Working Parents' Survival Guide

How to Balance a Job With School-Age Children

Mother holding hands with son on ledge
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Like many new parents, you may want to take some time off from work to be home with your kids. After all, they do grow up so quickly. It's not entirely accurate that going back to work after your kids start school is simpler than balancing a job with an infant or toddler. While you may not want to miss a second of your child's first few years of life—opting to be a stay-at-home parent until your kids are school-age—there are a lot more things to consider once your child is out of the house for several hours a day.

Concerns for Parents of School-Age Children

The best time to think about how you are going to handle both a job and school-age children is before you begin this phase of your life, if possible. Several things make being a working parent of school-age children more difficult than working while you have infants or toddlers.

School Days Are Shorter Than Work Days: Since your child will be in school for about seven hours each day, he or she won't need a full-time sitter. However, you will have to make arrangements for the hours between when school lets out and your return home from work.

There Are Frequent Holidays, Vacations, and Shortened Days: The school year is dotted with holidays, short days, and extended vacations which usually adds up to more time than most parents can get off from work. If your coworkers also have school-age children, there will be stiff competition for getting vacation time when your kids are out of school, for example during summer break or winter and spring holidays. It is not easy to get a sitter who is willing to work sporadically throughout the year.

Many prefer to have steady employment.

Kids Get Sick...A Lot: Covering scheduled school breaks is possible, as long as you give it a lot of forethought. You'll be all set as long as everything goes as planned, for instance, your children go to school every day it is in session. But how often does that happen? Kids get sick every now and then (more "now" it seems than "then"). Whether you know your child is sick before you leave for work or he or she gets sick during the day, you'll have to make last minute arrangements. Some bosses may be cooperative and allow you to take time off and could even have family sick days that give parents days off to take care of an ill child.

Many employers, unfortunately, are not that flexible. There will probably even be instances when you will have to attend a specific event, for example, a meeting or presentation. You might be running it. Have a backup plan which may include enlisting relatives or friends who are willing to come running on a moment's notice.

Alternatives Work Arrangements

A work schedule or other special arrangement may allow you to work around your children's school schedule.

Get a Part-Time Job: Rather than getting a full-time job with regular hours, think about looking for a part-time one. If you could work during the school day only, it would at least alleviate the problem of finding childcare for after school hours.

Consider Flextime: Some employers allow their workers to have a flexible schedule. Rather than working 9 am to 5 pm, for example, you may be able to work from 7 am to 3 pm, allowing you to be home to get your children off the school bus. All you would have to worry about is getting them to school in the morning. Flextime may also allow both parents to have schedules that complement each other—one being at home while the other is at work—although it would prevent them from spending time together as a family.

Work From Home: Remote work offers the opportunity to earn money without leaving the house. Some bosses allow their employees to do their jobs from home when they are unable to make it to work, for example, when a child is sick. Other arrangements involve telecommuting only, with workers never having to set foot in an office. Some remote jobs require adhering to a strict schedule and will not solve the problem of having to run out during the day to pick up your child from school.

Being a working parent of a school-age child comes with some difficulties. The trick to being successful at it and keeping your sanity is to have a plan, and then a backup plan, and then another one. The unexpected will definitely happen.