How to succeed at "workparenting"
Daisy Dowling
Founder & CEO of Workparent and author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a coach you could turn to for advice and guidance on how to be a more confident, capable, and in-control working parent? Good news, she exists! Daisy Dowling is a leading executive coach, mom of two, and author of the new book, Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. It’s a comprehensive resource packed with practical tips and techniques on how to take better care of yourself, your family, and your career. Daisy joins us to share the one thing that all happy and confident workparents have in common: the right mindset. She lets us in on how to achieve it, and she shares practical (and life-changing!) advice on everything from confronting mom guilt, to finding great childcare, to setting up flexible work arrangements, to being more deliberate about setting aside time for your family – and yourself.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Why you shouldn’t beat yourself up over feelings of guilt as a working parent (and strategies to overcome it)
  • Simple, practical tips to get a better handle on your busy days, prioritize what’s most important, and manage your time effectively
  • Techniques for being more intentional about taking the time you need to rest, recalibrate, and recharge
  • How to be more strategic and thoughtful about finding the child care arrangement that meets your and your family’s needs
  • Why “flexibility” at work is not one-size-fits-all, and how to get creative about finding the flexibility model that fits your specific work/life situation
  • How employers have a big role to play in defining the success of the parents in their workforce, and what they can do to create more workparent-friendly cultures


For more information, visit https://www.workparent.com/book


Click here to read the full episode

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Full Transcript

How to succeed at "workparenting"

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast brought to you by Care@Work.

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard. Wouldn't it be great if there was definitive how-to book on how to take better care of yourself, your kids, and your career? I have good news, this book really does exist. Today, I'm with the author who wrote it. Daisy Dowling is an executive coach and founder and CEO of Workparent, an organization that advises working parents and the companies they work for.

Her new book is called Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. In this episode, Daisy shares life-changing advice that will help any working parent, regardless of job, number of kids, income, or family structure, thrive. Have a listen. Daisy, thank you so much for being with us today.

Daisy Dowling: Thank you so much for having me.

Emily Paisner: Let's start with why you wrote the book. What was the inspiration behind it? Why did you feel like working parents needed such a comprehensive resource?

Daisy Dowling: To be honest, it was less inspiration and more necessity. I wrote this book because I needed to read it. I worked for many years as an executive coach inside some big, really wonderful companies, and it was my privilege to work with men and women who are trying to figure out how to get ahead career-wise and get promoted, achieve their own ambitions, do well at work.

I could give them all kinds of advice about workplace issues, but then in coaching sessions where we would be talking about time management, for example, and how they could keep their workplace calendars tight and efficient, and up-to-date, the person would often say to me, "Yes, but what if I have to leave at 6:00 PM to get to daycare pickup?" Or I'd be talking to people about bringing their best self and best energies to a new project and they would say, "Yes, but I've got 18-month-old twins at home and they're not sleeping?"

All that working parent's stuff, I didn't have anything in my bag of tricks for, I didn't know what to say, and that made me feel a little uneasy as a coach.

Then I became a working mom myself. Nine years ago, my first child was born. As I was looking for answers and advice, and honestly, just encouragement and can do in mentoring, I couldn't find one single comprehensive and importantly, nonjudgmental place to get that from, so very long story short, I decided to create it.

Emily Paisner: Can you talk about how some of the working parents that you've spoken with all share a particular mindset? Does successful work parenting start with just channeling the right outlook?

Daisy Dowling: I've spoken with working parents, and when I say working parents, I use that term deliberately, it's moms and dads, it's biological and adoptive parents, people in all fields and family structures, and phases of parenting doing all kinds of jobs and schedules, everything. What has struck me both when I'm coaching some of them and when I'm interviewing them because I do a lot of research, is that the people who just generally seem most together, who seemed to have this working parent thing, not perfectly down because none of us do, but who seemed to be on top of it, they all have this similar general outlook.

