Balancing the Back-to-School, Back-to-Work

Aug. 21, 2006 — -- As summer vacations wrap up, the realities of heading back to work can bring added stress to parents. While moms and dads are often eager to reconnect with friends and co-workers, September typically signals the end of lighter workloads and half-day Fridays. Not only are parents adjusting to a new school year, but kids must also cope with their folks' fall routine.

To minimize the anxiety for both you and your little ones, there are some simple coping mechanisms to consider. Keep in mind that what works for one family doesn't necessarily translate to success for another. People and households require their own solutions to satisfy their needs, so be willing to try different things until you discover what works best for you.

Share Your Work

Work is a big part of who you are, so be proud to share that with your family. Let them know about your tasks and responsibilities, along with your accomplishments. If they're old enough to recognize that you're going off to work, your kids should understand the basics of your choice of employment.

During an afternoon play date, my daughter Emma's best friend, Juliet, proudly announced that her mom, a partner at a New York law firm, was at a hearing. "I really hope she wins big because she worked so hard preparing until very late at night," cheered 8-year-old Juliet. The girls dressed up as lawyers and attempted to stage the courtroom scene as they imagined it.

That sweet exchange and others like it prompted me to create a line of kids' T-shirts supporting working moms. One rhinestone-studded style reads, "My mom works and I'm proud of her." The other simply says, "My mom brings home the bacon."

Through candid conversations, encourage your kids to honor the work you do, just as you celebrate their academic careers. They should be proud of your professional endeavors and root for your workplace success.

Prep Tour Kids Properly

While it's impossible for a 2-year-old to comprehend that Daddy has a business dinner tomorrow night, older children appreciate the head's up. I learned this the hard way. Until a couple years ago, I thought it was best not to alert my 9-year-old twins, Jake and Emma, about upcoming business trips -- fearing that the anticipation of my absence would trouble them for days. Instead, the opposite was true: They hated the last-moment nature of my announcements, since it caught them off guard.

I realized it was best to offer advance warning when I knew I'd be late or when a business trip was planned. Now we discuss their arrangements during my absence and they're able to adjust easily to the anticipated routine.

Everyone has experienced last-minute requests from the boss or delays with trains or traffic, but kids are especially sensitive to unexpected tardiness. Call home if you know you'll be running late. Explain the hold up and promise to make up the time in some special way.

Focus on Compromise

While every manager should try to accommodate your parental obligations when possible and within reason, it's unrealistic to assume that your employer will always bend to your personal needs. Often we have to make choices, some of which may favor family, and others that will point to work. If it's just not possible to attend a school function, I try other backup options to avoid missing my kids in action.

When my daughter's sing-a-long coincided with a long-planned business trip, a friend suggested that I ask the teacher to allow me to attend a dress rehearsal. I was the only mom to get this sneak peek, and it made both my daughter and me feel great.

My neighbor's son is an aspiring Andre Agassi whose dad had to miss a tennis tournament because of work commitments. Friends filmed it so father and son could watch it while the young athlete offered a play-by-play as he relived each match. The business trip was long forgotten, but the memories of the game lived on.

Develop a Strong Support System

Nothing is as comforting as knowing that your children are well cared for in your absence. Determine in advance who'll tend to your kids if unavoidable work commitments keep you late or require you to go in early. Day care, afterschool programs, baby sitters, family, friends and neighbors may account for your everyday and backup needs. This is one area where it pays to spend as much as you can afford. Sometimes that means giving up meals out, manicures, clothing or other luxuries in order to invest in the best possible care.

Say No

When my kids entered kindergarten, I eagerly signed up for all sorts of volunteer duty. Not only was that expected of me at our public school, but I was genuinely excited about being active in the school community. A few months into it, I realized that I mistakenly overcommitted myself and felt overwhelmed by all the added responsibilities. Now I choose one volunteer task in the classroom where I'm able to deliver on my promises without getting in over my head. I learned that it's OK to say no -- it's not essential to join every committee at school.

The same holds true at work. Women often have difficulty saying no to assuming more work and picking up the slack for others. While it's great to pitch in as a team player, don't agree to more than you can reasonably handle. You can find a way to politely decline. One option: "While I'm normally happy to lend a hand, I am too busy with current workload to assume any new tasks at this time."

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Every working parent struggles with guilt at some point or another because work interferes with family time. Meetings run late, which means a dinner or a bedtime story is missed. Important projects cut into your weekends. Some of this is inevitable, so don't beat up on yourself.

Honoring your professional commitments is nothing to be ashamed of, nor does it make you a bad parent. Take a breather every other week for a mini reality check. Chances are, you'll discover that you're managing to keep many balls in the air, and everyone's doing just fine with your juggling act.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. To connect directly with Johnson, visit