What Happens When Work-Life Balance has a Blind Spot: Kids?


                                                                                         Janene Whitney and Dr. Robert Reiher, PhD- Mindstyle Matters

“Oh please, not another problem,” my colleague grabbed her forehead, again, repeating the same scenario about her son that happened at least twice a week for a month. “He won’t get on the bus. Anxiety attack. Can you cover me until I get back?”

Of course I did. I couldn’t imagine being a working mom with a child who was struggling with severe anxiety---or for that matter, with depression, a disability, or even addiction. And even if a child or teen isn’t grappling with one of those conditions, I wondered about the parents who have kids who, like thousands of children and teens right now, are struggling to keep up or catch up in school. Those issues don’t just go away once you hire a tutor or a therapist (if you are lucky enough to find one who isn’t booked). These issues have become part of the fabric of family life, leaving the Business Parent, well as their employer, both overloaded and overwhelmed.₁

In a recent survey of over 3,000 working parents, titled The Great Collide: How Supported Children Enable Successful Companies, the gravity of family stress on employees of any level becomes shockingly clear.

  • Two thirds of the working parents described dealing with any issue involving their children’s mental/emotional health as “challenging” for them.

  • A majority of the working parents and caregivers said their work is affected by their children’s mental health and behavior, and most are “afraid of losing their jobs or facing other negative consequences if these concerns interfered with their work.”2

The challenges for both parents in business and businesses themselves become acutely clear when the last finding is considered:

  • “Between 30 and 50% of working parents’ thoughts are on their child’s mental health and well-being even while they are at work.” As a Pew Research Center survey also confirmed, parents’ number one worry about their children today is their mental and emotional state.2 That worry never stops, and it is no longer a family problem, but one that impacts businesses and possibly the economy as well.

So where do conscious employers and conscious parents turn? One strategy has been to hire work-life wellness companies to support worker mental and emotional health. These consultants offer an array of trainings in health, mental healthcare advice, financial support, and some offer parenting support. Yet, in one-hour presentations or groups, how effective can these programs be when addressing complex family situations that involve child development, learning issues, family schedules, the huge increase in screen interaction that kids are experiencing now (50 hours a week outside of school), plus the psychological impact of an overloading and overwhelming society today?

Improve the Business Parent’s Mental-Emotional Life Without Helping Their Kids? Impossible.

As the Great Collide study showed, expecting a parent to detach mentally from worry about their child is like asking a firefighter to ignore house fire. That is never going to happen. Conscious parents realize that it is their job to make sure their children grow up not only as hard working people, but as emotionally and mentally intelligent human beings who are considerate of others and find a place in this world where they feel validated. That kind of parent, and there are thousands, if not millions, of them in the U.S., is hard-wired to think about their children, as they think about the project in front of them at work. They are not the kind of parent who can ignore a call from the nurse at their kids’ school saying that their child is having a panic attack, or a call from a teacher stating that their child isn’t turning in assignments and appears depressed.

These are the type of parents who realize that addiction is the result of unresolved mental issues like shame, guilt, depression, or trauma, so they seek all the expert help they can find for their child. That is a search that takes endless hours of 9-to-5 phone calls. Conscious parents also understand that telling a 5-year-old to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps even if the kid next to you is putting you down all day,” is not effective. It takes meetings with teachers, counselors, and maybe even the dreaded meeting with the bullying child’s parents. If a problem with their teen arises about schoolwork, Conscious Parents seek not only the teachers’ advice, but expert advice (a therapist or a learning specialist), even though getting an appointment with these experts can take months and numerous back-and-forth phone calls. Conscious parents cannot say to themselves, “I won’t worry about my struggling child while I am at work.” If they didn’t worry, they would not be the kind of parent who is proactive and loving at the same time.

On the other hand, Conscious parents are probably also conscious workers. They are most likely to have a strong internal locus of control.

In the simplest terms, an inner locus of control means YOU believe that YOU are in charge of your life. It's about realizing that your actions, decisions, and attitudes determine your outcomes, not external factors or luck. This concept was introduced by psychologist Julian Rotter in 1954, and it has been a game-changer in understanding human behavior.

Yet, as a consequence of having a strong internal locus of control and being a conscious parent who is responsible for helping their children, these same working parents can often be viewed by managers as ‘not putting work first.’ The Great Collide survey reported that 71% of surveyed working parents in their study said that they had to either leave work early, arrive late, or had missed work due to their children’s emotional, developmental, or behavioral issues, all related to their mental health. But even executives reported these same interruptions 48% of their time at work.2

This crisis isn’t going away for either businesses or parents who work in any business at any level. A bit more parent leave helps, but it won’t change the overwhelm caused by the convergence of time issues, children’s mental health issues, internet overload, and negative societal changes resulting from these factors.

How a Work-Life Wellbeing Program can Help Both Conscious Businesses and Conscious Parents

Priorities: The first step to achieving work-life wellbeing is to identify what really matters to you. Is it spending quality time with your family? Or is it progressing in your career? Perhaps it's both. Once you've identified your priorities, make them the cornerstone of your decision-making process. Designing your time effectively means making wellbeing your first priority and organizing family and work activities in ways that support it.

Establish Healthy Boundaries: Next, it’s crucial to set boundaries between your work and personal life. This might mean turning off work emails after a certain time or setting aside designated 'family time' in your schedule. Conscious businesses can and should support this by implementing policies that respect these boundaries. For instance, a company might establish a 'no email after 6 PM' rule or encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day.

Promote a Positive Culture: A family and working environment that values work-life wellbeing can significantly reduce stress and overload. This involves promoting effective communication and team-building activities that foster camaraderie and mutual support, or implementing flexible working arrangements to accommodate different lifestyles.

The brass ring for both Conscious Working Parents and the businesses they work for, is that a Work-Life Wellbeing program that includes psychological and in-the-trenches learning specialists, will alleviate stress, distraction, lost work time, and anxiety levels for both families and businesses equally. It takes a lot of experts to make a difference for a business. It takes specialized experts to make a difference for parents and children. There couldn’t be a more vital time in our society to call on both teams.


₁. From the book Mindstyle Matters: by Dr. Robert Reiher, PhD, in development, Copyright 2023.

2. The Great Collide, a collection of studies gathered by The Nationwide Foundation and the Kennedy Forum. Published by On Our Sleeves: The Movement for Children’s Mental Health OnOurSleeves.org

3. Parenting in America Today: A Survey Report (2023) | Pew Research Center

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