The struggle of finding balance between career and family life is a struggle every parent faces. It’s an age old question: “How can I be my best at both?”. No parent wants to feel like they have sacrificed time with their child to earn a buck and at the same time most parents believe in working hard, setting a good example of work ethic, and making enough money to provide their children a solid foundation in life. Healthcare, feeding teenagers, and college funds aren’t cheap yet necessities for providing said solid foundation.
The single parent (in this article “single parent” refers to the custodial parent) has the added stress of being both breadwinner and homemaker. I understand this stress first hand. I have been a single mother for 10 years. I began college a year after my divorce and four short years later, I earned a bachelor’s degree. I have very little financial help from my child’s father (less than $300 per month). I am in my early 30s and have a wide variety of career experience. I’ve been a regional merchandiser in which I traveled and built retail stores all over my state; an event planner, planning everything from weddings to trade shows; a paralegal who did all of the work of an attorney with none of the credit or court room time, and a marketing manager for a museum.
During my many career periods I have discovered working in an office environment to be the most conducive to finding balance between home life and career. There are many factors to review when deciding on an office career as a single parent. I have discovered that my approach to deciding whether or not to accept a job offer is much different than that of my married friends. Before you choose the huge paycheck over a “less stress” job consider the atmosphere in which you will be working. Pay is always a factor whether you are a single parent or not. You have to eat. Work hours, commuting distance, your new boss’s disposition, benefits, sick/vacation pay vs. paid time off, and workload should be weighed heavily.
Consider your work hours. One of the many things that make the office environment favorable in my eyes is somewhat of a secret; office hours are negotiable. Thirty minutes can mean the difference in showing up at your child’s school on time or getting that dreaded call from the angry teacher who is left waiting with the last kid (your child). During the interview process, ask the person you are interviewing with if coming in thirty minutes early and leaving thirty minutes early is an option. The worst thing they can say is “no”. And if that happens then be sure to explain to the interviewer that the required hours are acceptable. Is working from home an option? Office hours, compared to retail hours or working as an event planner, make it much easier to maintain a work life balance in my opinion. Your schedule is essentially the same as your child’s (plus a few hours). Retail hours usually vary from week to week and include some nights and weekends. Even though there is flexibility in retail hours, with office hours there is no “asking permission” to attend your daughter’s recital three weeks from now. You know you will not be at work at 7:00 pm on a Wednesday night. And depending on how “corporate” your office job is, like me in my current position, you may not have to ask permission anytime you need to take off early or take an extended lunch to get your kid to the orthodontist. The more relaxed of an environment the more freedom you have.
Consider your commute. If you get a call from the school nurse, how long will it take you to get to your child? Consider your boss’s disposition. Is your boss going to give you the evil eye and treat you like you’ve done something wrong if your child catches the flu? Is your boss a parent? If they are a parent they will be more likely to understand your job is important to you but your child will always come first.
Consider your benefits. How many retail chains will pay for your toll tag; cater in free lunch multiple days a week; provide free coffee, soft drinks, and snacks all day every day; pay to have a mobile car wash detail your car once a month; give you a dry cleaning allowance; pay for a gym membership; or bring in a masseuse once a week? These are just a few of the extra benefits I have received while working as a cubicle dweller. Not to mention that the majority of the offices I have worked in have paid a large portion if not all of my healthcare plan. These little extras can really add up and take stress off of your pocket book.
Typically, in an office environment you have access to paid leave within your first ninety days. My experience in retail is that you don’t receive paid leave until after you’ve been with the company for at least a year. Within the past three years, I’ve noticed a lot of offices switching to PTO. At first I was leery of this change but at second glance I have discovered it is much more beneficial to the single parent. PTO is all of your sick time and all of your vacation time lumped into one pile. As a single parent, I can’t afford vacations as often as a duel income family. When my son was younger and it was a necessity for him to be in daycare; my sick leave was gone well before my vacation time.
Consider your workload. Are you going to be too stressed to enjoy time with your child/children during the week? Is your workload going to cause you to work all weekend? Kids of single parents are more likely to fall through the cracks. I despise negative single parent statistics but sometimes fact is fact. If your workload is going to eat away at the small amount of time you have with your child the job is not worth it. I have always been a career driven person. It wasn’t until I blinked and woke up to my son turning 12 that I realized I have the rest of my life to pursue a career and only a few short years to raise my child into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult. You can be a workaholic as soon as your kid leaves for college but you will never get the chance to redo their childhood.
After working retail, event planning, traveling, running the map and coming into my own as a cubicle dweller I would choose working in an office every time I was given the choice. The benefits, consistency of schedule, and pay have far outweighed that of retail. I’ve also used the consideration points above to narrow my search for the perfect office job. Not all offices are perfect. Some offices can be detrimental to finding your balance. It’s up to you to look at the bigger picture and determine where your family fits.