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E32: Juggling Work & Parenthood

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On the Show Today You’ll Learn

This month Benjamin Bryant takes on one of the great challenges of our generation: juggling work and parenting.  This is a challenge faced by anyone who works and has children, and is even more acute for those going through relationship breakdown and facing single parenthood.

Ben spoke with this show’s first international guest.  Daisy Dowling is an executive coach, speaker and author who has literally written the book on work and parenting: WorkParent: Thrive in your career whilst raising happy children, your guilt free guide to doing both.  Her expertise is widely sought out. She’s worked as a coaching keynote speaker and strategic advisor with major companies including Dow Jones, Pfizer, Disney, The NBA and the list goes on. Her articles have been published in Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, European Business Review, and that list goes on too.

She is joined by our very own Gemma Rope, successful solicitor and mother of four children, aged one to ten.  Gemma provides her own real life stories and a regional Australian perspective.

Together, Daisy and Gemma give working parents some genuinely useful advice and “hacks” to better manage themselves, their careers and their families.



Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode

WorkParent.com – A specialty coaching and training company, founded by Daisy Dowling, that aims to help working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives. The organisation is US based but their website includes a large number of articles offering advice to working parents and their employers.

Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Being True to Yourself and Raising Happy Kids, by Daisy Dowling.  This definitive guide for working parents is available from Amazon Australia in both paperback and Kindle versions.

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Full Episode Transcript

Benjamin Bryant: Welcome back everyone. I’m your host Benjamin Bryant and today we’ve got a doozy of an episode. Today’s show is for anyone who is a working parent. Anyone who wants to be successful at work and also raise their children well. And of course, for anyone who wants to juggle both these enormous tasks without having a breakdown. We are devoting the whole programme to exploring strategies to better juggle work and parenting, and to help us do that we are very excited to welcome working parenthood expert and coach Daisy Dowling all the way from New York City. Daisy, hello and thank you for joining us today.

Daisy Dowling: It’s my pleasure to be here Ben. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Benjamin Bryant: Daisy, if I could just read a short bio so that our listeners understand just what an expert we’ve managed to get on today’s show. Daisy is the founder and CEO of WorkParent, a US based coaching and training company that is helping working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives. She has published a comprehensive guide to succeeding on the job, staying true to yourself and raising happy kids called WorkParent: Thrive in your career whilst raising happy children, your guilt free guide to doing both. Her expertise is widely sought out. She’s worked as a coaching keynote speaker and strategic advisor with major companies including Dow Jones, Pfizer, Disney, The NBA and the list goes on. Her articles have been published in Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, European Business Review, and that list goes on too. It’s pretty rare for us to be able to welcome such a world authority on the show. So, Daisy, thank you again for taking the time to share your knowledge with our listeners.

Daisy Dowling: Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m really passionate about helping working parents really lead more successful and satisfying and sustainable lives, and it’s a pleasure to be able to talk about this.

Benjamin Bryant: Perfect. I’d also like to welcome our second guest to the show: our very own Gemma Rope, a successful family law solicitor here at Bryant McKinnon Lawyers and mother of four beautiful children between the ages of one and ten. No one here quite knows how she does it. So we thought we’d better get her on the show to share her secrets and also give a regional Australian perspective. So welcome, Gemma.

Gemma Rope: Thank you, Ben. This year I’ve got three kids at school, so I’ll be needing all of Daisy’s advice.

Benjamin Bryant: Well, thanks for being here. Our objective today is to give working parents some practical tips and strategies to help them be more successful at work, feel better about their parenting and possibly a little less exhausted. Just a reminder that we’ll put links to all resources mentioned on today’s show in our show notes, and please share this show with as many of your friends and family you think may benefit. So let’s get stuck into it. Gemma, Daisy, are you guys ready?

Daisy Dowling: Absolutely.

Gemma Rope: Yes.

Benjamin Bryant:  Daisy, as I said in your bio, you are the founder and CEO of coaching and training business WorkParent, and you literally wrote the book on working parenthood. What prompted you to create what is almost a movement to provide solutions and dignity for working parents?

