Today, someone posted this question in the #parenting1 channel at work:

What’s the most difficult challenge of being a professional and a parent? I see you all as super heroes and I wonder how you all do it. I would like to be one at some point, but I truly find scary the idea of having to juggle so many things, it seems rather impossible 😅

I would’ve posted a reply there & then. But I had to leave to pick up my daughters from school and take them to have ice cream. If that’s not the purest form of “show, don’t tell”, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, here’s my take on the question.

First of all: the experience of parenting varies wildly depending on four factors:

  • the number of children you have,
  • the age of your children,
  • the network of people you can count on (including your partner),
  • and finally, the kind of work you do and/or the culture of the company you work for.

Whenever you hear a parenting story, try to determine those variables to have a better idea of where they stand. I’ve heard countless variants of the “having kids is no big deal and hasn’t affected my career at all”, only to discover that the person telling the story didn’t really do much and their partner was doing the heavy lifting that parenting requires.

So, here’s how we score on those four points:

  • At the moment of this writing we have 2 daughters: Violeta and Maya.
  • Violeta is 9 years old, and Maya is 2. Violeta is a serene spirit who could spend hours reading quietly on the sofa. Maya is an earthquake and we’re still amazed she’s kept herself alive for two years already.
  • We have no direct family around (the joys of emigration) so we take care of most of the logistics of parenting ourselves. We get help from our parents when they visit us (or viceversa), and recently we hired someone to pick up the girls from school twice a week. We try to split the parenting & house work fairly (based on the amount of stress we feel it generates for us, not on the amount of time it requires).
  • I work remotely from home 100% of the time, and my wife does so 60% of the time (the other 40% she works at her company’s office). Both our companies are awesome when it comes to work/life balance, and we have zero issues when we need to take time off for parenting reasons.

Our schedule is pretty tight, and we spend a lot of time tweaking it whenever there’s a big change in our lives (usually in September when school starts, and in June when it ends). As I said, we don’t have a network of people we can count on for unexpected events, so improvising is quite hard.

My experience of parenting & work can be summarised as “watching the clock all. the. time.” Both girls go to school from 9am to 5pm, and that’s the time we have for work. Afterwork events (or work-related traveling) involve a high level of logistics and stress in the other partner, so we schedule them with lots of time.

When time is scarcely available, you have no choice but to make the best of it. I definitely miss the days of sitting down and spending all the time it takes to finish this. Finding big blocks of uninterrupted time is one of the biggest challenges for me.

Another big deal with parenting is your energy levels will plummet. I’m the kind of person who has always enjoyed doing a bit of work when everyone else had gone to sleep (peace! quiet!) but now most days I’m so tired that I can’t do anything productive. And if I’m not tired and stay up late, I regret it the next morning (kids have an unlimited supply of energy, and will wake up early demanding attention and love! Why are you grumpy? Come on! Play with us!).

I know the question was about work, but I need to mention that the other top challenge is finding time that’s neither “work” nor “parenting”. Going to the gym, reading a book, or meeting a friend for coffee are things that are really hard to do when your family needs you.

So, in summary. These are the top challenges I’ve identified:

  • Improvising is quite hard. Anything work-related that happens outside of regular office hours (events, meetings, traveling, crunch time for deadlines…) requires planification and logistics, and sometimes it’s hard (or impossible) to schedule things in advance.
  • You have to be really efficient with your time. Big blocks of uninterrupted time will be rare. Working while your kids sleep sounds good in theory, but it’s pretty hard to do in practice.
  • Whoever said “time is gold” clearly did not have kids. Once you have them you’ll learn that “time is diamond-encrusted platinum”. Forget about your free time (at least until your kids are old enough to entertain themselves without driving your partner crazy).

As a closing remark, here’s something about parenting we’ve learnt through experience.

There’s a zen proverb that goes like this:

If you sit, just sit. If you walk, just walk; but whatever you do, don’t wobble.

Which basically means you should give your full attention to whatever you may be doing. When working, work. When being with your kids, be with your kids. Try to do both things at the same time, and none of them will work (and as a bonus, you’ll stress yourself and your kids).

Kids will demand 100% of you, 100% of the time. And they’ll let you know when they feel you’re spending too much time staring at a screen in various & creative ways.

Of course this is easier said than done, because life happens and you really need to finish this damn report for tomorrow. But experience shows us that it’s easier to do one thing first, and then the other, as counter intuitive as it sounds.

P.S: Sorry if all this sounded scary! If it helps, I didn’t talk about all the new skills you’ll acquire as a parent that are super useful for work. I might do that some day…

  1. Yes, we do have a #parenting channel at Sketch. If there’s not one on your company Slack, I’d humbly suggest you to start job hunting. Even if you’re not a parent or plan to have kids, you don’t want to stay at a place that ignores the fact that people do have them and need to talk about that with their peers.