There is nothing ground-breaking about the theme I’ve recently noticed emerging from the interviews I’ve been conducting for my blog: the role that parents play on the balance that their children grow up to construct for themselves between “work” and everything else in life.
I mean, the impact of parenting has been discussed and written about since the beginning of time. Every generation has reflected on it in its own way. From Bible stories, to Shakespearean dramas, to modern-day psychology and literature – there are theories and hypotheses galore about how parents influence the life of their offspring.
The patterns I’ve noticed though are quite simple really. No intricate theory or hypothesis. But rather two general observations:
1. Parents influence their children’s work-life balance choices
In each interview I’ve conducted for my ‘Work-Life Balance Profile’ series to date, my subjects have described a connection of varied distinction between what they observed/learned/experienced from their parents’ work-life balance choices, and the values and attitudes they went on to develop in adulthood towards their own.
Invariably, it seems that often parents act as a baseline for how a person stacks up their own priorities. In some cases, this manifests itself in a person emulating behaviour and choices they admire in their parents, as seen in Matthew’s story. In others, a person may choose to go in a different direction to the example that was set to them during their upbringing, like Susan and John did; and sometimes a person’s determination is ignited under the influence of a parent, empowered not just to emulate certain values, but to go a step further and forge new paths in the spirit of their parents’ ambitions, as Sheara described doing in her story.
However it manifests itself, a parent’s power cannot be ignored or underestimated. It seems to exist whether we choose for it to, or not.
2. Every parent influences every child differently
I’ve noticed that there is no uniformity in how a parent’s influence can play out in the balance a person goes on to construct for themselves in adulthood.
It stands to reason that when a parent demonstrates unconditional love, acceptance and approval of their child’s accomplishments, a child is more likely to feel a greater degree of self-worth and contentment with their personal definition of “success” and work/life choices. Sam’s story offers a good example of this. And whilst the majority of stories I’ve written up indicate that positive parental experiences lead to greater confidence and satisfaction with one’s work-life balance, this does not seem to be a mutually exclusive outcome.
Take Sarah’s story for instance – despite the positive experiences derived from her parents’ work and life values, there is still the prevalence of “Imposter Syndrome”, “guilt” and “fear of failure”. Conversely, in his story, Tahmid described growing up with parents he “didn’t see eye to eye with”; yet, he went on to develop a resolute self-belief and confidence in his work-life choices.
Similarly, there does not seem to be any hard and fast rules about whether the impact of one’s parenting strengthens or diminishes with time, or with a parent’s absence. Darren, for example, who lost his mother at a young age, can still trace back the development of his attitudes towards work to her loss. Meanwhile Soli, whose parents have been present throughout her 30-plus years of working, continues to find her work-life balance impacted by her parents in various and evolving ways.
So, my convoluted point here is that there is no clear pattern to point to on this theme, other than the consistent complexity of the parent-child dynamic.
My overriding reflection on this theme is one of awe at the responsibility I myself now hold as a parent.
I’m reminded of the often-quoted poem I studied many years ago at school: ‘This be the Verse’, by Philip Larkin, which opens with the line:
“They f**k you up your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do”.
In my youth, it was the first part of the stanza that caught my attention; now it’s the latter.
They may not mean to, but they do.
Intentional or not, a parent’s attitude to work, and their relationship with it, evidently impacts the attitudes and relationship their children go on to develop around work. What’s more, it is also likely to impact on their personal definitions of “success” and the balance they go on to pursue between work and life in adulthood.
One could argue that the outcome of this kind of influence is not necessarily the most critical to a child’s personal development and contentment. And that in adulthood, there is a degree of choice as to how a person consciously harnesses the effects of the parenting situation they were born into. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the cause and effect that this theme highlights.
As a parent, there are no rules or guarantees that your influence will result in positive outcomes, however mindful and authentic an approach is taken. With power comes responsibility and privilege too; and there is something both reassuring and terrifying in accepting that there is no fixed formula or “right” or “wrong” way to support your child to find their balance.
So again, no answers as such. But a reflection I thought worth sharing. I hope that you’ll agree.