Adapted from Broadridge Investor Communication Services
At one time, the typical American family looked like this: a breadwinner father who commuted a short distance to work and earned a very good living, and a stay-at-home mother who took care of the kids and family home with aplomb. Life seemed easy and manageable, with plenty of time for family meals, parent relaxation, and important life lesson discussions, and little in the way of work or technological distractions.
Today, things are different. There are many more two-parent, dual-income families and single-parent households, along with increased work expectations, longer commutes, and a 24/7 mindset. The result is often a more harried existence for today’s parents as they try to balance their work commitments and family obligations – a juggle that is one of the major issues people face during their working years.
Achieving a balance between work and family is a highly personal endeavor. There is no magic formula, and what works for one family may not work for another. It takes planning and resolve, and you’ll need to make choices along the way that align with what’s important to you. As you think about your own plan to balance work and family, here are some things you might consider.
Decide what you want.
Whether you’re single or married, in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, thinking about children or already have them, you need to know what’s important to you. Is your job important for financial reasons, personal satisfaction, or both? What kind of parent do you want to be? Are you happy in your current job? Is it a job that’s compatible with raising a family?
Once you’ve envisioned the type of life you want, you can strive for it and make decisions along the way to help you get there. As with anything, there will likely be tradeoffs along the way.
Pick the right partner.
In an oft-repeated message, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, remarked that one of the most important things you can do for your work/family balance is to pick the right partner. She was talking to women, but the advice applies equally to men. Do you share the same ideas about work, raising children, and household responsibilities? Are you both willing to embrace a 50-50 partnership and share household and child responsibilities to help support your partner’s ability to work? Do you value the goals and aspirations of the other? When both sides have similar ideas on work and family, there’s a better chance of balancing both successfully.
Think about your career.
Not all careers and jobs are created equal. Some involve more hours, more face time, more stress, and more travel. Your work can be a huge part of your life, so think carefully about whether your work will allow you (or is allowing you) to be the parent you want to be. You may land a well-paying but demanding job only to realize later that the long hours aren’t compatible with raising a family in the way you would like.
Along with your salary, consider the workplace flexibility and employee benefits that your job offers, including maternity and paternity leave. If you were to take a leave of absence from your job for a few months or years, would it be relatively easy or difficult to step back in where you left off?
Now, it’s time for the juggle . . .
Let’s assume you’re in the trenches trying to balance work and family. The details are different for everyone, but there are a few common themes.
Sync your work and child-care schedules.
When both parents work outside the home (or one parent in a single-parent household), child care is a must. Obviously, you need to evaluate your child-care options and select the one that best meets your needs.
In some cases, a flexible work arrangement can be the deciding factor on whether you can remain in the workforce and earn a living, so it doesn’t hurt to ask your employer. If you’d like to modify your current schedule, think about your ideal work arrangement, then request a meeting with your manager to discuss your well-thought-out proposal.
There are no right answers, only what works for you and your family.
Stay organized and share the to-do list.
Staying organized can go a long way toward effectively juggling work and family responsibilities. Here are some tips that may help.
- Make a list (with your spouse, if married) of all household and child-related chores that need to get done on a weekly basis and divide up the list in a way that is fair and mutually agreeable.
- Make another list for more occasional items, such as doctor’s appointments, car maintenance, lawn care, and seasonal items and figure out how and when these tasks will get done.
- Use the weekends to get ahead for the upcoming week. For example, make dinners that can be reheated during the week or throw in an extra load of laundry.
- Try to build in some time for family fun and relaxation. In addition, try to carve out time for individual pursuits to the extent you can. The happier you are personally, the better you’ll be able to manage your busy life.
Embrace flexibility and communication.
Life doesn’t standstill. Children grow. Relationships evolve. Work expectations change. It’s important to stay flexible and make changes when necessary. Is your work schedule still manageable? Are your children thriving in the routine you’ve established? Are you happy with the division of household responsibilities between you and your spouse? Revisit these questions from time to time and keep the lines of communication open with your partner.
Every family faces external pressures and distractions. Only you know what your family can manage. Pick and choose your activities carefully and be wary of overscheduling. Learn to say “no” sometimes so that when certain opportunities come along that you really want to participate in, you’ll be able to say “yes.”
Keep the big picture in mind.
At the end of the day, try to have realistic expectations and keep everything in perspective as best you can. Balancing work and family is a highly personal endeavor, and there is no magic formula. It takes planning and resolve, and you’ll need to make choices along the way that align with what’s important to you.