Parenting can feel like running a marathon, particularly for those who are employed outside the home. No amount of training is sufficient preparation for the mental, physical, and emotional challenges of this journey, which unlike an actual marathon, continues daily with no finish line, prizes, or days off to rest and recover.
One strategy that marathon runners use to maintain their energy is to stick with a pack. Running with a group can help keep a desired pace, provide the motivation needed for peak performance, and help an individual runner maintain focus despite difficult terrain or weather conditions. The pack provides stability, while each runner in it oscillates between exhaustion and exhilaration.
Human behavior experts suggest that sticking with the pack is a viable strategy for navigating the challenges of parenting as well. However, working parents can often find themselves isolated, too short on time and energy to pursue traditional avenues of socializing. Considering the mad dash of each new day – sprinting to daycare or school, then to work, errands, appointments, and back for more childcare duties at home – how does the typical working parent find a pack?
Supportive relationships can be found within one’s personal, family, or professional environments. While many working parents have considered how partners, friends, and family members may or may not fit into their parenting journey, fewer have traditionally looked to their coworkers. But this coping resource is gaining recognition as social scientists turn their attention to the central role the workplace plays in the lives of modern families.
If you’re in the middle of a marathon, searching for your pack, do you look to those cheering on the sidelines, or to the runners around you?
Social support from others in similar situations increases parents’ sense of efficacy, or belief in their own competence, which in turn reduces perceptions of work-family conflict. Workplace support groups work. But how?
Finding your pack begins with appreciating that others are in the same boat. Surely you’re not the only one racing to get your family dressed and out the door each morning. How are others smoothing this process? Your commute is crazy long. Perhaps a coworker deals with this, too. While modeling after your parents or friends with children may not be feasible for a variety of reasons, coworkers often deal with challenges more similar to your own.
While no one (outside yourself) has the power to completely solve your problems, coworkers who listen and share advice may provide the perspective needed to see problems in a new light. Does separation anxiety at daycare drop-off feel like torture? Others have weathered this phase. Worried your children are over-programmed? Under-programmed? Maybe pottery-making class is not the sole determinant of a child’s future success. Groups can also aid in identifying issues that are beyond one’s control as well as those within, and may suggest helpful first steps toward finding solutions.
Access to effective coping resources
For problems with unclear solutions, or those outside the scope of our control, coworkers in similar situations can offer suggestions for healthy coping resources that have been beneficial in their experience. From helpful sayings to favorite self-care activities, reading recommendations, workplace resources, reviews of parenting gadgets, and more, support groups are a treasure trove of what has worked for others.
This is the real magic of groups. Affirmation from group members is one of the simplest, yet most powerful ways to build self-efficacy and positive momentum. You share a simple story – the way you encouraged your child to resolve a playground dispute, for example – and someone says, “Good for you!” or, “I like the way you phrased that. I’m going to try that sometime.” Suddenly, you’re seeing yourself in a whole new light. You’ve been heard and understood, and what you say and do has value.
Parenting may be the longest long-distance race you’ll ever enter, but fortunately, it does not have to be a lonely one. Look for your pack – this is a team sport.
Parents Connect is open to all USC employees and benefits-eligible partners. This support group for parents of young children now meets weekly – every Friday from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. You may attend in-person at CWFL conference room (UPC) or via Zoom videoconferencing. Drop-in and join the conversation!