Balancing 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 evaporate ­where 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 adjust­ or make a different plan?

  • 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 low salary.

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.

Research Validated Models for Successful Family-Work Balance

According to a recent study 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 by:

  • 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 compromise­
  • 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 (marital relationship, time alone together)

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.

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“Build the Foundation for Your Lifetime Together.” Balancing Family and Work. Web. 29