Daisy Dowling: Well, so I’m going to be completely honest about this, I feel like I should have a glossy story about what prompted me to do this and an insightful moment, and honestly, what prompted me to do this was really deep personal necessity. So about a decade ago, when I, it was before I had kids, but I was working as an executive coach and it was a career I loved, helping other men and women really succeed in their own careers and get ahead, get promoted, move forward and really earn the living that they wanted to. It was wonderfully rewarding and satisfying work. But I realised that while I could advise people on all things professional: how to come across well in a meeting or how to position themselves with senior people in the organisation, how to delegate, that kind of stuff. I didn’t have any practical advice for them about how to do those things while caring for the children they loved and that were really at the centre of their lives. So a lot of people would say to me, a lot of my clients would say, “Well, Daisy, you gave me great advice about, managing my calendar. But now I’ve got a baby, and how do I manage my calendar and get it all in when I have to get down to the day-care for 6pm pickup?” I had no clue. And you can see where this is going, of course. I had my own first child, 10 years ago, and when I became a mom, I realised that I needed the answers to these things myself. There was so much I didn’t know, not just about how to manage my day to day or how to find good childcare. But advice on how ambitious did I want to be and how could I really knit together being the professional I prided myself on being, with being the mom of this wonderful new baby girl. And so, I just couldn’t find any resource. So, I basically started asking other people around me, other working parents like Gemma, ones who were experienced, who have been there, who have come up with their own solutions and techniques and life hacks and self-hacks. And I started gathering their wisdom. And very long story short, I have just never stopped. And that is what’s in my book and what I work with with my coaching clients today: is that aggregated insights from the thousands of parents I’ve now spoken to about what works for them. So, I do this work for my clients, obviously, but I’m going to be honest here too, it’s also very selfish because I still need the advice myself every single day.

Benjamin Bryant: And that’s what I was going to ask Daisy, Children, of course, it’s not a one size fits all type of approach. Was there some advice that you did receive or some hacks, as you said, that you did receive and you’re like “uh uh, that didn’t work for me?”

Daisy Dowling: I wouldn’t say that there were things that didn’t work for me, but they may not have mapped to my day-to-day life. So, when I was doing this research and when I was writing the book and doing some very formal research and interviewing, I took great care to go to a wide range of parents. So, people who were partnered or single or who were parenting in all kinds of family structures, who worked in different fields and functions and had different ambitions. So I, for example, interviewed people who were working in health care, who were working as police officers, who were working in digital media, and everything in between. So not every shred of advice they gave me felt directly usable or relatable, but the themes were. And that’s really what I found important and tried to draw forward in the book.

Benjamin Bryant: And having looked through the WorkParent website and your complete guide to thriving in your career and raising happy children, WorkParent, we know you have plenty of advice and tips for tired working parents (and listeners, we’ll put the links on today’s show notes). But Daisy, if you were forced to narrow it down to your top three tips or strategies, what would be your advice to help exhausted working parents get their mojo back?

Daisy Dowling: Yeah, so the very first thing that I would suggest, and if I leave you with nothing else, I want to leave you with this.  The very first thing I want you to do is to take charge and make edits to your working parent template. Your working parent template is just very simply the sort of collage or mosaic-like collection of different experiences you’ve had, bits and pieces of advice you’ve gotten and observations you’ve made about working parenthood over time that have formed this distinct and really tightly held picture that you have in your mind as to what working parenthood means and requires of you.  And even more so what it means to be a good working parent. So let’s say, as I had, growing up, a mom who worked full time, but she was able to leave her workplace, come home every day, make dinner for us and then was available all evening and, didn’t have an iPhone or anything, was focussed on us, helped us with our homework and so forth. That’s an incredible experience. And maybe your mom, like my mom, was a great role model. But if I go through or if you go through working parenthood today, holding on to that perspective and looking to that role model as something that we should be following right now. Then we’re all going to be in for some really, really rough sledding, right? Because we’ll be thinking, “Well, why can’t I draw distinct boundaries” or “Why am I not cooking dinner for the kids?” It’s important to own your working parenthood and to understand that your resources, your choices, your career, your pandemic reality is going to be different than the examples that your friends or your early professional mentors or your professors at university or your parents or whoever told you and that you want to really take charge.