It varies from person to person, but general outlook which is what I'm doing is worthwhile, it's good, it's good to work hard. I'm a devoted parent. I can do those two things at the same time, not perfectly, not ideally, working parenthood is essentially worthwhile. My life doesn't have to look like a beautiful Instagram feed, but I just need to do my best. From there then, from that mentality, they can put in place some of the techniques, and life hacks, and approaches, and have the difficult conversation about getting flexibility with their boss. All the other stuff seems to follow just a little bit more easily from that upfront belief.

Emily Paisner: Let's talk about that mentality for a second because for me, at least, that mentality can shift quite often from I've got this to I am so guilty, I am failing at everything, I am not doing anything right. Typically, the only thing that I feel like I'm crushing is my soul sometimes, and it's such a common problem. How can we start to shed some of this toxic thinking and go back to that I've got this attitude?

Daisy Dowling: I'm going to say something that's going to surprise you but hang in here with me when I say it. I actually don't want you to shed that thinking. I know it feels crummy and guilt, and overwhelm, they're lousy feelings. I feel them too, we all do. Let's take a closer look at where they come from. You're a completely dedicated loving on the job parent and your children are the center of your life. You're also a committed, dedicated, conscientious professional, who really cares about your work and doing well at it and your work has meaning to you. You also want to really support your family and create security for them. Those two things are both true.

Now, when you do something, that means that you have to favor one side over the other. Let's say you have to take a really important work call when you had promised a child that you would play with them, or eat dinner with them, or spend Saturday with them, it's natural to feel crummy, lousy, guilty, because you feel like you've acted is somehow in conflict with your values. If I'm such a great parent, why am I prioritizing work? Or if I'm such a committed professional, why am I spending all this time on homework with my kids, when I've got a deadline that I have to meet tomorrow?

Guilt and overwhelm, they feel lousy, yes, they're hard to take. They're ultimately byproducts or symptoms, uncomfortable symptoms of your head, and your heart being in the right place. Guilt is your conscience talking at you just really way too loudly. Don't say "I'm going to ditch the guilt, I'm just going to completely get out from under it." Because that's not real. It's not reality. If somebody says, "I feel no guilt at all being a working parent," then I might have a bit of concern for them to be honest.

You can take the volume down, you can make it feel less difficult. Here are a couple of strategies. First, think about what I call re-staking. Re-staking is just basically replanting your emotional flag in really rocky territory, and reminding yourself that you're acting not in conflict with your values, but in alignment with them. Let's say you did get a really urgent work call one night when you had told your child that you would eat dinner with them or spend the evening with them. It's something that you have to attend to and the guilt surges, and you start to feel terrible, and you say, "Ugh. Look at me, I broke my promise to my child." Instead, say, "I am a committed, devoted parent. Tonight, because of circumstances out of my control, I had to focus on work matters. That is work that I do to earn a living for my family, to set a good example for my child or children, to create security to give them options in the future that maybe I didn't have when I was their age. I do all of that, because I'm a committed, loving parent." Bring it back around to that original commitment, to that original part of your identity. You'll begin to feel better, you won't feel so conflicted.

Another way to get around guilt, it's a little bit more of a light-touch approach, which is to push back on guilt. When guilt begins to rush at you and to surge at you and you begin to get overwhelmed by that wave, push back by using one single word, which is "Really." Let your mental tape play. As you say, "Ugh. Look at me. There I go again, I was late for daycare pickup. I'm a terrible mom."

Ask yourself "Really? Am I really a terrible mom? Am I really so horrible that we need to do something here? Should we call Child Protective Services if I'm really that terrible? Am I really not working as hard as I should be? I put in nine hours at work yesterday. Is that really an example of how I'm not such a conscientious professional?" In other words, just take a little pin and start putting it into that balloon of guilt and it will begin to deflate.

Emily Paisner: Within that, you talked about something that is a precious resource for every working parent and that is time. Can you share some tips that can help us to prioritize what's most important to better manage our days?

