Working Parents' Survival Guide

How to Balance a Job With School-Age Children

Mother holding hands with son on ledge
Photo: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Like many new parents, you may want to take some time off from work to be home with your kids. After all, they do grow up very quickly. It's not entirely accurate that going back to work after your kids start school is less challenging than balancing working and caring for an infant or toddler. While you may not want to miss a second of your child's first few years of life—opting to be a stay-at-home parent until your kids are school-age—there are a lot more things to consider once your child is spending several hours a day in a classroom.

Concerns for Parents of School-Age Children

The best time to think about how you are going to handle both having a job and raising children is before you begin this phase of your life. Several things make it harder to work while your kids or a bit older and in school than when they are infants or toddlers.

School Days Are Shorter Than Work Days: Since your child will spend seven hours a day in school, they won't need a full-time sitter. However, it will be necessary to arrange childcare for the time between when school lets out and your return home from work.

There Are Frequent Holidays, Vacations, and Shortened Days: Holidays, early dismissals, and extended recesses dot the school year. They usually add up to more time than most parents can get off from work. If your coworkers also have school-age children, competition for getting vacation time during school breaks, for example during summer break or winter and spring holidays, will be stiff. Finding a sitter who is willing to work sporadically throughout the year may be next to impossible because most prefer to have steady employment.

Kids Get Sick...A Lot: It may be possible to cover scheduled school breaks by relying on friends and family, and taking time off from work when possible. You will be all set as long as your children go to school every day it is in session. But how often does that happen? Kids get sick now and then (more "now" it sometimes seems rather than "then"). Whether you know your child is ill before you leave for work or he or she doesn't feel well during the day, you will have to make last minute arrangements. Some bosses allow workers to take sick days without specifying whether it is for themselves or their children. Many employers, unfortunately, are not that flexible. Having a sick child at home may coincide with attending or even running an important meeting or presentation. It is essential to have a backup plan which may include enlisting relatives or friends who can provide childcare on a moment's notice.

Alternatives Work Arrangements

It may be possible to have a work schedule that allows you to be at home when your children are. Here are some options:

Get a Part-Time Job: Rather than getting a full-time job with regular hours, think about looking for a part-time one. If you could only work during the school day, it would at least alleviate the problem of finding childcare for after school hours.

Consider Flextime: Some employers allow their workers to have a flexible schedule. Rather than working from 9 am to 5 pm, for example, your boss may let you work from 7 am to 3 pm. If both parents' employers allow flextime, their schedules may be complementary—one parent can be at home while the other is at work. However, that would prevent them from spending time together as a family.

Work From Home: Remote work offers the opportunity to earn money without leaving the house. Some bosses allow their employees to do their jobs from home when they are unable to make it to work, for example, when a child is sick. Other arrangements involve telecommuting only, with workers never having to set foot in an office. Some remote jobs require adhering to a strict schedule and will not solve the problem of having to run out during the day to pick up your child from school.

Key Takeaway

Being a working parent of a school-age child comes with some challenges. The trick to being successful at it while keeping your sanity is to have a plan, and then a backup plan, and then a backup plan for your backup plan. Expect the unexpected to happen because it will.

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