Daisy Dowling: So the first thing to do is map that template out. Jot down: what have you seen as good working parenthood really throughout the course of your life? What bits and pieces are you picking up from social media or media, or from friends or from colleagues? Jot all that down and then take a step back and say, “that’s the set of impressions I have, and now what’s going to work for me”? What that lets you do is get out from under those shoulds, right? I should be cooking dinner. I should be home at 5:30. We’re shoulding all over ourselves as working parents, and we got to stop. We got to stop. Because it feels crummy and it hampers our ability to do really well. So that’s the first thing.

Daisy Dowling: The second and third things which are really quick. The second thing is make sure you have a working parent community. We are all, particularly these past two years, we all feel really isolated. And really smart, hardworking people when they’re confronted with difficult circumstances like being a working parent, often times isolate, they shut themselves down and they think, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I do this?”, “Why can’t I thread this needle?” There is nothing more empowering or practically helpful than getting out there and talking to other working parents who are in the same boat. So talk to colleagues, talk to friends, talk to your neighbours, really build out that network of support.

Daisy Dowling: And then the third and final thing, which is more of a self-hack, is I want you in addition to your to-do list, which we all have and it’s, you know, a thousand miles long. I want you to start also keeping an already-done list. And on your already-done list. I want you to put things big and small that you’re accomplishing at work or with your kids every single day: threw in a load of laundry, finished that project on time and under budget, whatever it is. When you’re feeling really depleted, like your energy is low and you think, “Oh, how can I keep doing this? I just feel like I’m on a treadmill.” I want you to pull out that already-done list and I want you to anchor yourself back, ground yourself back in the totality and the depth of your commitment to your work and your colleagues, and to your family, to the kids. And I want you to remind yourself of the incredible ground you’re covering. Year in, year out, day in, day out, and I want you to draw a sense of motivation and strength from that. You have huge forward momentum.

Benjamin Bryant: That’s some great tips, Daisy. And I must say while you were speaking before, I remembered a show that we had here in Australia called The Checkout. It’s a bit of an ABC comedy satire, and one of the segments was, Gemma you’ll know it, “a guilty mum”. And just these little skits with mums just being really guilty and shameful for different things “shoulding over themselves”, like you said. So that was great.

Benjamin Bryant: Gemma, I want to know about your working parent template. How do you juggle a family of six and a very busy job here at Bryant McKinnon?

Gemma Rope: Hmm. Well, I actually think that the most important thing to surviving for us is the big smile when I get home, when I walk down the hall and down the veranda and somebody says “Mum’s home” and I do the big smile and get down on my knees and give a big hug. So that when I am spending time with them, it’s focussed on them and it’s interested in them. Obviously, I’ve got those organisational techniques that I employ, like making the school lunches the night before. I’ve started putting the school uniforms out the night before so that in the event that I realise, “Oh no, I don’t have clean uniforms”, I can do the quick wash and dry overnight. Open communication with husband. What’s on? What do we need to do this week and saying things out loud? Nobody’s reading your mind. That’s always good to remember. And I’ve got the calendar: all the events, excursions, appointments, birthday parties, that sort of thing up on the calendar. I think I’m the only person in the household that actually looks at it.

Benjamin Bryant: The only person that needs to Gemma.

Gemma Rope: That’s right.

Gemma Rope: And I look at the calendar and I kind of see how much we’ve got going on. I try and ensure that the weekends we’ve got things that are memory making opportunities. But then I also look and see, we’ve got a lot going on and try and have maybe one in three weekends where there’s nothing booked. And something I have started to do a bit more is say, Look, we’ve actually got a lot going on and I’m going to say no to something. I’m going to say, “Look, can I be honest with you, friend? I don’t have space to do that dinner this weekend. Can we push it back?” And I think just being realistic about what you can achieve. I’ve certainly been disheartened at times not being able to squeeze in the extracurricular activities and things like that, but being realistic about how that will actually impact on the chaos of the household. Will it create chaos? Because if it will, it’s probably better to just say no to that.

Benjamin Bryant:  Gem, I come from a family of two working full-time parents, so I don’t know how they did it. So thank you for that. We’ve got open communication, we have engagement and we’ve got that fantastic calendar.

Benjamin Bryant: Being a working parent has got a whole lot harder through this pandemic. Parents have found themselves juggling home schooling with working from home, and I know lots of parents have felt at breaking point. And of course, working from home now looks like it’s here to stay for many people. So, Daisy, do you have specific advice for parents working from home with small and or school aged children?