Daisy Dowling: Yes, so the next time you have 15 minutes free, which I know is hard as a working parent. When you have that time for free, I want you to grab your last week's calendar and to-do list. Looking back over the past seven days, and with a red pen in hand or a technological equivalent, I want you to go back through all the different things that landed on your calendar and all the different things that were on your to-do list. I want you to start circling the ones that maybe just maybe you could have put off, said "No" to, delegated, gotten some help on, avoided, done in slightly less time, whatever it is. You won't find tons of those things, but I promise you will find some.

I want you to look at what ends up in those red circles. I want you to then think what some of the themes are. Each and every one of us has a time tendency. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I hover on things on an email I've written instead of just sending it out, which is what I should do. You may say yes too easily or you may still be doing things for your kids that now they're a little bit older, maybe you could ask them or that they really should be doing for themselves. Each of us has a theme, a through line. I want you to look at those bits of time you could have won back, things you could have saved at 15 minutes. Even if it's just that small amount. With some of those insights in mind, I want you to shift to your next week's calendar and to-do list.

With what you've just seen, some of the insights, the observations you've got, I want you to go through your next week's calendar and to-do list and preemptively start putting in those red circles and say, "You know what, I'm not going to show up for that meeting, I'm going to get the notes from somebody else. They're going to ask me to take on a volunteer role at the school this week. You know what, I'm just going to gracefully decline. I'm going to ask my 10-year-old to throw in a load of his own laundry."

Whatever those things are, play that forward. You're not going to find yourself gobs of time, but you'll find that precious 3%, that 5% of your calendar back which will allow you to move working parenthood from something that's just over the top crazy time-demanding into merely extremely time-demanding.

Emily Paisner: It sounds like a lot of reclaiming your time is embracing the power of no. By the way, I am so guilty of enabling my kids as they get older, and I should absolutely be encouraging them to do more of things that I know that they're capable and able to do. We talked about time and we talked about guilt. We know that it's important for parents to get some time away, to take some time off. What can we do to be more intentional about taking time that we need while not feeling so guilty about it?

Daisy Dowling: This is a really tough one at the point we're at in the pandemic. Every working parent has been all out for months. The way I open most of my one-to-one coaching conversations right now with my clients is I ask them when is the last time you had a day off. Usually, people have to think really far back. We've all just been going on adrenaline and coffee.

Here's my recommendation. Start small. To say to yourself that you're going to take even a weekend off, and just for two days, not do anything that's "productive", and just enjoy yourself, do stuff for yourself or do things with your family, that may feel too much right now. If it does, scale down. In the next couple of days, just identify 30 minutes. Maybe it's even 15 minutes, some very small chunk of time.

Think of yourself as being on a power outage. Imagine that the electricity is out so to speak, but it's out for you in terms of being productive, that you're not going to engage with your to-do list, with your emails, with anything. You're going to take that time to sit and breathe deeply, or go for a walk, or call a friend, or just do nothing, or watch TV, whatever it is that you want to do.

Emily Paisner: It feels so good to cross something off of that list. [laughs]

Daisy Dowling: It feels good in the short term and doesn't feel good in the long term. When you cross something off the list, you feel like, "I've made progress. Yes." but then at the end of the week or next year, when you feel exhausted and you look back over your shoulder and think, "I'm ground down, my battery level is very low. What went wrong?" That's not going to feel good. A lot of this is about thinking, "What can I do today that will allow me to set myself up for sustainability and success over the longer term?"

If you have to start in 15-minute increments, that's all you can do without getting hives about the fact that you're not checking email, start with that, and then move it up a little bit. Say, "Okay, this Saturday afternoon, I'm not going to do anything that's productive, that's on my to-do list. I'm not going to do housework." Gradually try and move to a weekend and go back that way.

