The Same, but Completely Different

by Daisy Dowling

I had just been offered a dream job: the chance to kickstart a career-development and coaching service inside a big, growing, financially healthy organization, working with people I liked. The gig would come with a higher salary, a ton of senior exposure, and a swank midtown office. It was just the kind of juicy, good-from-every-angle career opportunity I’d been hoping for.

But was I really ready to leave a comfortable job at a great company to leap into the unknown when, as a parent of a young child, I had crazy-big responsibilities at home? (You know the ones I’m talking about.) Even if I were poised to take that risk, I didn’t have any sponsors or supporters at Dream Co., and I’d have to work much longer hours to prove myself, which meant more time away from my family. This kind of job didn’t come along often, and these days I wasn’t networking or getting out on the job market very much. And as my daughter grew, I wanted to spend even more time with her, so that wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

I was spinning: mentally careening between home and work, work and home, with what felt like hundreds of hopes and pressures and intentions attached to each. Despite earning my living as a career and leadership expert, I didn’t know how to fulfill my own professional interests and ambitions while being the loving, present parent I wanted to be. I felt confused and alone.

Of course, I wasn’t. Every working parent faces this daunting, unexplained, and complex phase of professional life when we’re not just building our careers—but building our careers as working parents. Maybe you’ve just welcomed your first child and are trying to figure out a workable schedule. Or you’ve got older kids and want to pedal-to-the-metal it—or take a break or make a change—in your professional life but aren’t sure how. Maybe you don’t have a lot of working-parent role models in your field or organization. Maybe the flextime or sponsorship that a new mom might ask for doesn’t feel accessible for you as a dad, a parent of an older kid, a member of an LGBTQ+ family, or a foster parent. Or perhaps all the standard practices you’ve used to push yourself forward professionally don’t seem to be working so well now.

Whatever the specifics, I can assure you you’re not alone—I see evidence of that every day in my role as career coach to working parents. I’ve yet to meet one who has an innate, clear view of how to fit career and family together. The kid-plus-career challenge is so complex, individual, and dynamic that there are no silver bullets; it can’t be solved through intuition or with any single approach or system. So, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not the problem—the problem is the problem. We’re all grappling with this.

Here’s my favorite big-picture way to make that grappling seem a little easier. Try thinking about general career management just as you would good nutrition. It’s essential to your professional health, at every phase. Kids or no kids, you can’t build a great career without self-advocacy, networking, good communication, sufficient risk taking, soliciting feedback, and so on. But when you become a parent, you need to change your diet, just a little: You’ll want to start seasoning your food more to taste, so that it suits you. Parental leaves, flex work, time-management hacks, new forms of communication, boundary setting—to name just a few of the tricks and tools of working parenthood—help you do so. Pair career-management basics with the right combination of those extras and blend and adjust as needed to create a satisfying working-parent-career dish. “Working parent career management” isn’t an either/or—it’s about bringing new elements into the mix.

This book is your tool for finding that successful, satisfying combination both today and over the long term. Full disclosure: If you want a comprehensive career how-to, look elsewhere, and if a manifesto on the rights of working parents is what you’re after, this isn’t it. But if you want to understand the essential ingredients of a successful working-parent career, then keep right on reading—and come back to these pages often. If you realize that you’ve fallen into the common trap of working too much and not being adequately visible career-wise, David Burkus’s “Making Time for Networking as a Working Parent” will give you a gentle nudge and some practical ways to build on the contacts you already have. When all that good networking leads to a terrific job offer, Amy Gallo’s “Winning Support for Flexible Work” or Jennifer Petriglieri’s “How Dual-Career Couples Make It Work” can help you take that next step in a way that works for your unique family situation. Walled off the two spheres of your life? Try the “crossover” strategy advised in Scott Edinger’s “The Family 360 Review.”

Whatever the specifics of your home life or career, this book will help you develop greater confidence and more of a plan, and it will point you toward great ideas for new paths to take and new approaches to try. And that’s precisely what you, and I, and every busy professional mom and dad needs.

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