Why Parents are High Achievers at Work

Being a parent and having a professional career used to be two completely different spheres. Women were underrepresented in the workplace largely because the conventional wisdom held that they were better off focusing on being moms, and men were better off focusing on their work.

Thankfully, we live in a different world today, mostly because social norms have changed, but also because the nature of many jobs (and technology) allows for home/work integration in a way that just wasn’t possible a few generations ago.

I read this Fast Company article about how parents should get more credit for the skills they bring to the workplace, and it made me grateful for the fact that we definitely celebrate parents at Tivix. In the past two years, five of us on the Tivix team have started families, and I like to think we’re more productive than ever.

First, a disclaimer: I’ve found working and parenting simultaneously to be impossible. Our daughter goes to daycare five days a week, and we are extremely fortunate to have this as an option. I don’t want to give the impression that I write code with a child on my hip. But while I may not be actively parenting full-time, I am a dad, all day every day.

The Fast Company article encourages parents (mothers in particular, see “social norms” above) not to discount the experience and skills they gain from being a parent, nor the value those skills can have in the workplace. This certainly applies to parents who return to the workforce after a number of years, but I’ve found the day-to-day experience of raising a child while also working can bring lessons of its own.

Patience, multi-tasking, negotiation, creative problem-solving: these are useful skills in most areas of life. Learning to have faith that unpopular decisions won’t forever damage relationships: a particularly good thing to remember in management. Constant on-the-job learning, community knowledge-sharing, trial-and-error, and a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude: these are directly applicable to software development. An unhappy baby is essentially a debugging challenge: find the problem and fix it.

When I came back to work after my paternity leave and my daughter was still an infant, I would tell her all about my workday: the problems and challenges I faced, puzzles I was working on, the successes and failures that are a daily part of software development. Being unable to walk or even crawl away, she was a very receptive audience. I could even use her to rubber duck my way through intractable problems.

Now that she’s almost two and has a much more interactive personality, I’ve refined a skill that I consider to be even more important. It’s often referred to as “compartmentalization.” I think of it as the work/life balance that works best for me. My time with my family is of paramount importance to me. When I’m home, I’m 100% at home. I don’t do work, I try not to think about work.

The beneficial flipside of that is when I’m at work, I’m 100% at work. I’m more motivated to focus, to immerse myself in the task at hand, and to finish assignments on time and well-tested so I can leave them with confidence at the end of the day.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Tivix is a full-service firm, and I’m available to our clients and my colleagues at any time. I won’t hesitate to jump back into work-mode whenever I’m needed. The distinction is more psychological: fully immersed at work, fully dedicated at home. The importance of this distinction is one of the best non-diaper-related lessons I’ve learned as a parent. Your mileage may vary.

Photo credit: Devin Squaglia