Family matters: Can working parents really have a guilt-free career?

Family matters can working parents really have a guilt-free career

Feel guilty about sitting out sports day this summer? You’re not alone.

In fact, two thirds of working parents admit that they’ve missed an important event involving their children due to work commitments, according to our latest research.

We surveyed over 500 working parents to find out how they really felt about juggling their career around their children, and uncovered a rising level of guilt that our dedication to our jobs may mean we’re missing out on some of our families’ most important moments.

In fact, one quarter of the working parents we surveyed also stated that they’re not at all happy with their current work/life balance, further underlining our inability to keep our personal and professional lives separate.

The pressures of returning to work

So, why are we so struggling so much when it comes to balancing a healthy career with a happy family? And is it ever possible to have it all?

It seems some of the answers start with parental leave. Although Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is only paid up to the 39 week mark, with a reduced amount also provided between weeks six and thirty nine.

It’s little wonder then that more than one in five new parents chooses to return to the workplace within three months. Almost half cited financial pressure as the main reason.

Furthermore, one in ten returns in less than 12 months due to fears about job security. Pressing pause on a well-developed career and the risk of not being able to recover after the gap is a real concern for many new parents.

Modern-day expectations

But it’s not just job security and salary working parents worry about. Social change and peer pressure both play their part in pushing us back to work before we may be ready.

Thirty years ago only 40% of mums worked – today, it’s two in three. Add to that a slew of parent bloggers, friends social media accounts boasting about how easy it is to get the balance right, and our unrealistic comparisons to celebrity super-mums (Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Marissa Mayer et al), and the yardstick by which we measure our own misgivings begins to grow ever longer.

Earlier this year, one study attributed our unhappiness to a ‘double burden of guilt’, whereby workers are as anxious about neglecting their careers as they are about neglecting their kids. We’re constantly playing catch-up on both fronts, leaving little time to enjoy either.

And if you think working from home alleviates some of the stress, think again. Daddy blogger, Tom Briggs, explains: ‘Working from home can also be hard, particularly with young children who don’t really understand that you’re working and can’t play with them – it’s tricky balancing the two commitments.’

A flexible approach

60% of the parents we surveyed admitted they sometimes felt having children has held them back in their career, further blurring the line between work and play. However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel according to our results.

When asked which factors would make them more likely to want to work for a company, the overwhelming majority (58%) said that more flexible hours to work around their children would be their main motivator.

And with recent government legislation stating that workers now have the legal right to ask their bosses for more versatility with the hours they put in, the future for working parents may be brighter than many think – as long as we learn where to draw the line.

As working mum, Emma Button, summarises: ‘Don’t ever feel like you have to stay at work longer than the normal working hours. Everyone has different reasons why they want or need to work so stand by your decision and do what you need to do, not what others think you should do.’

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