As humans do, we tend to find and build relationships with people who are similar to us. Understandably so, we are most comfortable with people who can understand and relate to our experiences. I see no greater dividing line for this than between adults with and without kids. According to the Pew Research Center, about 3 in 10 adults (29%) in the U.S. have a child younger than 18 years old at home.
As a non-kid adult, I’ve had many co-workers who do have kids. When I’m not careful, I can find myself gravitating towards only establishing relationships with only the other non-kid adults in the office. This could potentially have negative effects on my work, as positive, working relationships with all co-workers is crucial to working as a team. While it may seem that there can’t be too much in common between parents and non-parents, over the years I’ve come to learn that finding common ground isn’t so difficult.
When developing genuine, positive relationships with working parents, I keep these things in mind:
We both have lives on and off the clock.
At the foundation of any great relationship is respect. Recognizing and discussing “working hours” boundaries is an effective way to acknowledge that my co-workers have more in their life than just work. No surprise here—me too! I have standing weeknight commitments, relationships, and creative projects in addition to regular life chores. Working parents can have all that, plus whatever is in their kids’ life. When we’re on the same page about when to step away from work (physically and mentally), we help each other find the balance that keeps us all from burnout.
We both have schedules that can be unpredictable.
The beauty of life is that it “happens” to all of us. In the same way I would want my co-workers to be understanding about going home sick, so would my working-parent co-workers want flexibility when their kid is sent home from school for being sick. The schedule emergencies may come up more often with a working parent (because there are tiny humans they’re responsible for), but that doesn’t mean they deserve less understanding. In fact, they might need a little more.
We both have things we’re passionate about and private with.
Ask me something and I will open up to you about anything and everything. I’m simply an open book and enjoy discussing anything about my life. However, that might not be the case with many people about anything or about specific topics. My co-worker’s life as a parent might be something she/he loves talking about, or it might not. I pay attention to the topics that they love discussing—it might be the kids, or it might be something else about them. Kids are a major part of their life, but they aren’t the only thing.
We both have commitments that can make us tired.
Call it our societal culture, blame the internet—however you want to explain it, everyone operates with a certain level of busyness in their life. Life moves quickly and our energy reserves can be depleted very easily. What can differentiate us is what is depleting our energy. Parenting duties could be one of those things for your kid-having co-workers. The key to connecting on this topic is to not live in it. Feeling tired should be acknowledged and validated, but regularly paired with energy and encouragement. (Our office has found a fondness with a 3pm plank challenge!)
Working with working parents is an inevitable experience for most of us. In fact, you may become a working parent yourself one day. When it comes to the things that really matter, we can all relate as human beings just trying to make life happen.