Emily Paisner: It's inevitable that working parents need childcare and the pandemic so brutally laid bare the brakes in our care infrastructure that we have in this country. When we think about entering this post-COVID workplace, how can we think about lining up the support and help that we need for our kids? How have you seen organizations support their employees in this way?

Daisy Dowling: I think each and every one of us has some secret superpower when it comes to this. Thinking about lining up new care, fresh care, what do I need, it's like looking at a plate of spaghetti. It's just all this tangled mess. We don't know where to start, where it ends, what to do, how to organize it. Here's your secret superpower, which is that you have workplace skills that can be really helpful to you here.

As you think about work, I'm sure that you know and have confidence in how to manage a project, or write a document, or engaged with a client, whatever it is that you do for work, you know how to do that and you know how to do it well. Think about bringing some of that approach, thoughtful, deliberate, planful, treating basically the search for care and setting up care like a process, and then thinking about it in component parts so that it doesn't become so overwhelming. Instead of saying, "I need to have my full care picture set up right away, and I don't know where to start.", say, "Okay, all I have to do upfront is decide what type of care is going to work for me, daycare versus family support versus a babysitter. Let me just start there and then after that, let me think about researching.

Let me talk to some other parents who have their children in similar care, then let me put together a description of what good care looks like to me what I want in a daycare facility, what I want in a nanny or an in-home caregiver. Then let me think about the search process."

There's different component pieces to the search process. In the book, I try and walk parents through these sort of small chunks, small steps of finding that process. It can go quite quickly, but that takes some of the just the drama down. In terms of how organizations can help their people find care, I think the most powerful thing, there's certainly wonderful programs in terms of backup care, and so forth, and a lot of institutions provide but I think wherever you work, the most powerful thing that you can get from your organization is the aggregate wisdom, all the insights and all the advice of the other people you work with.

If you can go talk to somebody else about what's their daycare like, or how did they find a great nanny, or have they been able to put a system of backup care in place that works for them, all of that information is going to put you in such a powerful position.

Emily Paisner: Looking for childcare has also changed a bit because we now have more flexible work schedules since the pandemic. We've realized that not everyone needs to be in an office five days a week. Flexibility is not created equal. We know that some employers are going to allow their employees to pick how they'd like to work moving forward, some won't others have to be in an office environment depending on their role, but can you talk a little bit about some of the different kinds of flexibility that working parents can consider and even advocate for to best support their situation?

Daisy Dowling: Yes, this is a terrific question, and here's where honestly, as we come out the other end of the pandemic, I get a little nervous. A lot of parents have begun to associate remote work or working from home with flexibility because it's been such a prominent feature of the pandemic. I think a lot of parents also think that they're in a black and white, yes or no situation, either my employer will allow this, or my boss, or he or she or the organization won't. That's not a great place from which to advocate for ourselves.

Number one, I encourage people to think about being as creative and really opening the aperture as much as possible in terms of the types of flexible work. Remote work is one that may or may not be possible for you depending on what you do, you may have to physically show up. Other great solutions strategies include compressed workweeks. Instead of doing eight hours, five days a week, you work 10 hours per day, four days a week, shifted hours. Getting into work, and I cringe when I say this because I'm not a morning person, but getting into work at 6:00 AM 6:30 AM 7:00 AM.

Emily Paisner: That was my life pre-pandemic. That was my life.

Daisy Dowling: Yes, so that you can get out and do the school pickup time or get to daycare pickup early, whatever your situation. There's even other things that you can do, depending again, on your function and the structure of your job. Let's say you work at an accounting firm, where things are crazy in that March, April timeframe, at least in the US, when taxes are getting filed and prepared. Well, maybe you could bargain or have a deal with your employer that you're going to work all out during that time and you bring a grandparent, let's say in to live with you during that time to help you out, but during the rest of the year, or certain parts of the year, you're working seasonally, you're working on on a reduced schedule, or you're working four days per week, or you get extra weeks of vacation off.

