The Challenges and the Untapped Potential of Working Parents

Ali McKee shares her thoughts and experiences on being a working parent. Read on to learn more about the challenges working parents face, the essential qualities to look for in an employer, and how companies can better support their parent employees.

In the run-up to Mother’s Day, I thought it was a perfect time to look at the world of working parents, highlight the balancing act of juggling career and family, identify what to seek in a potential employer, and discuss how employers can support the needs of working parents.  

I stumbled on a quote today, and while this one is specifically about mothers, it applies to all working parents or caregivers, and it really resonated with me. 

 “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”  
— Annabel Crabb 

With this thought as a starting point, I wanted to address one of the most significant challenges I have faced as a working mum: the overwhelming sense of guilt. 

That question I know we have all contemplated: Is it enough?  

It’s a common emotional challenge that many working parents grapple with. This guilt stems from the perceived inability to allocate as much time to our children as we would like to, often due to the demands of our professional roles.  

The emotional turmoil can be intensified by societal expectations and self-imposed pressure to excel both as a parent and a professional. It can be exhausting.  

This sense of guilt can then be compounded by workplace discrimination — a significant challenge that can manifest as missed opportunities for career advancement, lack of support, or even bias from managers and colleagues.  

We all know the drill: rushing from work to pick up the kids by 3pm, attending parent teacher meetings, band performances, book week parades, swimming carnivals (oh the list goes on), and dealing with the often judgmental glances that follow as you run out the door. 


What Working Parents Need from Employers 

With the high cost of living and additional financial pressure on working parents, it has become impossible for the average Australian to support a family on a single income.   

Financial concerns aside, I and many other working mums or parents don’t want to compromise on our careers! 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. With the right support and understanding from employers, these challenges can be mitigated, creating a healthier, more inclusive work environment.  

I was recently asked what the key things to look for in an employer, as a working parent, so here are my thoughts: 

  • Trust: A foundation of mutual respect, a place where open communication thrives.  
  • Flexibility: Both my employer and I should be able to adapt to each other’s needs, within reason, of course.  
  • Autonomy: I crave independent work, knowing I can own a task and deliver excellent results.  
  • Positive work culture: No negativity, no gossip — just a supportive, professional space.  
  • Career and learning development: An individualised plan to develop evolving skills that can be applied to multiple possible opportunities. 
  • Leadership: Not management. 

Working Parents Have Skills Businesses Desperately Need 

Working parents bring unique skills, improving company culture, innovation, and financial performance. 

In many cases, our abilities to empathise, manage time effectively, and take on challenges make us valuable assets. 

Particularly for working mums, research shows that CEOs with soft skills like compassion and integrity can deliver significant returns on assets. Additionally, gender diversity has been linked to increased market value and revenue growth. 

But there’s more. There is a growing trend of parents becoming self-employed or starting their own businesses. This entrepreneurial mindset, combined with the ability to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities, can bring fresh ideas and energy to the business landscape.  

When harnessed by employers, this results in an equivalent intrapreneurial mindset. After all, what business wouldn’t value an outcome-focused individual who can juggle multiple responsibilities and deliver results?  

This leads me to reflect on my own experience during the years that I was juggling single parenting and work. Had I been granted the flexibility to manage my responsibilities without penalty, I would have thrived, and the companies I worked for would have greatly benefited.  

To employers or leaders who have read this far: What can you do to harness the attributes that are often forged through parenthood? 

I’ll leave you with this little lighthearted wrap up. This afternoon, I asked my 10-year-old daughter a few questions about what she thinks of it all. Here’s what she had to say.  

Me: What is the best thing about Mummy working? 
Frankie: Well, you get monies of course, you know, to buy me stuff. (Haha! Just kidding, Mum.) 
Me: What is the worst part about it? 
Frankie: Ah, well, sometimes you have to go into the office and do boring meetings with blah blah blah people. 
Me: What about when I work from home and you hear my meetings. Does it change the way you see me? 
Frankie: It makes me see you as a human.  
Me: What! Being a mum doesn’t make me a human?!

Perhaps, working parents are indeed Super Humans!  

PS. Are you navigating the world as a working parent? I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn and share experiences. 

Ali McKee

Ali McKee

Ali is a Success Manager in Recruitment and Operations at ThunderLabs. With over a decade of experience, she has mastered the art of building strong, strategic relationships crucial for success in both the company and its clients.

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