The reality of being a working parent and how to make it work

As a parent, it is not uncommon to feel ‘mum guilt’ or ‘dad guilt’, when it comes to balancing the demands of your family and your career. For those of you that have a young family and still want a career, this article is for you!

Data suggests that in mid-2020, labour market participation among women dropped to its lowest rate in 30 years, and that a third of women in the US workforce scaled back or left their jobs between March 2020 and August 2021. A global survey showed that the primary force pushing women to leave their jobs was increased responsibilities at work as a result of the pandemic, and the difficulties of carrying these out whilst also shouldering the majority of household responsibilities.

It’s not always easy to know the personal challenges behind the professional we speak to at work. In my opinion, this has become even harder as we increasingly rely on emails and texts as a way to communicate with each other (Kunle wrote an interesting article about this not too long ago, which you can read here).

That’s why we decided to share the stories of some of the parents here at SK, to shine a light on the reality of being a working parent. It’s not always pretty, it’s certainly not easy, but we’re proud as a firm that we work with mums and dads alike to find a balance that works as well as it possibly can for them and their families. My own circumstances are a case in point. Why is there still such a stigma attached to this way of working?

Emma Saltern, Head of Financial Planning

“Having had a successful career before starting a family, it was difficult to see how this would continue with two small children to care for.  Throw into the mix a husband who works very long hours and at the time was often away during the week and it almost felt like an impossibility.  However, opportunities do arise and I really appreciated that I was able to have a frank and honest conversation with Kunle about what I could commit to and how we could successfully make it work for both parties. 

10 years on and my children are both (nearly) at secondary school.  The needs of older children change, however, the demands on time are still high and there seems to be ever-increasing amounts of school and extracurricular admin to manage and sport to spectate.  These are things I cherish as the years pass too quickly. I have been lucky enough to attend every school event and to be able to be there for them when they come home from school. 

Flexible working has opened up opportunities for many women to combine work and childcare and for me personally it has meant a natural progression to increase my working hours as the children have grown.  I am now in a position where I have just been promoted to the role I held in my previous employment before starting a family – there was a time when I thought this would never be possible.  The support and understanding of amazing work colleagues has helped me achieve this. 

Oh and I also have two cats, two dogs and horses to ride…..I love my job but having the flexibility I need to spend time with not only my children but my animals means when it comes to work, I am ready and focussed to get the job done.”           

Bethany Buxton, Head of Financial Administration

“Returning to work after having a career break to raise a family can be very daunting. I was very apprehensive.  Would I be any good? How would I cope juggling school runs, three kids all with different hobbies, interests and level of care required? Would the industry have changed beyond recognition? I’m a conscientious person by default and was worried I would let my colleagues – and my family! – down by not being good enough to perform both roles. Returning to the Finance Industry to work for SK Financial in 2021 was a bit of a now or never moment. I bit the bullet and have never looked back.

In fact, I have taken on more responsibilities and increased my working days. SK had the hybrid infrastructure in place long before working at home became the norm after Covid. It’s so refreshing to work for a forward-thinking company that really do look after and care for their employees. Trust is required from both sides, but if you manage to get it right, it can be very positive for everyone.  I’m able to be open and upfront about my needs as a mum and an employee. It really does prove that it can be done. I hope that this becomes more of the norm for when my children are grown up and in the workplace.”

Jenny Ellery, Head of Creative

“I count myself very lucky. I am in a position where I can be open with the people I work with when something needs to give, while I juggle two kids and work. But it hasn’t always been like that. I think young women get mis-sold the ‘dream’ that you can have it all – kids and a glittering career. You can’t. And the sooner we all accept this, the sooner women will be able to feel more positive about what they are actually managing to achieve, rather than feeling like they are constantly falling short.

It took me a long time (and a lot of mistakes) to realise that the key to getting it right is to be brutally honest – with yourself and those you work with – about what is and isn’t possible and manageable.

My approach now is to be upfront right from the start. Yes, I will get the work done and get it done well. But at the same time, I will need a bit of flexibility to be there for my children, both of whom have additional needs. If whoever I work with is not prepared to accept this, then I walk away. This hasn’t always been easy and it has at times hit us hard financially, not to mention, hit me career wise. 

But it means that I am now in a position where I work with people who I enjoy working with and who I know trust and respect me for who I really am – an experienced colleague AND a mum. I don’t have to hide the fact I have a life outside work to keep a job I love. And there’s no doubt in my mind that this approach and the balance I have been lucky enough to achieve has hugely improved how well I manage things both at work and at home.”

Richard Simmonds, Paraplanner and Head of our Investment Committee

While the role of a mum as carer for children is widely accepted, dads who take the same decision can be judged and isolated. Richard is acutely aware of the challenges of balancing co-parenting with a full time job.

“I would say that SK’s support and understanding of my situation has been remarkable. I was very clear from the outset that my family are extremely important to me and that I would be involved in my fair share of school runs and other parental duties. My goal was always for my children to know me and for me to know them. Like so many of our generation, that wasn’t normally the case with our own fathers. It has been the privilege of my life to see both of my children into this world (yes literally!) and to always be at home for them, knowing it was secure and safe.

I have received a fair few job offers over the years. I refuse them all because, despite the flattering pay offers, I very much doubt they could offer the true work-life balance that SK can. Money is important to me, but family is more so and I am quite content with the decision not to high-fly and work crazy hours in pursuit of a slightly more exotic holiday or new car every couple of years. Materialism is not important, but financial security is and so I have pledged that if I can maintain the same work-life balance for the foreseeable future, I will continue to work at least until the age of 70. Longer if my health permits. I am in that fortunate position of enjoying (most of the time) the job that I do and being able to do it while also doing my bit to look after the children. 

Do I therefore feel ‘dad guilt? Well I do, but probably not as much as the average parent. I feel guilt at not being able to spend more time in the company of my colleagues. That is a simple consequence of distance and parental duties. But I have never been made to feel that I ought to be coming to the office more often (though occasionally am gently encouraged to do so for my own mental health).”

So to anyone out there that wants the family life and the professional life, just remember  it can be done. It’s about progress, not perfection.