Working While Parenting

The ups, the downs, and five pro-tips for making it work

If you aren’t a parent, the act of working while also simultaneously raising tiny humans is somewhat mystifying.

Our colleagues with children have crossed into a world that’s hard to relate to. We see the exhaustion. We hear the weary jokes about getting no sleep. We receive the late night emails. But there are a million other things happening behind the scenes that us childless folk don’t even know about.

So we’re a little curious. How do they make it work? How does it impact their careers? Do they ever get tired of watching “Moana” on repeat? What is “PAW Patrol” exactly? And why are they so excited about parenthood that they are at a loss for words when asked to describe the experience?

“It’s so interesting to me that everyone talks about parenthood as this ‘indescribable’ thing,” notes Andrew Malcolm, the self-described ‘marketing guy’ here at Evernote. “Because when you think about it, literally every human on the planet has been involved in the process on one side or the other. But I agree, there are just these magic moments,” he continued. “It’s impossible to put into words. You really can’t describe why you are so glad that you’re putting yourself through all of it.”

To pull back the curtain and try to put some words around their experiences, Andrew and several other members of the Evernote team got together to share the ups, downs, and all the in-betweens of life as a working parent, along with their best pro-tips for making it work.

If you’re a working parent looking for advice, are thinking about becoming a parent, or are the coworker of a parent (which should cover pretty much everyone), here’s what you need to know.

The ups: those little magic moments (or the magic of pizza)

Underpinning the fatigue is a strange mixture of those “magic moments” Andrew mentioned and a lot of hard work. When asked about the best part of being a parent, Andrew, who has a one-year-old and a three-year-old, quipped that “parenting can be described as all joy and no fun.” So where does that joy come from?

Product design manager Jesse Day shared that “there are these amazing little moments, like when your kid discovers pizza or the moon for the first time. And you can just live on that awe and wonder, getting through all the sleepless nights on that fuel.”

Director of Product Nancy Fu Magee, who had all three of her kids while working at Evernote, agreed. “It’s great because there are these little different things you like about each of your kids. For example, my son is really curious, and is constantly asking questions like ‘Can orcas hug you?’ which is really hilarious.”

The daily challenges: forgotten lunches, lost sleep, and not enough time

“There are no work hours and family hours. It’s all mixed together.”

But the life of a working parent isn’t just filled with pizza, moonbeams, and questions about orcas — there are obviously some really tough moments as well.

There are the little battles you face every day. Whether it’s bringing your kid’s forgotten lunch to school (again) or cutting a meeting short because of a biting incident at daycare, interruptions can really impact your productivity at the office.

Growth designer Nancy Phan’s son is nearing his first birthday, so she gave a little insight into her schedule as a new mom. “There are strict times you have to pick up and drop off the kid at daycare,” she explained. “So all of a sudden I was trying to figure out how to get the same amount of work done in between 10 AM and 4 PM. And when you factor in breastfeeding, it’s more like 12:30 to 4 PM, right? On top of this, you’re doing it all with very little sleep, and then still have stuff to do with the baby when you get home,” she continued. “It’s really challenging. To make it work, I’ve kind of just learned to prioritize what’s important to me.”

Andrew agreed, saying “I drop my kids off five days a week and have dinner with them four days a week. And yeah sure, that means I send out emails at 3:45 AM sometimes, but hey, I go to bed at 8:30 PM, so that’s what I’m working with.” Taking a step back, he pointed out that “this is why we’re always talking about work-life blend at Evernote. There are no ‘work hours’ and ‘family hours’. It’s all mixed together.”

The emotional toll: all the things you don’t see

“There’s all this stigma and baggage around post-partum depression. But then not opening up is a problem too. You can’t just say ‘Hey, I’m going to stop working today for some unspecified amount of time, for personal reasons.’”

Outside of the sheer physics of making it work on your calendar, trying to find the time for it all can take a toll as well. “There’s a feeling sometimes that you’re failing on both fronts,” said Yi Ma, Evernote’s director of analytics. “You don’t stay for the whole science fair with your kid because you have to leave for work but then you end up running late for your meeting.”

And that’s where the guilt can come in. “I can’t help but feel like I’m shorting my kids of something because I’m passionate about my career and wanting to achieve so much,” shared Katie So’oto, executive assistant and fearless mom of four. “But at the same time, I’m role modelling a good example for them, so that kind of helps.”

But for some, the emotional challenges run even deeper beneath the surface. In a vulnerable moment, one Evernote mom shared her struggle with postpartum depression, something that many mothers grapple with. It may not seem that common because it’s a subject that’s rarely discussed, but in fact more than 1 in 10 mothers in the U.S. may experience it.

