The Flexibility Conundrum: How Caretakers Can Still Grow Their Careers

man working with baby on lap

Being a caretaker is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences a person can have. Whether it’s the responsibility of caring for a new baby, an aging parent, an ill spouse, or any other obligations that life may hand you. For those that opt to maintain a career while handling the responsibilities at home, and particularly for working mothers, this need for flexibility can come at a high cost to their career progression. For many, this decision comes at a price: sacrificing forward movement in their line of work.

A Harvard Business Review study found that more than 40% of women made the calculated decision to take breaks from their careers to care for their children — a decision that makes it decidedly more difficult to receive promotions or higher-status job offers in the long run. Another 24% of women opt to decrease, rather than maintain or grow, their careers in an effort to make caring for elderly parents more manageable.

While the numbers may seem intimidating, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for these parents and caretakers. It’s possible to thrive in both areas of your life; it just takes a bit of planning, persistence, and understanding. The following guide outlines a few helpful tips for those who are looking to maintain a healthy work-life balance while also seeking some forward trajectory in the workplace.

3 Tip to Advance When You Need Flexibility

1. Be Transparent

Work-life balance isn’t just a buzz-phrase anymore. In recent years, it’s become a legitimate, pressing concern across a variety of industries. Millennials are set to take over 75% of the workforce in the next five years, and for many of them, maintaining a manageable balance between their personal lives and their careers is a must. As such, it’s becoming less and less shocking for employers to hear requests for more flexibility or distinction between the work day and personal hours; and for those employers that want to keep up with the times, accommodating these desires is a must.

To that end, it shouldn’t come as a shock to your employer if you’re transparent about your needs and your at-home responsibilities. Make it clear that while you value your position and are committed to giving your job your all, you need room to maintain your affairs outside the office, as well. Explaining your circumstances to your employer won’t just make you seem more human; it will also make you appear more responsible. Giving them insight into your world and the responsibilities that go with it will show them that you’re a forward-thinker who does everything possible to predict and manage potential obstacles. It will also show that you’re a clear, honest, and sufficient worker who isn’t afraid to have conversations that might be difficult or uncomfortable. Highlighting these qualities will make you more likely to be considered for promotions or advancements down the line.

2. Set Yourself Apart

If you might find yourself in a position where you need to take a break from your career to manage your care-taking working mother with child responsibilities. In the past, this decision could have stalled your ability to move forward in the workplace. But with modern-day technology, it’s possible to continue your career development even while you’re at home. During your time away from the office, look for ways to further your education or the development of skills. Consider taking an online course that pertains to your industry. For example, if you’re in marketing, enroll in an SEO certification course. Or, if you’re in finance, consider taking a class on Quickbooks. This type of proactivity won’t just show potential employers that you’re still committed to your career; it will also help you keep up with the competition and make you stand out as a potential candidate.

3. Don’t Feel Guilty About Utilizing Your Resources

For many people, and particularly for women, one of the most difficult factors that hinders their ability to move forward in their career isn’t time or money–it’s guilt. In one survey, an astounding 57% of women said they felt guilty every day going into the office and not caring for their children or loved ones. For some, the emotional aspect of trying to manage both areas of their life can be too much, and when push comes to shove, the career is the one to go.

However, it’s important to recognize that your role as a caretaker doesn’t define who you are. You’re entitled just as much as anyone else to a successful, fulfilling career, and if you need to utilize certain resources to make that happen, you should do so. For example, if you have the financial means, hiring a nanny a few days a week to watch the kids or a nurse to take care of your loved one, could free up additional hours to be at work, making the prospect of promotions or new projects more appealing. Or, for those that are in a partnership, having a honest conversation about a fair division of responsibilities is important; explain to your partner that these years in your career are of particular importance, and you need to find a way to split at-home responsibilities to make moving forward at work more manageable.

caring for aging parentAnother option is to look into company programs or resources designed to make work-life balance more attainable. For example, inquire about the possibility to spend a few days working from home. You can also discuss altering your hours to better suit your needs; for instance, if you need to drop off and pick up your children from school, alerting your schedule by an hour or two each day could make things more manageable.

In the end, there is no right or wrong way to manage your at-home life and your career. Ultimately, finding a solution will determine on the unique circumstances of your situation. But being an advocate for yourself and utilizing the tools available to you is the first step toward making a positive change.

Need help advocating for yourself? Meet with a mentor to get insights and advice.

About the Author

Isabel Blake is a writer, editor, strategist, and content manager. She works with businesses to develop meaningful connections with their clients through targeted, impactful content and helps working individuals further their careers with effective, actionable advice.