Concurrents: Where Do I Hang My Cape? Superpowers of Parents in the Workplace

Maria VanDeman

I rolled over in bed as the clock blinked 3:30am. I was sandwiched between the inferno of a four-year-old with a burning fever and a seven-year-old who sleepily stumbled in and curled up next to me.  I savored the early morning sweetness while feeling the weight of the pile of emails and important meeting in a few short hours ahead.  Should I cancel the meeting or delegate it to a colleague? Call in an emergency babysitting favor?  Either path would require an extra shot of espresso, a few mini-miracles, and the creative maneuvering of a superhero.  Ah, the joys of work/life balance!  Beyond the chaos and sleepless nights, I’ve realized that parenthood equips me with invaluable skills and self-awareness.  There are many who care for people and their communities with similar dedication and servant leadership, so these abilities are not limited to parents, nor does parenthood automatically grant them. As summer ends and children return to school, join me in exploring these super (paging Clark Kent) skills parents and other caring stewards can bring with them to the workplace. 

Problem Solving:  Many individuals, regardless of parental status, experience a daily maze of challenges that requires flexibility and creative thinking.  As Brenee Brown puts it, we have to get “in the arena” by embracing vulnerability and courage to adapt and persevere.  Whether the challenge of the day is a 3:30am fever, an unreasonable client, a broken arm, or a corrupt presentation file right before a big meeting, the ability to problem-solve and overcome obstacles is enhanced in both personal and professional spheres. 

While walking the tightrope between work and parenthood, I often ponder what my most important role is in any given moment – whether to pause and nurture my children into future leaders or to work hard and be a leader in that moment (one relationship and chair at a time).  While the answer can shift from moment to moment, both causes are important to engage and prioritize.  This is a testament to the challenges parents navigate and the ability to comprehend and resolve complex problems. 

Time Management: The value and purpose we find outside of the workplace enhances our efficiency and effectiveness within it.  In my experience, few are as efficient as someone managing multiple commitments, like a parent in a 4 o’clock meeting, racing against time to reach their child’s 5 o’clock soccer game.  When we care about our personal and professional purpose, there is urgency to optimize our skills with heightened focus, efficiency, and productivity. 

I recently had a conversation with a working dad and vice president who shared that his work hours often mirrored his kid’s 9am-3pm school schedule, with a break for sports and family time followed by a few more working hours in the evening. This conversation reminded me how work time flexibility is important across all levels of organizations.  An 8-hour work day may look different for each of us, and effective time management is crucial, even if it occurs at 10pm when the kids and clients are asleep.     Emotional Intelligence:  As a parent, my role is to nurture, guide, and raise functional, healthy, and independent children.  Raising resilient and emotionally intelligent children is an exercise in leadership, with high stakes, long-term goals, and sacrifices for the benefit of the family.  Replace “parent” with “leader,” and “children” with “team” or “organization,” and the parallels become clear.  We need self-control and self-awareness to be our best (or best that day) in order to care for ourselves and others.  

In the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”, studies found that 90% of top performers at work have high emotional intelligence (EQ), meaning they have self and social awareness and management, self-motivation, and empathy. We encounter daily opportunities to exercise EQ both at home and in the workplace such as picking battles, reading the room, active listening, and managing the expectations around us.  Strong emotional intelligence is vital for teamwork, resilient leadership, effective communication and achieving shared goals. 

Valuing Parents at Work: In a prior column, I highlighted ways our workplaces can better support people, which extends to supporting families. Do we perceive parents and pregnancies as a burden to our team or organization?  Are we passing up valuable talent for promotions, opportunities or invitations due to having young kids at home or coaching soccer after work?  If an employee holds the expertise and competence, why not ask and let them decide?  My belief is that the soft skills that parents can integrate from home into the workplace gives them a unique superpower that should be celebrated, not diminished.    

While not everyone has kids crawling into their beds in the middle of the night, we all face situations that test our adaptability and resilience while strengthening unique qualities that enrich our lives.  Let’s reimagine a workplace where the skills we bring (which are not always found on a resume, by the way) are celebrated and uplifted.  And, let’s be sure we give these superheroes a place to hang their capes!  

Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an accomplished workplace advisor at OFS, interior designer, published children’s book author and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  With a passion for helping people and designing for human needs, Maria strives to make a positive impact on the world through her work and mentorship.  Connect with Maria on LinkedIn: