Published on May 25th, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Coping With The Tough Truths Of Work-Life Balance
By Stacy DeBroff—
About 20 years ago with a newborn and a toddler, an increasingly demanding job at Harvard Law School, and an entrepreneurial husband with his own fast-paced work schedule – I needed to make a change. After much thought, preparation, and trepidation, I went to my manager and proposed a job-sharing arrangement with a colleague who felt similar pressures. We got the green light and continued the arrangement for five years – until my part-time schedule even proved too trying with the competing needs of my family. I wanted a fresh start in my career. Ultimately, I left Harvard to write parenting books and embarked upon a circuitous journey that led to my own entrepreneurial adventures.
That experience proved a defining moment for me – as a Mom, who realized what had worked once now wasn’t the solution I needed; as a parenting author, who interviewed hundreds of women on how they wrestled with the struggle for work/life balance; and even today, two decades removed from when I first walked into my manager’s office, as I now sit on the other side of the table as the founder and CEO of my own company.
Today, my staff walks through my door, both with their joys and struggles, parenting and otherwise. From elder care challenges to health issues to family angst, we can’t always – or easily – shut out the rest of our lives when we walk through the door each morning. Nor, I believe, should we. And as someone who’s felt the simultaneous pull of kids, spouse, work, business travel, and extended family, I’d love to say, “Here’s how I solved it – and you can, too!”
However, what I found – in my own previous search for work/life balance and even while building a company with a supportive, collegial, and flexible environment – still proves discouraging. There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all solution, no magic bullet for how to achieve peace and parity at home and at work.
Instead, I’ve assembled here five tough truths about juggling kids, work, and home that hopefully can help women better manage their own expectations, gain new perspective on how incredibly hard this can be, and begin the long journey toward identifying what works for them and their families – now and into the future.
Think You Found a Great Solution? Just Wait . . .
Particularly today, many different approaches abound – some women work part-time, others choose full-time employment with a nanny, some work from home, and still others make the decision to put their careers on hold temporarily. But as much as these strategies may seem like a solution, all of these options can be fraught with challenges, financial obstacles, professional roadblocks, and logistical hang-ups. Moreover as I discovered, you won’t find a static solution to remedy your personal and professional struggles. What worked beautifully when your kids wore diapers, may prove a disaster when they hit middle school, and you’ll find yourself constantly revising your approach to address your family’s changing needs.
WiFi Will Never Replace the Water Cooler
With laptops, tablets, Skype, and email on the go, we may see technology as the perfect solution to our work/life woes – “I can answer client emails during the Spring Recital costume change” or “I can finish up that report while waiting in the car line.” Yet technology does have limitations. Even at my digital and social media consultancy, where all team members have laptops and we offer significant flexibility with both part-time and telecommuting availability, we know the importance of face-to-face interaction. Forget face time – sometimes we simply need to brainstorm in the same room with our colleagues or collaborate in person as we ramp up a new project.
When You Juggle Plates, One’s Gonna Drop
Even if you feel you’ve found equilibrium between work and home, you can’t forget the precarious nature of balance. You may think you identified the ultimate work solution, the ideal babysitter, and dramatically reduced your commute, but all it takes is one hiccup – your new boss now expects you to travel, your child’s being bullied at school, or your Mom needs surgery – to throw it all out of whack. And another unfortunate truth? You’ll never see it coming.
Jumpstarting Your Career Will Be Harder Than You Imagined
So why even bother to embark on the work/life seesaw? Why not stay at home and go back to work when the kids are older? I’ve seen this strategy unfold – and unfortunately unravel – pretty frequently now that my kids have hit their twenties. Many of my contemporaries want to re-enter the workforce and have seen firsthand just how hard it can be to dip their toes back into the workplace waters – including updating skills and mastering technology – after such a significant gap. Despite the challenges in juggling work and home, there is merit in keeping a foot in the workplace.
Our Kids Never Stop Needing Us – No Matter Their Age
I experienced this one two weeks ago, when my now 22-year-old daughter picked up a severe case of the stomach bug at her new job. As she lay in bed with a fever, too weak to get a drink of water, she picked up her phone and called me. Despite looming deadlines, I packed up my laptop and dashed home, where I spent the next day-and-a-half by her side, coaxing some fluids in her and getting her fever down – laptop open, cell phone charged.
So even if you feel you’ve found equilibrium between work and home, you can’t forget the precarious nature of balance.
Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central, is a social media strategist, attorney, and best-selling parenting author. A frequent national and international speaker, she consults with brands on consumer and social media trends. You can reach her at [email protected].
Article Photo by Colin Harris-ADE