Daisy Dowling: Well, I am one of those parents working from home and my kids are 8 and 10, so this is a very personal question for me and they distance learned for a year. So I really, really feel this. If you’re listening, just please know that I’ve been through this myself. I think the critical thing here is to make certain that you have set up, to the best of your ability, have set up some really distinct boundaries and that you are deliberate and conscious about how you can move past those boundaries, about how you make transitions. So what I hear so often from my coaching clients who are exhausted, they’re just burnt, they just feel like they’ve been working so incredibly hard. Usually, when I talk to them a little bit more about their situation and what’s going on, they are in effect multitasking all day long or some significant proportion of the day, right? They’ve got their laptop open. They have kids who they’re sort of keeping an eye on or they’re in the background or they can hear them or the kids will burst in at different times or they’ll just be thinking while they’re working, “Wait, did I upload that maths homework that my child asked me to?” And that is a recipe for total cognitive overload, and it’s a recipe for getting really exhausted. It’s impossible to be your best parenting self, like Gemma was saying, the smiling person who’s one hundred percent focussed on the kids. It’s hard to be that person if you’re still sort of chewing over or worrying about what’s happening at work or the email that may have just popped into your email box and vice versa. It’s hard to give your best professional self when your mind is kind of on the kids.

Daisy Dowling: Now, a lot of us don’t have really tactical boundaries that we can use. So I say boundaries… if you came to my house here in New York City and heard me using the word boundary, you would burst into hysterical laughter, because we have very little physical space. There’s not a lot of privacy and boundary that’s just, you know, the realities of our life. But even if you don’t have a home office door that closes or you can’t somehow have that type of boundary, to have something… an agreement with yourself where you say, “OK, it’s eight a.m. and I’m going to start working and I’m going to put my shoes on and sit down at my desk and because I have my shoes on, that means I’m in professional mode”. Or that you have a time agreement with yourself that after 6:30 pm until eight pm, let’s say, you are in full parenting mode, come what may. If you can create that clarity, it allows you to really show up as the professional and parent you want to be and not be so… not have your attention split and not be so exhausted. So whatever it is, it can be a small, goofy technique. I have one client who actually keeps a family photo on her desk, and every time she flips back and forth between professional and parenting mode, she touches the frame of the photo like she’s touching a light switch. And that is a signal to herself that she’s fully relinquishing one to go into the other. And so I think even if you have to do that on on a pretty quick cycle basis, it can really, really help.

Benjamin Bryant: That reminded me Daisy, when I was at university, at law school, I had a tutor for, I think it was criminology at the time, and her thing was high heels. When she was wearing high heels that was her little boundary. That was her reminder to watch her mouth, to watch her language and that she was going to be a big girl and she was going to court so she had to be careful. So they do actually work. They work for a lot of people.

Benjamin Bryant: Gemma, our country, of course, has had a completely different response to the COVID pandemic than perhaps Daisy’s. But we’ve had a couple of lockdowns here in Coffs Harbour. How did you go, and your family unit go, when the children were being home schooled?

Gemma Rope: Hmm. We have. I actually had my youngest baby right when COVID came to Australia and we had the lockdown. So I had two children at the time at school trying to fight over the home computer, and I did attempt to work and look after a tiny baby right next to them. So, yeah, look, I’m not going to pretend that we got it right and kicked all the goals. But they did some schoolwork. They certainly did. And we did our absolute best to try and understand what the teachers were asking us to do and cast our mind back to school maths. I just think it’s not to be disheartened. The kids enjoyed the time at home. We did our best to get some education into them and I think just not being disheartened that their educational outcomes are going to be severely compromised because of this disruption.

Benjamin Bryant: And what is different between Daisy’s New York City apartment and your hundreds of acres out in Upper Orara, Gemma, is what you can do at home And you were talking about the children missing out. I want to know about you. Did you feel that you were missing out a bit with the children being at home in the space there and you having to be at work? Or were you just like nah, I’m happy to get out.

Gemma Rope: Oh, I did enjoy coming into work, especially bringing in a little baby at times. I did have to shut the door and say, “I’m doing my work now.” And in fact, my office door at home is still broken from the time that I held it with my shoulder and the handle as my child tried his absolute hardest to pull that handle and get in that office while I tried to maintain the phone call with the client in my calm voice, covering the speaker and saying, “Go and find your father.”

