5 things full-time work taught me about parenting

Family chaos: work prepared me better than I thought.
Family chaos: work prepared me better than I thought. Photo: Getty

What did full-time work teach me about parenting?

My first inclination is to say nothing. When my first child graced us with his presence I was convinced that full-time work prepared me in no way, shape or form for the avalanche I experienced. I thought work was tiring, once that baby screamed his lungs raw, I knew the reality of fatigue.

Upon reflection, with the cynical filter removed, I can see that working full-time primed me for parenthood in five key areas.

1. Relentlessness

Full-time work is exactly that – full time. 38 hours a week would be the dream job for most Australians with many full-time employees averaging more than 40 hours each week.

Let's not discuss the hours at stake in the job of parenting or we'll sound like a screech of violinists. We can safely agree that the persistent nature of parenting is not entirely different to the non-stop nature of full-time work.

If you clock up a late night, work will still be waiting there for you like a desperate, drooling puppy the next morning. And if you were up late with a baby, that baby, strangely is still there waiting for you like a desperate, drooling baby the next morning. Relentless.

There is one difference: you get weekends and annual leave when you work full-time.

2. Trust and delegate

Sorry to break it to you but you're not indispensable. Not at work and not at home.

Just as there are people at work who cannot entrust their tasks to a colleague, there are people who don't feel comfortable leaving their child in their partner's or others care.

Trusting people to help you and allowing them to competently complete your job in your absence is vital to any semblance of mental stability both at work and as a parent. Delegating when the workload gets too much is not lazy but intelligent.

This whole parenting adventure is a long-haul marathon, not a sprint. If you still want to have breath at the end, you need to trust and delegate.

3. Water cooler chats

Who doesn't love an office gossip? Me, actually. They are toxic forces who weave their way through a workplace, undermining the culture and infiltrating departments through pettiness and animosity. Often skilled at luring people with their superficial friendliness, they are swift to take prisoners and pollute their thoughts.

These types can spill out into the parenting world too. They are easy to spot: usually the first person to jump on the fact that, "Sarah (you know, Ben's mum) has lost 17kg, she must be bulimic! Did you know she's got a thing for the school principal? Don't say anything to anyone." Stay away from the water cooler.

4. Concentrate on your work, not everyone else's

There's always one person in the office who is obsessed with what Jenny in accounts is doing. Why is she taking so long to get back to me? Why is she turning up late all the time? Why is she allowed to have the Friday before a long weekend as time in lieu? 

My advice would be redirect your gaze back to your own ballgame. This isn't about Jenny. Just like parenting is not about how your neighbour feeds her kids organic rice balls with pea-jus for breakfast. Crack out the Weetbix and soldier on with your own miniature army. Eyes on the prize: your kids, not hers.

5. For effectiveness and sanity, take a lunchbreak!

In my former life as a human resources manager, I was a big believer in cultivating staff wellbeing. People who worked through their lunchbreak had two core reasons: there was excessive workload for one person, or the employee was inefficient. Trying to look impressive to a boss because you've driven yourself into the ground is not a goal anyone should be aiming for.

When you apply this same theory to parenthood, the correlation is clear. You are no use to your family if you're a frayed ball of exhaustion. The ability to sleep-in once in a blue moon, finish a cup of tea whilst hot, conduct a conversation with a friend uninterrupted, or pee privately, are not always easily achievable, particularly when our children are young, but giving yourself these little snippets of air, all help clear the headspace so you can go back out there and parent.

There is one final link between full-time work and parenting: printers don't work at home either.