“After I had my last baby, I came back to work after maternity leave, and then I suddenly went away again, because frankly, it sucked,” she said. “I was useless, cancelling half of my meetings, crying in the bathroom. And then after I got diagnosed, I didn’t know what to do,” she continued. “Because my manager is a man and there’s all this stigma and baggage around depression, especially as a woman. But then not opening up is a problem too. You can’t just say ‘Hey, I’m going to stop working today for some unspecified amount of time, for personal reasons.’ That doesn’t really work either,” she observed.

“But everyone was so supportive. So I went away for awhile and worked through some things,” she said. “They always say the transition back is hard, with everyone asking you all these questions, but my experience at Evernote was totally different,” she remarked. “And I don’t think I’d feel comfortable sharing my story if everyone hadn’t been so great.”

Parent to parent: swapping pro-tips

Just as raising a family is a balancing act, navigating the workplace as a parent is also a challenge. Parents at Evernote shared their best tips:

1) Bring your kids along for the ride.

As a parent, you’ve got to make the most of your hours while also squeezing in a little quality time. “We really focus on utilizing our drive time; it’s everything,” Katie shared. While shuttling her kids between an ever-growing list of activities, she uses their time together in the car to “talk about the highlights of our day, share our gratitudes, and just connect as a family.”

Katie also noted that when she has to get some work done at home, she’ll give her kids workbooks or projects to work on alongside her. “I found it really helps, because they feel this deeper sense of accomplishment and connection to me along with my work,” she observed.

2) Remember that perfection is overrated.

When it comes to how to parent, there are certainly a lot of opinions — and judgement to go along with them. Sharing parenting tips can quickly devolve into a game of comparison, or even competition. Whether it’s the pressure to provide the perfect GMO-free, multilingual household or the raised, judgy eyebrows when you talk about how much TV your kid watches, it’s easy to feel like you’re not really nailing this whole parenting thing. “You always hear other parents talking about how their kids sleep through the night or how everything’s totally perfect,” Nancy Phan revealed. “But I always try to remind myself that most of us only talk about the things that are going well, so there’s a lot that you aren’t hearing.”

3) It’s about quality, not quantity.

There’s always a nagging feeling that you’re not doing enough. “You put so much effort into trying to check everything off the parenting to-do list,” Katie shared. “But to be honest, your kids don’t remember 75 percent of that. They will only remember a handful out of the thousands of things you did for them,” she noted. “So it’s really about quality over quantity for me.” Focusing on doing a few things well or showing up for the moments that really matter can be more impactful.

4) Lead by example.

Another thing that helps? Looking to other working parents and the example they set. “We have amazing leaders here that really help us prioritize our kids and our families,” Katie said. “Whether it’s seeing the evening time blocked off on the calendar for their kids or the people who are super protective over their morning drop-offs, it’s inspirational and a good reminder for me to focus on what’s important,” she remarked.

Katie highlighted a particularly powerful moment when it fell into place for her, saying that “one leader flat-out said to me ‘I need to take this time for my kids because they will remember this moment, while the people in that meeting I’m missing won’t.’”

5) Create a space to connect.

In the spirit of bringing your whole self to work, sharing what you’re going through as a parent can be a big help. If you’re struggling at home, share those struggles. “You’d be surprised at how you can find others to connect with over it and all the support you can get,” Katie said. “I met another mom at Evernote who also has a son who was diagnosed with ADHD, which was just an unbelievable resource,” she shared.

Here at Evernote, we created a #parents Slack channel to help start those discussions, carving out a place to share everything from how to limit screen time to how apps can help you juggle work and family events. Of course, many use Evernote itself to stay organized as parents, by storing their kids artwork, saving all those school papers and forms, and managing summer activities.

Keeping it in perspective

When you’re stretched thin as a working parent, it’s helpful to remember that you’re not alone. Connecting with other parents, sharing your stories with non-parents, and finding ways to make the most out of the hours in your day is key to creating workplaces that work for families.

Because after all, being a parent is the ultimate job. As Andrew put it, “I want to tell you guys that this meeting or my job is the most important thing that I’ll do in my day, but it’s just not.”

Check out the second part of this series, where we explore how companies and coworkers can build a more supportive environment for working parents.


If you’re a working parent, how do you manage? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Jessi Craige Shikman is not a parent. She’s a proud dog mom, but as her favorite comedian John Mulaney once explained in a particularly good bit, it’s not really the same.