childcare, if affordable, can enable you to get more done with higher quality and more sanity.  And remember to create time with your kids where work is completely TURNED OFF.  For more detailed information on childcare click here for the Resource Section.

Relationship: Do you ever feel that you are sacrificing your work for the career success of your partner?  Your work family choices may be enabling your partner to pursue his or her career ambitions.  Communicate with your partner about this dynamic.  It is healthy to have open discussion about the roles that you each play in your family and the impact that those roles have for you as individuals.  It may be a mutually attractive agreement.  Too often the career sacrifices of the Parentess are undervalued.  In her book Work-Family Role Choices for Women in Their 20s and 30s: From College Plans to Life Experiences, Cherlyn Granrose describes what happens when women’s roles align and disconnect from expectations.  They recognize the important influence of a spouse or partner.  For more information on managing your relationship, click here.

You: You have probably created a little breathing space in your schedule to spend time with your kids. Slice a tiny bit of that breathing space out for yourself, without your kids. You are the caregiver to your kids and possibly your partner. Care for yourself by doing at least one hour of something that you love each week. Garden, exercise, read. This hour can become time for your partner to take over as primary parent. Believe it or not, your partner may feel that he or she needs permission to take on the primary parent role.  Give permission!  By being a little selfish, you are generously fostering a stronger relationship between your partner and children.  Your selfishness will benefit everyone!

Ask yourself the following key questions on a regular basis:

  • What are my goals and am I on track to achieve them in some form?

  • Do I feel empowered with choices to achieve my goals?

The answers to these questions should be “yes”.  But “getting to yes” is not always easy.  Think about your answers based on the contentment map.  The PRIMARY DILEMMA™ is about minimizing discontent and finding greater satisfaction in your situation.  Recognize that you have choices to change your world.  For resources to help you better care for yourself, click here.