Daisy Dowling: We’ve all been there.

Benjamin Bryant: I must say, one of my favourite pictures on my camera roll is you with baby Rowan. He’s fallen asleep on your side. He’s kind of moved and you’re trying to hold him up and you’re typing in the keyboard only with the other hand. I love that picture.

Gemma Rope: I love that.  I didn’t know you took it.

Benjamin Bryant: It’s there.

Benjamin Bryant: Alright. The move to single parenthood is one of the most difficult adjustments required when your relationship falls apart. Obviously, it’s even tougher if, like so many families, both parents have full time jobs. Daisy, for someone who has newly found themselves to be single parents, even if it’s just for a short period, what can they do to avoid completely losing control?

Daisy Dowling: Yeah, so one thing I heard from so many single parents was the importance of communicating with your colleagues. So when you go through working parenthood, I think a lot, or many of us, feel like we in a professional sphere, we want to stay professional. We don’t want to spend too much time talking about our kids or responsibilities or whatever. Gemma, that’s a great story about holding that office door closed and saying, go find your father. I think a lot of us really want to retain that, image and that sense of control. But when you become a single parent and maybe you’re, you have the kids a certain amount of the time, maybe you have responsibilities of a type or at a time that you didn’t have before. Things are shifting, and it’s just you now. The really critical thing to do is to make certain that the people who are around you and who are working with you, who see your schedule or maybe define your schedule, understand what you really need. So to soldier through and just say, I’ll just, put my game face on and try and make this all happen and not tip off, any of my colleagues, is going to make things unnecessarily hard.

Daisy Dowling: If, however, you can share just a little bit and this still leaves you very professional, incidentally, this doesn’t diminish you in any way. But if you can share a little bit and say, “Listen, I have the kids Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and during those days on those days, I’m going to be trying to get home as soon as I can” or explaining that you have some other commitment like that or telling somebody who might be very sympathetic to you and who’s thinking, “Oh, well, you know, he or she is going through a difficult transition right now. Let’s not ask them to do that special project” or “let’s not give them allocate them the extra hours, the extra shift”. Well, that’s not malicious, but that might hurt you in a way, too. So in that case, going and saying, you know, I do have a lot on right now, but I do want to raise my hand for that important project or I do want to work the extra hours of the overtime. In other words, make sure that you’re remembering, reminding yourself your colleagues are not clairvoyant and they can’t support you, and they can’t make the work piece fit with the family piece unless they know what that fit looks like. So that’s the first thing.

Daisy Dowling: The second thing (and this is, the drum that I’m constantly beating, I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again) is to really build out your network of support. So one single mom who I interviewed for the book said something I thought was really, really powerful. She said, Listen, I ask other people for help all the time., Can my son spend the night with you over at your family’s house because I have a business trip? Can I get help in this way? Can you pick the kids up from school or can they do a playdate at your house? She’s constantly asking people for practical help, but for personal help of all kinds, too. And she said, If I don’t hear the word no, if people don’t very gracefully and gently decline some of my requests, I know that I’m not making enough of them. In other words, I’m being a little shy. I’m holding back. I’m falling into the trap of do-it-myselfism instead of saying I do have a lot of needs, and if you’re willing, I’d love the help. You don’t want to go in excess. You always want to make certain that other people can graciously say, sorry that I can’t do that, or maybe next time, or that doesn’t work for me. But you also want to push yourself and not fall into the trap of again, just isolating, hunkering down and trying to work as hard as you can. Because again, that’s a recipe for grinding yourself down and pretty quickly.

Benjamin Bryant: Hmm. About having a support network. And Daisy, I’ve read one of the things that you recommend parents do is to talk to their children about their work. Why is this important and how do you recommend that parents manage these conversations?

