Family and Work
Family-work balance is
a complex issue that involves financial values, gender roles, career
paths, time management and many other factors. Hidden values and
models from our cultures, original families and other sources influence
our choices in ways that we often don’t anticipate or understand
and that have far-reaching consequences for our lives.
Like so many of the challenges
and dilemmas of marriage, balancing family and work has no easy
solution-no one-size-fits-all approach. Every person and couple
will have their own preferences and needs.
Many couples tell us
that they have seen the drawbacks of their parents attempting to
‘do it all’ and ending up very much over-extended. Still others
hope to avoid the restrictions of roles and experiences that are
too narrow or mismatched for them. Couples are struggling with the
relative priorities of their values family involvement, career
and material goals, personal growth and fulfillment.
The most important thing
we can tell you about balance: Preparation, intentionality and joint
decision-making are the key to creating and maintaining the right
family-work balance for you. Many couples experience extremely strong
forces pulling them away from the priority that they would like
their family to have. If you don’t aggressively plan your balance,
these other forces will prevail. Without a clear plan and commitment
to maintaining balance, time and energy for family erodes and evaporates.
Family-work balance is
a process, not a static achievement. It’s important to make the
‘big decisions’ – selecting careers and jobs, timing children, allocating
roles and responsibilities, etc. that will provide the opportunity
for balance. The real task of balance takes place on a weekly and
daily basis, even from hour to hour. This is where couples hold
the line to protect family time or allow it to evaporatewhere
they opt to take advantage of a family opportunity or allow other
priorities to interfere.
The process nature of
balance means that you can and must adjust as required. No decision,
plan or approach need be permanent. If it’s not working or satisfying,
you can reconsider and make changes. In fact, constant tactical
adjustment and flexibility to keep on target toward your goals and
priorities (but not to accommodate outside demands where limit-setting
is usually more in order) is a hallmark of couples who are satisfied
with their balance.
But how can you tell
when you have found the right family-work balance for you and when
you need to adjustmake a different plan? According to Sandy
Epstein on BlueSuitMom.com, good balance, while different for everyone,
is characterized by:
· Having enough time for
both work and family without expending great effort, so that your
life feels relatively comfortable;
· Having enough back-up,
so that you can cope with minor emergencies like sick baby sitters,
car breakdowns, etc.; and
· Being on the right personal
and professional path for your future.
The first big balance
decision faced by couples is when to become parents, if this is
in their plans. Among the most important, but least appreciated,
considerations is allowing an adequate post-marriage bonding period
with your partner before children, even if you have been (or lived)
together for an extended period before marriage. Experts recommend
a minimum delay of one year before trying to become pregnant. Other
issues include reconciling personal, career and financial developments
with preferred timing of children and biological imperatives.
Another key balance decision
is whether one or both partners will work outside the home and the
characteristics of their jobs. These decisions will depend on your
financial and career goals, the amount of gratification that you
experience at work, your energy levels, your willingness to forego
a high level of involvement in some aspects of your children’s lives,
etc. Talk to both working and at home parents about the pros and
cons they have experienced.
Commonly cited pro-work
factors include potential income, career continuity and advancement,
workplace intellectual and social stimulation, enriched childcare
social environment for kids, etc. Adverse factors include reduced
time spent with family, fatigue, weekends dominated by domestic
chores, chronic crisis coping, etc.
If your motives for working
are basically financial, look carefully at the actual net benefit
after deducting childcare, taxes, transportation, work attire and
other work-related costs, especially if you are earning a relatively
If you decide to work,
one key to balance is finding family friendly employersemployers
with explicit, realistic policies, programs and commitment to support
the family priorities of employees, such as flexible working arrangements,
on-site child care or emergency child care coverage, limits on demands
for extended work hours, parent support networks, sabbaticals, etc.
Work options that can
promote balance include part-time, flex time, telecommuting, compressed
workweek (full-time in 3 or 4 days), extended family leave, freelance
and consulting, job-sharing, seasonal work.
Some experts recommend
asking about these issues up-front during job interviews in order
to promote accurate expectations for the employer and you. They
advise that if these discussions lead to your not being hired, it
probably wasn’t the right job or organization for your balance priorities.
It is critical to distinguish between lip service and real commitment.
Committed large employers will have written policies and procedures
to address these issues. The attitude of your direct supervisor
will be critical.
