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Your Office Coach

Scheduling tips for single parents

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Q: “I’m a single mom who has been unemployed for about six months. In my previous position, I had a flexible schedule which allowed me to easily attend school events or schedule medical appointments for my two young children.

“I have now been offered a 9-to-5 job located about an hour from my home. Although I'm relieved to have found this position, I’m afraid that the time I need for my children's activities may create problems at work. How should I handle this?” Solo Mom

A: Balancing work and family is especially tough for single parents, since they don't have a built-in backup. In a structured work environment, your child-related absences will undoubtedly be scrutinized more closely, so you are wise to think about this in advance. Here are some tips for effectively managing this juggling act.

Explain to your new boss that you occasionally have necessary childcare appointments, but will keep them as brief as possible. Since you live an hour away, try to schedule times in the early morning or late afternoon. Be sure to provide sufficient notice whenever you plan to be out.

Make every effort to minimize inconvenience to your co-workers. Return from appointments quickly, without taking extra time to run errands. If you're home with a sick child, check email regularly and telework as much as possible. Express appreciation to anyone who picks up the slack while you're away.

In conversations with colleagues, avoid complaining about childcare problems or the challenge of raising children alone. Bringing up these issues will only make your departures more obvious. When co-workers think of you, the phrase "single parent" should not be the first thing that comes to mind.

Plan ahead for unexpected events. If you're suddenly asked to work late, reliable friends or relatives should be available to babysit on short notice. Given your distance from home, you must have at least one person who can respond quickly in an emergency. And since you never know when a serious accident or illness may require an extended absence, you need to hoard your vacation and sick leave.

At the end of the day, however, the best way to insure that management will tolerate your family demands is to be a pleasant, cooperative employee who always does outstanding work. If you want your boss to go the extra mile for you, then you must consistently go the extra mile for your boss.

We all have stresses that affect us at work. Here are some tips for coping with them: How to Stress Less at Work.

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