Daisy Dowling: I think it’s important because kids pick up a lot of our feelings, right? We all know that children are sensitive. They’re incredibly observant and they have supersonic hearing unless you’re telling them, no, they can’t have candy, in which case they don’t hear you. Or at least mine can’t. So if you’re talking about your job or your work in a way that’s negative, it sets up a pretty tense dynamic where your child thinks, if you come home and you say, Oh, I’m exhausted or Oh, it’s Monday morning, I have to go to work. Your child sees work as this negative thing, but that somehow is getting a lot of your attention. So why does mom or dad keep wanting to go to work if he or she isn’t excited about it? Why don’t they stay home and spend time with me? That doesn’t make linear sense, as an adult, but when you’re three or five, when you’re little and that’s how you are processing the world, it sets up this negative feeling. It also sets up a future for your kid. So, if you’re thinking about raising a child and we all are thinking about this, who’s going to be independent and responsible and lean into their own professional responsibilities one day, you can really start that and foster that even at an early age by talking about work positively. So saying, Oh, this really interesting thing happened at work today. Or, you know what? I was really able to help one of my clients today, and it was exciting or that was really satisfying to me. Just even some of those small tweaks can get it into your child’s mind that yes, work is an adult place and it’s a place of responsibility, but it’s also a place that I want to be someday. And it’s not sort of my negative competitor for mommy or daddy’s attention.

Gemma Rope: I love that. That’s great.

Benjamin Bryant: Gemma, I want to know, do you talk about your job to your kids?

Gemma Rope: Well, just the other day, I did decide to ask them what they thought I did for a job and and I’ll play the recordings for you and you tell me whether you pick up on the theme that’s going on.

Benjamin Bryant:  Who is the first child and what’s their age?

Gemma Rope: This is Moses and his five.

Gemma:  Moses do you know what I do for a job.

Moses: You type and talk on the phone and do stuff and work.

Gemma Rope: And Will is seven or eight, I can’t remember.

Gemma: Will, what do I do as a job?

Will: Bryant McKinnon Lawyers, you deal with matters and clients and you type and call and make coffee all day.

Gemma Rope: And Caelyn is 10, and she really didn’t want to participate. You’ll tell.

Gemma: Caelyn, what do I do for a job?

Caelyn: You are a lawyer.

Gemma: And what does that mean?

Caelyn: You solve family matters.

Gemma: What does that mean? What’s family matters as you understand it?

Caelyn: You solve problems between people.

Gemma: And what does that practically mean that I do all day when I go off to work?

Caelyn: You take calls, you do lots of typing and eating and drinking coffee.


Gemma Rope: I don’t know where they get that from.

Benjamin Bryant: Daisy, do you have any advice for Gemma apart from the coffee addiction?

Daisy Dowling:  I’m right there with you on the coffee addiction. One of the things that so many parents have told me, and I really struggled with this one, try explaining being the executive coach to a two year old or to a five year old. But one of the things that I’ve heard from a lot of parents is to try and really break down what you do in language that a child can understand. So, if you’re talking about clients or responsibilities, that’s pretty abstract, even for an older child. But if you can say something like, when somebody has to go to court, I go with them so that I can guide them and it’s not as scary for them. I’m obviously making that up. But if you can talk about it in a way that would be more emotionally resonant with a child, that can be helpful.

Benjamin Bryant: Awesome. And one of the things that can be really difficult when juggling work and family is making sure a nutritious meal is on the table every night and that the connective tissue of family dinner is not lost. Daisy, do you have any tips for how to be successful at work while still getting dinner on the table before bedtime?

Daisy Dowling: First I have to issue a disclaimer, which is to say it’s we’re recording at 5:54pm New York City time, so at some point my kids will break in here and say, “Mommy, what’s for dinner?” And if they do that, I promise it wasn’t staged. And I also promise that there’s not some wonderful dinner bubbling away on the stove as we speak. So I struggle with this too.

Daisy Dowling: Here’s a couple of ways to to make the family meal challenge a little bit easier. First, think about family dinner as family meal instead of family dinner. You want to have connective, satisfying time around the table, breaking bread with your family, with your kids. That time does not have to be every single evening, and it doesn’t actually have to be evening at all. The important things is that time is regular, it’s at a time when you’re a little bit less stressed. Maybe that’s mornings. Maybe that’s just Friday nights, for example, but where the focus is on the connections and not so much on the food. So you’re a busy working parent. Maybe the food tonight or Friday night is going to be a takeout pizza and you make a salad to go with it and you’re thinking to yourself, Well, what kind of good parent orders pizza? I should be cooking a full meal. You’re busy, and it doesn’t matter exactly what’s on the table. Do the best that you can, but then think about ways to engage the family around it. Maybe you all go around the table and talk about the silliest thing that happened to you today, or you all sing a song before you sit down to the table, something that really kind of outlines and demarcates that time as special family time. So that’s the first thing.

