Family First? 7 Worst Jobs for a Working Parent

day care center

Exterior of a KinderCare day care center | Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Knowledge Universe

Raising kids is a full-time job, but for many working parents, it’s one they have to squeeze in around the hours spent at the office. Over half of working moms and dads find balancing work and family responsibilities a challenge, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey. Three-quarters of employees said their job prevented them from spending as much time as they would like with their children, according to FlexJobs.

The struggle for work-family balance is especially acute for women, who are more likely to work outside the home than they were a few decades ago but still tend to shoulder a greater portion of household and child-rearing responsibilities, Pew’s survey found. The impossibility of “having it all” is pushing mothers out of elite careers where long hours are expected, and mothers and fathers who do stick with demanding careers may find there’s little time for other pursuits, including raising kids and spending time with a spouse. (Over one-third of highly paid individuals are logging more than 60 hours per week and 10% are working more than 80 hours, according to the Harvard Business Review.) At the opposite end of the spectrum, parents in low-wage jobs may find they have to work long hours, cope with unpredictable schedules, or line up second jobs just to make ends meet.

In some cases, the question of whether a job is good fit for a working parent depends less on the industry you’re in than where you work. Some companies and organizations have family-friendly policies that make life easier for moms and dads, even as they demand a lot from their employees. (A handful of companies will pay for a nanny to accompany parents of small children on business trips, for example.) Other employers might not have demanding schedules but maintain inflexible policies that make life difficult for working parents who need to take time off when a child is sick or have to duck out early for parent-teacher conferences. Sometimes, a parent who works long hours gets a large paycheck in return, and that money can mean better opportunities for their kids.

All those factors make it difficult to determine the “worst” jobs for a working parent, since so much depends on a person’s particular situation. Nonetheless, some careers do make it more difficult for parents to balance work and family, including these seven jobs.

1. Retail

retail cashier

A JCPenney cashier | Kena Betancur/Getty Images

The average retail worker makes $26,340 per year, just above the poverty level for a family of four. On top of low wages, those who work for big chains often have to contend with on-call scheduling, which means they may not know when and for how long they’ll have to work until shortly before their shift begins.

On-call scheduling often means longer work weeks for employees and can make it difficult to organize child care or find a second job to supplement earnings, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Though some employers have eliminated on-call scheduling and the practice has come under scrutiny by regulators, it’s still a reality for many workers in retail, making this a tough field for many working parents.

2. Fast food worker

Over 80% of fast food workers earn under $10 an hour, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, and a quarter of them are raising a child on those low wages. Many work part-time, lack benefits like sick days, and must rely on food stamps and other public aid programs to get by, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Like retail workers, many fast food employees must also deal with on-call scheduling that make arranging child care and handling other family responsibilities more challenging. Two-thirds of fast-food workers in Chicago reported that erratic work schedules sometimes or often interfered with their family life, and 40% said they caused problems with parenting and child care.

3. Financial analyst

goldman sachs

People walk into the Goldman Sachs building in lower Manhattan| Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Financial analysts, who recommend investments and analyze economic and business trends, are well paid, earning a median salary of $92,250 per year, according to U.S. News & World Report, but the bigger paycheck comes at a cost. A third of people in this field work between 50 and 70 hours per week. A typical work day might involve rising at 5 a.m. in order to check the news and prepare for meetings and might not conclude until 11 p.m., as analysts stay up late reviewing and writing reports or prepping for tomorrow’s tasks, according to Investopedia.

The intense schedule for analysts and others in the finance industry have led some to declare that “banking and work-life balance don’t mix,” which is bad news for parents. The upside is that high salaries make it easier for working moms and dads to outsource some tasks, freeing up what little out-of-office time they have for family activities.

4. Executive

Executives and other high-level professionals and managers spend 13.5 hours every day interacting with work, according to a report by the Center for Creative Leadership. A day may start at 6 a.m. and not conclude until 11 p.m. or later, with smartphones and other technology tethering workers to their jobs even when they’re not at the office.

“Some are in and out of work mode for as much as 18 hours a day. In between, they have to manage everything at home as well, including balancing the needs of their families and households with the demands of work,” wrote Jennifer Deal, the report’s author, who likened the working condition to those of a “21st century sweatshop.” Though some executives surveyed said they appreciated the flexibility smartphones afforded, like being able to sneak out of the office early to catch a kid’s soccer game while still being able to check email, they also felt it encouraged an “always-on” mentality that cut into family time.

5. Surgeon

a doctor holding a tablet

Doctor holding a tablet |

A career as a surgeon may be rewarding and it may pay well, but it comes at a price. Though 96% of surgeons, who earn an average of $304,000 per year, say their job is meaningful, according to Payscale, it’s also a demanding job that can limit the time available to spend with your family. Surgeons work an average of 50 to 60 hours every week, not including time spent on call, according to the American College of Surgeons, though big paychecks do mean surgeons can outsource some activities, like home maintenance or child care.

Medicine is such a demanding vocation that some have argued people shouldn’t pursue it if they expect to have good work-life balance. “You can’t have it all,” Karen Sibert, an anesthesiologist, wrote in an article for the New York Times. Students must “consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency,” she added.

6. Game developer

Game developers frequently work more than 40 hours per week, particularly during “crunch time” before new releases, according to a survey by the International Game Developers Association. The field is dominated by younger, childless workers – half are under 35 and 70% don’t have children. Some older workers surveyed said they lost out on jobs or promotions to younger people who had fewer family obligations and were willing to work longer hours for lower pay. Nearly 40% of those who wanted to leave the industry cited the need for a better quality of life.

7. Lawyer

man in a suit

A lawyer in a suit |

A career as a lawyer often means long hours, especially if you work for a big law firm. While you might be expected to bill between 1,700 and 2,300 hours per year, according to Yale Law School, that doesn’t account for any other work you have to do, like continuing legal education, business development, or attending to other tasks. Depending on how many hours you’re expected to devote to client work and how much vacation you take, you might be at work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., plus some Saturdays, Yale calculates.

Some lawyers find that balancing the demands of their career with parenting is impossible. “I have not been able to simultaneously meet the demands of career and family, so have chosen to leave private practice, and the practice of law (at least for now). I truly admire all of you that have been able to juggle your career and family and do not envy what a challenge it is trying to do each well,” wrote one overwhelmed lawyer in a departure memo published on Above the Law.

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