Validated Models for Successful Family-Work Balance
According to a recent
study (Zimmerman, et al, 2003) of dual-earning (both partners full-time
employed) middle-class and professional couples with children that
perceive themselves as successful in balancing family and work,
these couples strive for marital partnership to support balance
· Sharing housework (negotiating
equal division of labor)
· Mutual, active involvement
in child care (wives resist monopolizing and controlling, make room
for equal contribution by husband)
· Joint decision-making
(free expression of needs, negotiation and compromisewife perceived
to have slightly more influence)
· Equal financial influence
and access based on joint decision-making, planning
· Valuing both partners’
work and life goals (husband’s careers somewhat more prioritized,
support for separate, individual time and activities)
· Sharing emotional work
(primacy of marital relationship, time alone together
These couples (Haddock,
et al, 2001) also employ adaptive strategies, including:
· Valuing family as the
highest priority over professional responsibilities and advancement
· Deriving enjoyment and
purpose from work
· Actively setting limits
on work by separating family and work and negotiating with employers
· Focusing at workthey
experience limits as making them more productive at work
· Prioritizing family play
· Taking pride in dual
· Living simply, giving
up some material amenities in order to reduce financial pressures
and work hours
· Proactive decision-making:
“If you just define success as what you do at work, then that is
all you will do. Whereas, if you define success as having a happy
family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you
make all those things happen.”
· Recognizing the value
of and protecting time for family, being present oriented
While this is not the
only set of strategies for balance, it has the virtue of being one
that is derived from the experience of satisfied couples.
A study (Marks, et al,
2001) of working-class, white couples produced a very different
model of balance-a ‘contemporary variant of traditional marriage’
where primary gender responsibilities are clear, with men earning
while women are caretakers. For these couples, husbands’ role balance
is related to higher income (better providing) and spending more
leisure time with their families. Wives’ balance is enhanced by
contributing through paid work of their own, involvement with relatives
and friends, and when husbands spend time alone with children, are
communicative about their own needs and are willing to change their
own behavior to meet their wives’ needs. Financial strain detracts
from balance for both partners.
Whatever your work arrangements,
experts recommend a range of coping strategies to enhance balance:
· Make a list of essential
activities and involvements that you want to maintain.
· Set and guard limits
and boundaries to protect these; say no firmly to activities that
would interfere with your essentials.
· Make a list of ‘don’t
want to do’ items that are aversive, waste your time, sap your energy.
· Delegate these and other
non-essential tasks and find or hire help.
· Negotiate to achieve
the most advantageous arrangement possible when it’s not feasible
to reject or delegate an activity or task.
· Clark (2002) found that
individuals who communicate with work associates about family and
with their family about work are more satisfied and higher functioning
in both arenas.
· Make long-term plans
with your partner to meet your individual and mutual balance goals.
· Engage your partner in
regular short-term planning: Briefly review activities and arrangements
for the coming week every Sunday evening. Briefly review activities
for the next day every evening.
· Organize division of
labor with your partner so that you each cover those tasks that
are easiest and most enjoyable for you.
· Try to let go of the
responsibilities your partner has accepted or you have delegated
to others. Try not to control or criticize. Let go of guilt.
· Strictly prioritize tasks.
Include ‘slack’ time in your plans and schedule. You won’t be able
to maintain a schedule plan that commits 110 percent of your available
time, let alone accommodate ‘emergencies’. See our time management
· Take care of yourself
first whenever feasible. You can’t do very effectively for others
if you are depleted. · See our stress management
· Always be professional
at work. Arrive at work early; leave work on a strict schedule.
Block out work when at home or confine it to strictly scheduled
times. Minimize weekend work. Be prepared for family emergencies
that call you away from work. Train subordinates to cover responsibilities
when you are away from work.
Recognize that it will
be hard but necessary to accept compromising some of your goals
in order to protect higher priority involvements and activities.
Remind yourself frequently that these strategies are critical to
maintaining a life based on your true values.
work - family balance site
Beth Sawi, Coming Up
for Air: How to Build a Balanced Life in a Workaholic World
(By a senior brokerage firm executive with advice, exercises and
real-world examples. Available remaindered or used for a few dollars.)
here to buy this book: After clicking thu to B & N or Amazon
via any of our our bookstore links, search for the title, then click
the used copies link.
Arlie Russell Hochschild,
Ph.D., The Second Shift
(A landmark book about the dynamics of dual career households based
on research by a sociologist. She concludes that, despite great
societal changes in the United States allowing women more choices
in life, women are still responsible for the majority of household
chores and child care and that this has profound implications for
marital happiness for both men & women.)
here to learn more about or buy this book through our bookstore
2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article
for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this
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