Daisy Dowling: The second thing is get the kids involved. So I know as a mom, my husband feels the same way too, that a lot of times we feel like we’re running a restaurant and our children are sort of like these miniature critics, who can just say, Well, I don’t like my french fries or whatever. No, get skin in the game. Children will eat vegetables if they have chopped those vegetables themselves. Now I know that means your child has to be old enough to actually do that. But even a little kid can help put napkins on the table, can get involved in the ritual of family dinner. So make it a group experience. And then also stop thinking of yourself, in some ways. I know I actually really like to cook, but there are some nights I’m just tired or days that I’m tired. I don’t want to do it. And in those times, I think of myself as the family’s food procurement officer instead of as the family’s cook. And that makes things a lot easier. So it might be takeout, it might be a frozen meal. It might be whatever. The important thing is that we’re tracking in an overall way towards connective, satisfying time and generally healthful, with some exceptions.

Benjamin Bryant:  Another biggie, especially for single parents, is what to do when your child is sick. Daisy, do you have any strategies to help parents juggle the needs of their sick child with the demands of their work?

Daisy Dowling: I’m going to be honest, this is one of the toughest questions I get, and I don’t have a, perfect pat answer for it because it’s just a really, really tricky situation. The best advice that I can give is to think about the times that your child is sick and home and you have to be attentive and so forth. Think about those times as times that all the other regular rules don’t apply. So if you’re really, really focussed on impressing your boss, for example. Well, you’re probably just going to have to call in and disappoint that person, and maybe it’s taking an extra day yourself or showing up late or working from home if you don’t do that normally, but you’ll just have to roll with it. Or if you try not to have too much screen time. You know what? It’s perfectly OK to have a day when your child just has the iPad all day long. The important thing is to just get through that time as best you can and in one piece and to give yourself some grace as you do that. I think a lot of people are dealing with this now, obviously in the course of Omicron and have throughout the pandemic. And I think there has been an increased sensitivity and empathy for people who are going through the same. So just remember that when you find yourself in a pinch.

Benjamin Bryant: And Gemma, what will you do? You’ve got an interim hearing in the morning wake up and William’s got a sore throat or we can’t get out of bed and can’t attend school. Greg has a whole day planned, with others on a tractor doing something. What are you going to do?

Gemma Rope: Oh gee, look, you’ve seen I have had to collect the children from school. I’ve had to set them up in the office with an iPhone and a movie and just check on them. How are you doing? You’re OK. Good. I got to keep working I have had to do that and I have had the case in court due to start at 9:30 and get the phone call from school at nine o’clock, saying William’s split his head open, falling over and you need to come and get him to take him to get stitches.

Benjamin Bryant: No, he’s OK.

Gemma Rope: You know me. Though thankfully, we’ve got a number of lawyers at this firm and I can ask somebody to step in for me, which is really great. I do feel for people who don’t have that privilege, where it’s on them.  And I think Daisy’s right: just saying just giving yourself the grace. This is out of my control and I need to be a parent right now. And I think what Daisy said about having those conversations with your support network, to say, look, if there’s ever a time that I am stuck with something I have to do at work and the kids are sick or something’s happened, would you be somebody that I could ring and ask you to collect the kids from school or to stay home if they’re sick and things like that?

Benjamin Bryant: And I think what I’d like to say, Gem, is as an employer and as your employer, I would hope that you would see Heather and I as part of your support network. We’re not someone that’s going to make you be there at that time or that day or whatever. We will be there on the ground with you trying to sort out a solution.

Gemma Rope: Well, thank you.

Benjamin Bryant: And as an employer, I will be listening very carefully to your next answer on this question. Daisy. What tips do you have for companies with newly single parents? What can they do to make their lives easier and still get the best out of their team member?

Daisy Dowling: Yeah, there are a couple of different things, and the first one, I’m going to sound a little tough when I say this, but most companies, particularly larger companies, but most companies in general are really not great, they’re pretty bad, at helping parents understand the benefits and flexibility that is available to them. So a lot of parents who I coach individually will tell me… I’ll say, Well, is there a backup day-care option or have you connected with the working parents network within the company? And they’ll say, Oh, I don’t know. And then they find that they have to go to 42 different intranet pages to try and find it or.

