For working parents, considerable planning goes into returning to work and achieving work-life balance after having children. Yet, for many people, juggling work and family commitments as children move through adolescence is more of an afterthought, despite it being an equally challenging time.
“People don’t tend to think much about raising teens until their children reach this age,” says Jennifer Grove, a Partner for Gerard Daniels. “There is an assumption that parenting is only time consuming while children are young, and that as they become more independent and capable of thinking for themselves, their needs will diminish. While this may be true for some families, supporting teens alongside the demands of work and other responsibilities can still be surprisingly complex.”
The unpredictable art of parenting teens
As a senior professional and experienced parent of two teens, Jennifer describes adolescence as a unique period for working parents.
“Teenagers have very different support needs compared to younger children, and although they might have stepped up in physical ability, most still lack the maturity and emotional capability to take care of themselves,” says Jennifer. “And where the needs of younger children can largely be planned for, the support needs of teenagers can shift without warning. This makes juggling parenting and working during this this period a lot less predictable.”
There are many different ways that children need their parents to be present during adolescence, beyond meeting their basic needs and driving them to and from school and extracurricular activities.
“Being there for your children when and where they need you is a particularly challenging aspect of raising teens, because you don’t always know when this will be,” says Jennifer. “Your teenager may decide to open up to you at midnight or just as you leave for work, which makes planning ahead quite difficult, and having the flexibility to manage their needs essential.”
By the time children reach their teenage years, working parents may also be taking on caring roles for their own parents as they age, adding to the complexity of juggling work and family life at this stage.
Shaping a career around raising teenagers
Supporting teenagers alongside the many other demands on working parents amplifies the need for flexibility and work life balance. Looking ahead and better understanding this period can also help working parents to develop new skills and approaches for managing their time, their career and their household.
Returning to work? Don’t leave it too late…
Some people delay returning to work while their children are young, assuming they will have more time and freedom to work once they reach secondary school. There is also an assumption that career disruptions will end after rejoining the workforce – but experience has taught Jennifer otherwise.
“Returning to work can be an important step in preparing for the teenage years, and doing this at the right time will allow you to re-establish yourself and earn the flexibility that you might need later on,” she says. “You don’t need to work full time, but keeping your hand in the game will make it easier to ramp up and down as your caring requirements change.”
A partnership approach
If both parents in two-parent households have the opportunity to take on the caring role and build relationships with children over time, it can create a stronger family foundation from which to juggle the teenage years.
“There’s a lot to be said for thinking outside of gender when it comes to raising a family,” say Jennifer. “Personally, being able to share the parental load over the years has given my partner and I the capacity to continue building our careers, having earned the flexibility to accommodate the needs of our family and our employment.”
“That said, life is also busy and complicated, and it can be hard to strategise work and relationships long term,” Jennifer continues. “I don’t think we intentionally mapped out our careers and our family life, but being able to work at it together has taken some of the pressure off this stage.”
Supporting working parents in your organisation
To get the best out of your team, as an employer you must develop a family-friendly work culture and understand the challenges that working parents face. “Given the unpredictability of raising teenagers, working parents may need greater flexibility from their employment during this time,” says Jennifer. “And this flexibility and other accommodations must come without bias or fear of impacting career progression.”
Harnessing the value of working parents
As well as accommodating the needs of working parents, employers can benefit from recognising the value that working parents bring. “Many of the world’s most effective leaders are also parents and caregivers, and for good reason,” says Jennifer. “Parenting requires the ability to multitask; communicate; show empathy; strategise; negotiate; resolve conflict; manage time effectively; and keep calm under pressure. These are all skills found in good leaders, making many working parents an asset to their organisation.”
For working parents to feel confident in prioritising their family and valued for their professional contribution, their leaders must also role model work-life balance. “There are many powerful examples of women returning to work and unapologetically prioritising their family commitment alongside their leadership role, but this role modelling must continue through the teenage years of parenting too,” says Jennifer. “For men at all levels to step into a caring role in their family, male leaders must also feel empowered to role model work life balance in this way.”