Four months of maternity leave might sound like a dream to many corporate folk, until it’s you half awake at 4.30am, changing the diaper of the tiny human you’re now tasked to care for. Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you that parenthood is a full-time job with nor remuneration or sick leave.
But couple this with an actual job, and you get the ever-stretched, ever-stressed working parent: an employee who’s usually sleep-deprived and dealing with copious amounts of guilt both in the workplace and at home.
The main challenges working parents face
It’s tough juggling growing responsibilities at home and an ever-competitive playing field at work, but we speak to 8 working parents to find out what their real challenges are.
Stigmas, forgoing attractive job opportunities and a whole bout of anxiety
Image for illustrative purposes only.
Marissa, 29: When I got pregnant, I was working in an ever-growing start-up full of young people. Being one of the first employees in the company to have a child also made me worry about whether or not management would start to view me as a liability. When I got promoted post-maternity leave, I felt a sense of guilt being promoted over someone who didn’t take a 4-month “break”. I also felt like I had to work extra hard to prove myself and make up for those months that I was away.
I could tell that my boss wasn’t pleased with the fact that I’d be gone for so long, but I couldn’t do anything to remedy the situation. There were also many opportunities and overseas trips that I had to forgo because of my new responsibilities and circumstances, which made me feel like I was losing out to others.
Amara, 32: I was afraid that having a child and taking time off for maternity leave would hinder my job progression, seeing that I would be absent from work for a quarter of the year. I do also feel there’s an unspoken stigma working mothers face, no matter how pro-family a company claims to be. Based on feedback from superiors and subordinates alike, I’ve felt like being a mom was pinpointed as a reason for certain shortfalls – like appearing too busy, and that could affect privileges like flexi working hours or even job progression.
Jacintha, 31: One of my biggest worries was having people view me differently and “mummy track” me, where they assume that just because I have a baby, my focus is no longer at work but at home. Then there’s the mum guilt both ways: not being present at work or being able to OT, on the other hand possibly missing milestones and special moments due to work.
Sleep deprivation and juggling the role of a caretaker and a full-time employee
Amara, 32: The biggest challenge for sure, is juggling between being a primary caretaker and working – such as sending and picking up my kid from childcare, preparing meals, and looking after a sick kid while working from home on a weekday. Besides, there’s only so much work you can get done with a child screaming for your attention, whacking your computer, and dropping biscuit crumbs down your back. And no, even 8 hours of Cocomelon doesn’t stop kids from wanting attention from their parents. Without support from my family, I nearly broke from physical and mental exhaustion, so I had to hire help.
Image for illustrative purposes only.
Sarah, 27: Time management is a huge issue for me. I have been chasing deadlines and chasing my toddler around the apartment every single day, save for the 3 hours he goes to childcare in the morning. 24 hours in a day doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m always in survival mode with taking care of the kid, trying to not miss work deadlines, and taking care of myself. I mostly work in the evening when he goes to bed. I try to do the work that’s due the next day the night before, so I can cook, take him to school, pick him up, feed him, read to him etc. when he’s awake.
Nurul, 31: I work in the client servicing team of an advertising agency, balancing my time and energy to ensure that I show up both physically and mentally for my family and my team is a challenge, especially while ensuring that I do not compromise on my own mental and physical health. Other challenges include constantly having to make arrangements for child care in order for me to be present for work appointments, and ironing out logistics for pumping as my work requires me to be on the go, sometimes without access to a nursing room.
The financial strain of having more than 1 child
Marissa, 29: All parents want a bright future for their children, but when you have more than one child, you realise just how much infant care, early education, and enrichment programmes can put a strain on your finances – even with grants available. For my husband and I, we had to pass on the Montessori preschool we initially picked out for our twins because the fees were just beyond our means. And while that seems like a non-issue, our children didn’t thrive well in the government preschool they were in, which left me scrambling to find another affordable option for us to enrol our children in.
Katherine, 30: We are a dual-income household, but preschool fees alone depletes my entire take-home pay so we live off my husband’s income every month. We decided that it was better to invest in better early education, then to live with regrets in the long run.
What working parents wished their coworkers knew
Josh, 36: I wish they knew how stressful it is to rush home to avoid childcare late fees and to spend time before the kid sleeps. Also, that I may not be as actively engaged in work social activities like cohesions, and be more empathetic if I’m disturbed during meetings. For instance, being understanding if I have to rush home when my child is sick.
Jacintha, 31: Parenting is a tough balancing act, and just because I have to leave on the dot – or an hour early – it doesn’t mean I’m slacking, but rushing to my “next job”.
Marissa, 29: That working parents really don’t have it easy. While most non-parents can peacefully unwind after a long, tough day in the office, parents don’t get the same luxury. We rush home, be as present as possible to make up for the guilt we feel not having spent enough time with our children. We’re having rough days in the office and rough nights at home dealing with leaps and sleep regression. A little empathy and understanding goes a long way.
What else can companies do to support working parents?
Amara, 32: I would say awareness can do a lot, but also that it can be difficult for those who aren’t parents to really understand what working mums go through – which is why certain stigmas still exist. Other than what I mentioned about allowing more flexibility and opportunities, a mentality adjustment on a corporate level would do wonders for those on the ground so we don’t feel so stigmatised.
Jacintha, 31: Making sure that there are sterile nursing rooms for new mothers, flexible working hours, and a WFH policy that working moms to do work on their own schedule. Of course, more can be done to support fathers as well – it’s not just the mothers taking care of the kids. Perhaps more paternity leave and normalising the leaving of work on time.
Josh, 36: It’ll be good if companies can take the lead to have more paternity leave so fathers can spend more time with their newborn so it’s not mother-centric and dads can play an equal part. It’ll be great if it’s a government initiative to extend policy from 2 weeks to at least 1 month, or at least companies can take the lead and do so for a start.
Andrew, 33: Provide more child-related offs/leaves for parents to take. 6 days per year is not enough as the child gets sick more easily in their growing years.
Nurul, 31: Provide a safe and sterile environment to support nursing mothers, and exercise flexibility and trust as mothers return to the workforce and juggle motherhood and work.
Understanding the struggles of working parents
It’s easy to take things at surface value and consider working parents as more of a liability than a resource in a corporate setting as they’ve got their minds in two places, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see an extremely resilient individual that’s trying his or her best to juggle a whole new job scope on a disrupted sleep cycle.
Consider it the steepest learning curve of their lives, and yet, newly-minted working parents still show up for work and dedicate time beyond normal working hours to catch up on unfinished work. It’s important that as workplaces acknowledge the challenges that come with parenthood and provide support for their employees, be it in the form of sterile nursing rooms, flexi-work schedules or more WFH opportunities when the situation calls for it.