Benjamin Bryant: What’s our policy?

Daisy Dowling: Or maybe they work for a smaller employer, but they really have never had a direct conversation with the boss or their manager about flexibility. And so they’re working rigidly 8 to 6 pm thinking that’s the only option, whereas maybe by asking they could shift their hours a bit. So making sure the benefits are open, transparent. That the company’s overall approach is really known and understood is essential. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is more at the managerial level. So, there’s company policy and benefits and the overarching things that are important, but really everybody’s day to day experience is determined by our managers, right? Our managers cast the long shadows in our lives. So if you can equip managers to signal support and openness to some of the conversations I suggested parents should initiate, but sometimes managers have to kind of open the door a little bit and they can do that very easily and appropriately and in a non-offensive way by asking open-ended questions. So if you can equip your managers, maybe somebody is going through a family transition of any kind on their team. If you can equip managers to say simply, Is there anything you want me to know about life outside of work and how that fits together with our team’s goals and what you’re doing here? Or even more gently, something like just, how are you getting on? That telegraphs without making a whole big production out of it, that you’re in problem solving mode and that you’re ready to listen.

Daisy Dowling: And then I think the final thing that managers and companies can do but particularly managers, is to offer parents who are going through a difficult patch, maybe a personal or life transition, a sense of progress. So instead of saying, “Hey, good job” on that brief that you just wrote, if you can say something instead, like, “I’m really impressed with what you did here, you really came a long way. You’ve really been able to progress this project quite a bit in just two weeks.” The thing that most parents feel like, particularly during the pandemic, is that we’re all kind of stuck in gear. We’re working really hard, but we’re not moving forward. And if you can give somebody who does feel that sense of, gosh, all my good intentions and efforts aren’t yielding sort of the positive momentum that every single one of us wants. If you can give a little drip of that, it’s incredibly supportive and will land really, really well.

Benjamin Bryant: Well, that’s pretty powerful, and Gemma, I know you’re not a single parent, but I wondered if you had any advice for us as your employer on how we can make juggling, parenthood and work success easier for you and other parents working here at Bryant McKinnon.

Gemma Rope: I absolutely love Daisy’s advice about making sure everybody understands what the workload is at any given time. Nobody is reading minds. But the biggest thing I would say would be to try and ensure that no one staff member has responsibility for a particular job or task. That there’s always somebody that can step in… cross skills. In the case of sick child or some sort of other emergency or situation going on or even just annual leave. Just to relieve that guilt that the working parent is leaving the responsibility, That way, when somebody does have something going on, a parent that’s having to take some time out, it’s not as big of a deal,

Benjamin Bryant: It sounds like, again, Gem, that we need open communication, engagement and a pretty awesome calendar.

Gemma Rope: Yes.

Benjamin Bryant: Well, I know I say this every month, but what a fantastic show. Thank you so much, Daisy, for providing our listeners with so many useful strategies for working parenthood.

Daisy Dowling: Thank you so much again for having me. It’s been fun. I really appreciate the opportunity to join you.

Benjamin Bryant: It has been.

Benjamin Bryant:  We will have links to Daisy’s book WorkParent: Thrive in Your Career While Raising Happy Children. Your Guilt Free Guide to Doing Both. And also the WorkParent website in our show notes. So, I do suggest that you check those out. And Gemma, I am still in awe of how you manage to be so good at work and still be such a wonderful mum to your four beautiful kids. Thanks for sharing some of your experience and your advice.

Gemma Rope: Thanks, Ben. It was a pleasure.

Benjamin Bryant: So that’s a wrap for this month. Next month we are taking a short break, but we’ll be back again in May with an episode all about Independent Children’s Lawyers. These are lawyers specifically qualified to act on behalf of children. Appointed by the court in family law cases involving allegations of abuse, high levels of conflict, family violence and/or serious mental health issues. Both Heather McKinnon and myself are Independent Children’s Lawyers, and will both be chatting to Gabrielle Cantrall, who is the Solicitor in Charge for Family Law, Legal Aid, New South Wales. If you have any specific questions about children and court proceedings, please send them to familymatters@bryantmckinnon.com.au or message us on Facebook and we’ll try to provide answers on the show. And please do share this podcast with any friends or family who might benefit from the ideas that we share on this episode. Goodbye for now, and we’ll see you in May.

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