Or think about a job share where you take the job that you're doing full time that's incredibly intense, and you split it. I'm throwing out a lot of spaghetti against the wall. What works for you, won't work for me, what works for me won't work for somebody else. We all have to find our unique fit, but when we do, then it allows us to go to our organizations and to be our own advocates and to frame our request in a way that is commercial and aligned with what your boss cares about and your organization cares about. In that way, you're not just saying, "Well, I want more flexibility," which is what I see a lot of parents do. It's not specific enough a question for anybody to actually grant you that flexibility or saying, "Give me this type of arrangement or else." which is sort of hostage-taking and tends not to sit well with managers.

It's saying, "I'm on your team and I can give you even more if you give me this."

Emily Paisner: Can you share from the employer perspective, since I know you've done a lot of work in the employer space, what they can do to create more work parent-friendly cultures?

Daisy Dowling: There's really three things that employers have at their disposal to become more work parent-friendly. Think of this as a three-legged stool. There's policies, and policies are things like how many weeks of parental leave we offer people or how much vacation time they get in a year. There's programs, which are things like a mentoring program for people who are returning from leave or an employee resource group and the educational programming that can go on in that.

Then the third leg of the stool which tends to get kind of short shrift, and this is where, I think, we can get a lot of lift and get it quickly no matter what organization we're in, is in our practices. You may or may not be able to put a backup care program in place at your organization or feel that you have the funds to do that. Or you may work in a small organization where you can't have an ERG because there's just not enough parents or critical mass, but those practices we can all do regardless of what the policies and programs look like.

Practices are just those small things that we do day-in-day-out that guide our behavior maybe without us even realizing it. Those are things as small as when you have a conversation if you're a manager, if you're a leader, do you have a conversation in a meeting, let's say you're on a Zoom meeting, deliberately bringing forward the fact that you have care-giving responsibilities, not having the sort of perfect Zoom backdrop but making sure a picture of your kids is in the background or saying, "Hey, my 16-year-old is here and may wander through in the background. You may see her."

Signaling that it's not just that you're in this boat, we're all in this boat together. We're in the same boat. We may be pulling at different oars, but we all have the same experience. It can be sending more deliberate and concerted messages at important employee transition points. One of the things that I have worked with a lot of managers to do is to have their script and their reaction ready when people come in and say, "I'm expecting."

Too many managers I've spoken with and coached say that they feel like they're not sure what to say, I'm I supposed to say congratulations, but then are we supposed to talk about the parental leave or the transition points. They get sort of tangled up and their reaction can read as non-supportive.

Emily Paisner: It's interesting because a lot of women feel like when they share that news with their manager that they have to say, "But don't worry. I'm going to be coming back." We shouldn't have to feel that way.

Daisy Dowling: Exactly. We all need to take our expectations down for that conversation. You're sharing information. Nothing needs to be decided. The only thing that needs to be communicated from the organization side is that you're happy for that person. They've just shared a piece of personal news. The business details, how work is going to get done, that will come, it will get worked out. You're both smart people, but for right now you just need to signal support.

I know I'm providing really, really small example there, but practices are small. It's how we talk to each other. It's how we interact, and it's how day-to-day people feel. I may get a really great parental leave, but when I come back from it, it's how I feel about working parenthood, is my manager backing me up?

Did he or she ask about how my weekend was and how my kid who was sick last week, are they doing better? All that small stuff is going to have a lot of impact too.

Emily Paisner: You are absolutely right. Daisy, this is been such a fantastic conversation. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you, your book, and the amazing work that you do?

Daisy Dowling: My book is the primary place to get more examples, life hacks, strategies, techniques, and coaching because that's what I do, or you can visit my website at www.workparent.com.

Emily Paisner: Daisy, from all of the working parents out there, thank you so much for everything you've done to help support us.

Daisy Dowling: Thank you for having me on the show.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.

Emily Paisner: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork.

Again, that's care.com/care A-T work.