Employers are increasingly looking at ways they can bolster employees’ general well being and one area for the large number of employees who are parents is through offering advice and support around how to raise a family and balance that with work responsibilities.
A number of employers now offer parenting advice sessions in the workplace or through webinars. Anita Cleare of the Positive Parenting Project says there is a good business justification for doing so which links well being with productivity and commitment. “Home conflicts are one of the biggest sources of stress at work,” she says. “You cannot be a creative, strategic decision-maker if you have not slept because you are worried about your teenager. If you feel happy and confident at home it spills over into your work.” Anita adds that parents often get a lot of advice when their children are just born, but very little when they are older. “It’s basically sink or swim when they become teens,” she says.
Before setting up the Positive Parenting Project, Anita, who has an academic background in child development, had been working at a local authority managing family support services. As a working parent herself, she felt working parents were missing out on support because they were at work all day. She decided to set up the Positive Parenting Project to take parenting support sessions into work, delivering them during the lunch hour. She stepped down from her management job in 2011 and took a more junior part-time role while she built up the Project’s work. After a year she went full time on the Project.
She says the response from some sectors was good, particularly the banking, finance and legal sectors which have a tradition of thinking about employee well being. What she offers is based on psychology and parenting research. “There’s a lot of rubbish in the media about parenting, but research is clear on what works – love, kindness, consistency, doing your best and feeling confident. Parents need access to those messages and I am aiming for the gold standard,” says Anita. “I want to give parents the tools they need.”
Some of the most common issues that come up in sessions are childcare, flexible working, having enough time to enjoy family life and build good relationships and guilt if they don’t.
Anita says guilt can have a negative impact and can lead to parents not putting up boundaries because they don’t want to create conflict.
She agrees that part of the guilt comes from parents measuring themselves against an impossible ideal. “That can be counterproductive,” she says.
Parenting has changed rapidly in the last few years, she adds. Parents’ lives are very different now than they were before and often both parents work. “Life is messy. It’s not the ideal that the media presents. Parenting is a sequence of decisions and tiny judgment calls. Kids are constantly changing and parents have to adapt. It’s challenging. We have to be kind to ourselves, find support networks and look after ourselves. Being good enough is the best we can be,” she says.
“We need to acknowledge too that the skillset we need at work is different to what we need at home. At work we are ruthlessly task-focused and efficient. With our children it is important to give them time and space. Children will choose their moment to talk. Parents cannot schedule everything. Switching on a daily basis between those different skillsets can be quite difficult.”
Anita says another big issue for parents is concern about technology, including the impact of social media on children’s self esteem. “Parents have a lot of anxiety about this,” she says. “Social media is a world that they have not grown up with and it is hard for them to understand.” They are worried about children’s mental health in general and how they can bolster their resilience.
Anita advises parents to be calm and consistent and to remember they are role models and that how they respond to life pressures is being observed by their children. “Children watch their parents and the coping mechanisms they use, such as drinking,” she says. However, she thinks that despite the stresses there have been a lot of positive developments in parenting too, for instance, families doing more activities together.
She hopes that projects like hers can contribute to supporting parents to feel more confident about their role and to promoting a happier workforce and society.