7 Proven Strategies for Handling Your Schedule as a Working Parent

Working parents
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Like any working mom, I feel awkward leaving the office in time to pick up my son from day care before it closes at 6 p.m.

For many of us, it’s the “5 p.m. walk of shame.”

We shut down our computers as quietly as possible and try to sneak past the rows of more diligent workers still tapping away on their keyboards.

Sure, I arrive earlier than most of my co-workers, but they aren’t in the office yet to see those early hours, which is why I feel so self-conscious at the end of the day.

But the fact is, if us moms (and dads) are going to work to support our families — while avoiding getting kicked out of day care for late pickups — we have to leave earlier than our co-workers who don’t have the same constraints.

However, there are a few secrets to mastering the art of this scheduling jiu-jitsu.

As I interviewed dozens of successful working moms for my new book, “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family,” I realized they shared several habits that help to ease the stress of feeling like you need to be in two places at once.

In fact, almost every professional woman I reached out to explained her schedule allowed at least some degree of flexibility to take sick children to a pediatrician or to occasionally attend school functions. (Women working low-wage jobs tell a very different story, and those challenges deserve their own book.)

Here are some of the strategies that emerged from our conversations:

1. Negotiate Flexibility Into Your Job Offer

Ask for the flexibility you need when you’re negotiating a job offer.

While bringing up your desire for flexible hours during the job interview could hurt your chances of getting an offer, the power shifts back to you after you receive a formal offer.

Along with negotiating your salary, asking for the flexibility you need — including working from home or leaving early — is a key part of those discussions.

Practice your wording just as you do your salary requests: “I’m really excited about this job, but I need to make sure I can pick up my son on time from day care, so can I shift my hours earlier each day and leave by 5 p.m.?”

This phrasing is how I worked out the schedule that works for me, so I can pick up my kids on time.

2. Perfect the Art of Sending Simple Notes About Your Whereabouts

When you’re a parent, barely a week goes by without some unexpected (or expected) mid-day commitment popping up. Perhaps it’s a pediatrician appointment, or maybe a school event.

Instead of delving into the details of your child’s illness or sending out videos of the school play, just send a short email giving the office a heads up you won’t be available for a brief period.

3. Stagger Hours (and Responsibilities) with Your Partner

If you have a partner, then perhaps they can handle school drop-offs while you do pick-ups, or vice versa.

Similarly, you can take turns visiting the pediatric dentist every six months.

4. Refuse to Feel Guilty

You might be walking out of the office at 5 p.m., but you still put in a full day of work.

Guilt can interfere with productivity, so make a conscious effort to refuse to feel it — at home or work.

Every time I feel guilt creep in, I just remind myself I worked really hard and there are plenty of times I work even more at home in the evening.

A quick internal pep talk helps me let go of any lingering guilt.

5. Get Paid What You Deserve

Even if you leave early and take advantage of other flexibilities, you still deserve to get paid well for what you do.

Don’t let your working mom status trick you into thinking you don’t deserve raises and promotions.

Every time one of my mom friends tells me she doesn’t want to ask for a raise because she doesn’t think she deserves it, I want to take her by the shoulders and say, “Yes, you do! Think of all the child-free workers distracted by their dating lives or other drama — you are working so hard and no one should be penalized just for being a mom!”

6. Enlist Help

Whether it’s in the form of grandparents, paid caregivers, housecleaners, grocery delivery or other services, help is available if you know how to ask for it.

Paying for time-saving services can help you focus on the more important tasks at hand, like spending time with your children.

7. Share Strategies with Friends in Similar Positions

Every time I have to leave early again because pinkeye hits our family, I text my best friend Alison, who’s usually having a similar working mom crisis of her own.

Sharing our struggles helps ease stress and find the humor even in the most challenging days. It’s easier to “lean in” when you know you’re not alone.

I’m willing to bet even when we leave early, we’re just as productive as the co-workers still in the office.

After all, who knows how they’re spending their time. As one mom pointed out to me, they could be shopping on Zappos or watching YouTube videos.

Just because we’re not still at our desks doesn’t mean we’re slacking.

And as long as we’ve pre-negotiated our family-friendly schedule with our bosses, there’s no need to feel guilty for sticking to it.

Your Turn: Do you feel guilty leaving work early to take care of your kids? Will you try these strategies?

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Kimberly Palmer’s new book, “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family,” is now available. She is a money editor in the Washington, D.C., area, where she lives with her family, including two young children.