Can your job really influence how successful you are at being a peaceful or mindful parent? Research says yes.
In fact, some of the latest research coming out this past year indicates that parents trying to juggle priorities in 2019 need flexibility in their workplace in order to also extend emotional flexibility in the home.
Ultimately if we are to be present as parents, we have to have both flexibility and consistency. Current research indicates “parents’ work experiences have a considerable impact on their parenting behaviors and on the overall quality of their family life.”
It sounds like a no brainer for positive parenting, but often some of the simplest answers are overlooked.
So let’s dig a little deeper and put it into context.
Many parents often ask me how in the world they can practice a more positive parenting approach because it seems like they can’t keep their world from spinning into chaos.
Maybe the first thing we need to look at when it comes to addressing mindfulness and peaceful parenting is not how to change our kids or even how to change ourselves, but how to address the pressures of work and outside life on the family that are stressors instead of cornerstones.
How to use the earthquake analogy to understand work-family stress
Let’s put it this way, if a building has pillars or beams to stand on and they’re evenly spaced, then the weight of the rest of the building can firmly sit atop the load bearing walls and beams. But if not, over time the building might start to crumble under pressure. And if an earthquake strikes, one must hope that the building was properly outfitted with earthquake-proof engineering.
This analogy helps us see our families a little bit better.
The building is family life. The beams and pillars are the important and necessary parts of life that keep our family strong like jobs. The earthquake is stress in life.
First you must know that scientifically, earthquakes cause horizontal pressure on vertical buildings. It weakens even the strongest structures. And that force can cause the building to collapse. But if a building is built on a flexible foundation, built with pistons that can absorb the shock, and/or has reinforcements to protect it, then it’s less likely to crumble.
We have our pillars such as the times we have to work, the systems we have in place to make sure bills are paid or kids are taken care of, and even our rituals and routines that help define our days. Mentally, this helps create patterns that we can rely on — both kids and adults.
It provides clearer understanding of expectations and can even improve mental health for the whole family. The pressures of life sit upon all of them. In fact, there is no way to escape “adulting” as a parent so the pressure can’t just disappear, it has to be supported.
But in comes an earthquake.
This can simply be a bad day.
Maybe it’s a meltdown from your toddler?
Or what about some defiance from a teenager?
Whatever it may be, the way you handle the situation all depends on how flexible your foundational pillars are, what kinds of method you have to decompress for your own mental health, and the reinforcements you might have in friends, family, or neighbors to help when you’ve hit your limit.
So what workplace factors are proven to improve parenting & home life?
Research suggests that having both parents engaged leads to better parent and child outcomes (Lundahl et al., 2008) with the best indicators of a parent’s job contributing to more peaceful and mindful parenting as the following (and in order):
- A fixed schedule.
- …and/or flexibility in the work schedule.
- Working part-time or less than forty hours per week.
The flexibility allows for parents to adapt to the immediate needs of their kids in the moment while the fixed schedule allows for consistency and routine. Of course it would also be great to not have to work so much, but if you can afford such a luxury, it has positive indications for the parenting relationship.
Research has shown that these job attributes are most important for mothers, but also extremely beneficial for fathers as well.
Real ways anyone can improve positive parenting
Whether it’s because you’re a stay-at-home-mom or a parent that simply cannot change jobs, here are some ways to strengthen your “parenting pillars.”
Of course, your job isn’t the only indicator for how successful you are at peaceful parenting or being in the moment with your child. Therefore consider a few other factors:
- What regular routines can you gift your children that they can always depend on? This could be the same bedtime 365 days of the year or it could be flexible routines like always doing a pickup playlist each morning even if it happens at different times each day. A set schedule for our own work is helpful, but remember it’s also a benefit to our children!
- Who are your fall-back people, your village, your helpers? Your kids need to know them too. And I know it’s so hard to be a part of a village today, but even just one go-to person could be the critical element to helping your family thrive a bit more peacefully because instead of crumbling under pressure, you have a back-up helper.
- Can you ask for more flexibility at work or from a spouse? Even a SAHM can talk to their spouse about time away from always being on duty and on call for the kids. The amazing, technical world we live in also means that working parents can often ask about even one day a week tele-working or finding ways to be home more frequently. There are tons of creative ways to build in flexibility to even the most traditional jobs. And as my supervisor in my very first job our of college always reminded me, “Only the squeaky wheel can get fixed. Asking for solutions and improvements only makes everyone better.”
- Do you have any “outs” for when you know you’re losing your cool or feel like you’re crumbling? Make a list of ways to decompress or calm yourself down in the heat of the moment. One of my favorites is flipping the counting script on myself.
Resources & references
Lechowicz, Meryn E., et al. “Enhancing Father Engagement in Parenting Programs: Translating Research into Practice Recommendations.” Australian Psychologist, vol. 54, no. 2, 2018, pp. 83–89.
A meta‐analysis of father involvement in parent training.” Research on Social Work Practice, 18(2), 97–106, 2008., , , & “
 Moreira, Helena, et al. “Work-Family Conflict and Mindful Parenting: The Mediating Role of Parental Psychopathology Symptoms and Parenting Stress in a Sample of Portuguese Employed Parents.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, 2019.
Online programs as tools to improve parenting: A meta‐analytic review.” Children and Youth Services Review, 35(11), 1823–1829, 2013., , & “
Research review: Engaging men: A multi‐level model to support father engagement.” Child & Family Social Work, 22(1), 537–547, 2015., , & . “
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!