Some years ago my husband and I decided to travel to Utah and raft on the Green River. We were fairly experienced with canoeing and rafting with a group of friends. This one-day excursion was our first time out alone. We enjoyed the peacefulness of the ride between the high canyon walls, but definitely had to keep our oars moving, and work to avoid large rocks and boulders. Suddenly the water ran much swifter, and we found ourselves caught up in the rapids, paddling as hard as we could … our raft accelerated and so did our hearts. Hanging on to our oars, we surged over a roaring Class IV waterfall … screaming at each other and everything around us … seeing the rocks below us … and somehow …. soaked by the river, we landed safely below. That trip down the river continued to provide quieter, calm moments, and “heart in throat” moments for us as we encountered new challenges in unchartered waters.
Challenges of parenting now
Parenting right now, navigating the many decisions about school, our children’s social and mental health, as well as their physical health and safety and that of those around them, is like riding those rapids … unprepared for what lies ahead because these too are uncharted waters.
Some of what parents are experiencing during this journey for which there was little to no preparation:
- Daily changing updates and decisions by states, cities and town, and school districts.
- Decisions to send their children into schools and classrooms, or have them work from home (or some combination).
- Finding alternatives to screen time for kids of all ages.
- Buying desks that seem to be sold out in many stores and online.
- Reconfiguring households to make some kind of space for parents and children to work from home.
- Getting access for their kids to therapists and counselors, because the therapists are booked and have waiting lists of kids struggling to adjust and discover their new identity in an isolated environment.
Summer is gone and there was little to no respite. Parents juggled to make sure their children were safe and having some fun at home, while working to manage their own work schedules and requirements – from home or as an essential worker reporting to a worksite. In some cases, one parent (often the mom) quit a job to be there full-time with the children. In other scenarios, parents continue to pay to hold the place for their child in the daycare centers (which are not open), and pay a teen or college student to be with their children; or manage through the complexity of returning to the workplace with kids attending school at home.
Many company leaders have children who are grown, and some parents suspect that those leaders are not aware of just how much parents are coping with. Employees with kids at home can find themselves sitting in meetings with others who haven’t a clue what they are attempting to manage, and those parents won’t bring it up for varied reasons. So, what can your company do to help those who are parenting to keep their heads above water, stay in the boat, hang on to their oars, and avoid the big rocks?
What parents want
I asked parents that question, and here’s what they said:
- Prepare their managers (your Core Leaders) to have the conversations with team members and to ask them what will be helpful.
- Review your company’s policies. Involve your employees in making changes that will support your people where they are.
- Ask what is going on before taking punitive action. Sometimes things like shifting work hours, or redefining work duties help someone get back on track.
- Provide technology support – like help with the costs of adding bandwidth at home, or IT support for setting up in-home systems for kids.
- Educate all employees about the changes you are making and why.
- Keep asking, what’s working, what’s not working, what have we learned, and what will we do differently. Remember, this is the Now Normal, and things continue to change.
- Give your employees and their families (and yourself) grace during this difficult time.
The consequence of doing nothing is that you risk reputation and burnout, and talented people will leave your organization – perhaps negatively impacting that diversity you’ve fought to achieve. Take a look at our recent blog post: 3 Strategies for Addressing Burnout as an Organizational Culture Issue
What is your organization doing to support parents during this NOW normal?