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How a Better Job Makes You a Better Parent (With Less Guilt)

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 26/10/2015 Eryc Eyl

Career-loving parents make happy families © Provided by The Huffington Post Career-loving parents make happy families For many working parents, there is no emotion more prevalent and palpable than guilt. At work, we feel guilty when we need to take time to talk to a teacher, make a medical appointment, or even just think a little about our families. At home, we feel guilty when we need to take time to reply to an urgent email, plug away on those PowerPoint slides that are due tomorrow, or even just think about that tough conversation we need to have on Monday. But what if we could create a more positive dynamic that made us both better professionals and better parents?
After all, what does all this pervasive guilt do for us? In most cases, not much. Psychotherapist Maud Purcell puts it well:

Reflecting on past behavior and learning from it is instructive. Unending remorse about past mistakes serves no useful purpose. In fact, excessive guilt is one of the biggest destroyers of self-esteem, individuality, creativity and personal development. Self-flagellation about a previous wrong only increases the chance that you will make the same mistake again. Intense recrimination over wrongdoing may make you feel absolved of guilt. This sense of absolution almost gives you permission to do the same thing all over again -- illogical but true.

How's all that guilt working out for you?

As with most things, there's a best case, a worst case and a most likely scenario. The best case scenario is that guilt causes us to examine our work and family arrangements to determine if we can do something about it. The worst case is that it causes us to make rash choices about either work or family that lead to negative outcomes.
The most likely scenario is that it simply erodes our satisfaction, joy, and optimism, both at work and at home. Worse, that erosion creeps into other domains of our lives too -- into volunteer work in our communities, clubs, and churches, into time we spend with friends, and even into the time we spend alone. And even worse still, our eroded satisfaction, joy, and optimism makes the people closest to us -- our coworkers, family, and friends -- less satisfied, less joyful, and less optimistic. It's not a great path toward becoming a career-loving parent.

Spillovers, crossovers, and becoming a career-loving parent

Psychologists use something called the Spillover-Crossover model to describe and explain this problem. Before your eyes glaze over from jargon, let's make it really simple. Crossover happens when the crappy thing that happens at the office puts you in a bad mood that colors your family time that same evening. Spillover happens when that bad mood puts your partner, your kids, or others in a similar funk.
The concepts of spillover and crossover are often explored from a negative standpoint to illustrate the vicious downward spiral into unhappiness in all life domains that results when a person is ineffective and unhappy in one domain. However, when leveraged properly, this same knowledge can also fuel a virtuous upward spiral toward previously unimagined heights of happiness.
For example, let's imagine that you've stayed for years in a job or with an organization that repeatedly frustrates your aspirations, hampers your creativity, and undermines your humanity. You've stayed because you're making more money than you could elsewhere, and you need that income to provide your partner and children with the lifestyle, education, and security your salary purchases. Good for you. This is a pragmatic and responsible choice.
But what if that dehumanizing job is causing you to bring home some of that frustration, hampering, and undermining? Is it possible that some of the difficulties you've been having with your kids might be coming from spillover or crossover? Or both? And what if you could make a change at work or at home that created some positive spillover or crossover?

Using the Spillover-Crossover model to become a career-loving parent

All right. Enough with the rhetorical questions. Let's get concrete. Let's say you decide that your most important work in life is parenting, so you turn your focus to making things better at home. You read books, you listen to podcasts, you take some classes -- whatever it takes to really up your game and to become the parent you know you can and want to be.

After a while of applying your new knowledge about being a great parent, you start to see the fruits of your labors. Your time with your kids is more enjoyable. They fight less with each other and with you. Even your relationship with your partner is better -- a positive crossover of its own. These are pretty gratifying developments. But they're not the whole story.
Buoyed and bolstered by the optimism and energy you've gained at home, you approach work with more optimism and energy. You find yourself applying the communication tactics you learned from those parenting books with your coworkers. One even remarks on what a good listener you are. You notice that the techniques you've used to gain agreement and increase harmony with the kids also work to gain agreement and increase harmony in the office. You start to notice that your coworkers are a lot friendlier to you -- and to one another.  You find yourself actually looking forward to going to work. But even that's not the whole story.
Encouraged by your recent successes and positive interactions at work, you're more hopeful, more energetic, and even happier when you get home. Positive spillovers and crossovers abound, and the upward spiral continues in all domains of your life.

Being a career-loving parent is better than being riddled with guilt

I want to close by telling you something you already know, because, as Dr. Samuel Johnson said, most of us need reminding much more frequently than we need informing. The reminder is this: You are incredibly powerful. You have the ability to short-circuit negative spillovers and crossovers, to refuse to let guilt define your professional and parental experience, and to create a positive, upward spiral that enables you to love your job, love your family, and love your life. Reject the label of "working parent," and commit to becoming a career-loving parent. It sure as hell beats being a guilt-addled mess.

By the way, if you enjoyed this article and are hungry for more ways to keep your head and your heart while keeping your job, you might get a kick out of my weekly newsletter.
Subscribe and I promise not to bug you too often. Each week, you'll find some practical -- or, at least, amusing -- advice on navigating the complex world of work. Hope to see you there!


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