After leading a parenting group at work, Joe DeProspero discovered three great tips to help balance family and career.
I lead a parenting group for my company and I recently organized a group discussion about work-life balance, and the ongoing struggle of striving to maintain happiness in your job as well as your home. If you’re a working parent, you’re already formulating a response in your head. “It’s impossible,” you might think. “Sure, some days I achieve it, but that’s few and far between.” Judging by the droves of anxious parents who joined me for this discussion, one thing became abundantly clear: few of us think we’re doing it right.
Truthfully, I didn’t go into the discussion expecting to walk away with a brand new perspective. I was perfectly content with being the catalyst for the conversation, relishing in the eager faces of my fellow parents on campus. My role was an intermediary one, and that was fine with me. That is, until one of our speakers said something so simple, yet so impactful, that it remains something I say to myself internally to this very day.
A panel of four working parents sat in front of the room, engaging the crowd with tips, experience, and war stories of their time clawing up the corporate ranks while simultaneously juggling the always-changing responsibilities of a parent. All four of the panelists brought their own flavor to the conversation, but one in particular deeply affected my way of thinking.
Ted, an experienced employee at the company, was speaking about common pitfalls we as parents succumb to almost religiously. He spoke of a time in his life when he felt the most imbalance between his job and his children. It was during a time when he was watching his daughter part-time, and he couldn’t figure out why he felt so conflicted. He figured the extra time with his child would make him feel better about himself, not worse. When he took a step back at the end of one particular day, however, he noticed some significant distractions that perpetually surfaced.
He was constantly checking his phone.
Since his corporate job was a critical one, his mind was often elsewhere while at home. He regularly scheduled conference calls during the time his daughter would be under his care, opting to direct her attention to the television instead of spending time with her.
In his own words, Ted said, “I wasn’t happy. Because when I was at work, I wasn’t there. And when I was home with my daughter, I wasn’t there either.”
My eyes lit up. I quickly scanned the last couple of weeks in my head, and I couldn’t remember even one day when I hadn’t answered an email at home or browsed photos of my children on my phone while at work. Quite frankly, wherever I was, I wasn’t there.
To be blunt, we’d be crazy to think we can completely separate from one or the other with the snap of a finger. I have found that I’m able to get the balance as close as possible by implementing the following strategies:
- If it can wait, let it wait
This goes both ways. If you’re home with your kids and an email comes through at 8:30 p.m. asking your opinion on a project, put off answering the email at least until the kids are asleep. Smack dab in the middle of a conference call isn’t the best time to work on your son’s birthday party invitation on Shutterfly, either (although, it sure is tempting).
- Mandate a no-phone zone
Naturally, our phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. That doesn’t mean we need to check it every 15 seconds for app updates and responses from your last email to your demanding boss. Even as I type this article, I’m tempted to grab my iPhone and disappear into the virtual. I’ve found that intentionally leaving it in another room in the house or keeping it stashed in my desk drawer keeps it away and makes it less of a distraction when I should be focusing on the eyes in front of me.
- Be honest with your availability (or lack thereof)
In my experience, nothing pisses off a boss more than having them think you’re available for them when you’re truly not. The same applies to children, and it is all about expectations. If I’m home with my kids the whole day, and half of that day if my eyes are glued to a laptop screen? You can bet their behavior will reflect their dissatisfaction. If you’re not going to be able to jump on that conference call at 5:00, best to lay your cards out ahead of time, rather than bail the last minute because your daughter had a badly timed meltdown at 4:59.
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve mastered these strategies. Hell, I failed at all three of them within the past two weeks. But I’ve found that, while we won’t completely eliminate counterproductive behavior by recognizing it, we can get one step closer to that ever-elusive happy place where our careers and families flourish with equal momentum, if we identify damaging behaviors and make it our duty to correct them.
Photo: Flickr/Dan Harrelson.