Rita Perea is president and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.
Are you juggling work and family commitments and feeling as though you are not doing either well? It turns out that you are not alone.
Welcome to a social problem that is plaguing American workers. Some researchers call it ‘work-life balance’, some call it ‘work-family effectiveness’. Whatever we call it we should take heart that if we work and have family commitments for children, aging parents or just making time to take good care of ourselves, this is not an individual problem. The feelings of inadequacy that juggling responsibilities creates is a social problem. It is an issue that most of us need to think about and address to break the cycle of feeling overwhelmed.
In 1989 a book called “The Second Shift” rocked our worlds when sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild described the double burden employed mothers face because they are also responsible for housework and child care after returning home from a long day at work. In 2014, she said that despite some changes in society, the workplace had not changed enough to alleviate these stressors and problems.
Research study after research study indicates that the tension caused by juggling commitments is affecting American family life. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the White House Council of Economic Advisors shows us that working parents are the new norm. Sixtyt percent of children now live in households where all of the parents in the home work at least part time. In 1965 the number was only 40 percent.
The Pew research group found that 56 percent of all working parents say that the balancing act is difficult. These folks are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful; they are less likely to find it enjoyable and rewarding. Even if the children are grown you may find that you are still carrying the responsibility for a portion of their support and their living arrangements on top of your demanding job.
Sixty-five percent of parents with college degrees in the Pew study said they found it difficult to balance job and family. Professional workers are more likely than hourly workers to be expected to work, even after they leave the office, creating more work after the housework and family care responsibilities of “the second shift’.
The expectations of modern parenthood, care taking for elderly parents and the post-recession workplace, where working longer hours with less support is common, have all collided. We all lose.
How is a person in the new American workforce supposed to deal with these issues? The suggestions here are just a beginning list as I will be sharing more strategies in future articles:
- Engage other family members to take responsibility. Attend the Lift IOWA and Business Record event “Sharing the Second Shift” on May 4, 2016, to learn more about how gender equity in the home results in better outcomes for mothers, fathers, children and business. My business, Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, is a proud sponsor of this important event. Register at www.businessrecord.com/events.
- Become a lean family machine. Whether you are a single parent, an uncoupled person caring for an aging parent, or part of a partnership caring for children or pets, to alleviate our stressors we need to strategically create an efficient lifestyle given the realities of our work and family situations. A good first step is to take stock and list all of the commitments you have. Then pare down. Jettison anything that is a non-essential activity in your family and use that extra time to spend quality time together as a family.
- Be creative with your time. Would your employer consider a flexible work schedule where you arrive and leave early each day? Can you do any work from home or off site during the work week, minimizing the need for child care? Can you swing by the gym on your way to work and stay a bit later at the office that evening? Can you create a family game of getting the housework done each weekend, complete with rewards? Can you hire someone to do the things you don’t like to do or have the energy to do, freeing you up to feel more fulfilled about where you are putting your time.
- Have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Are your expectations to “be, do and have it all” unrealistic at this time in your life? Take the pressure off yourself and learn to say these magic words: “How good is good enough?” No, I am not advocating mediocrity here. I am suggesting prioritizing which tasks or activities make the most sense to spend time on. Do the children’s shoes have to be arranged perfectly next to the doorway? Is it worth 10 minutes of your day to rearrange them or can you live with them in disarray and instead spend the 10 minutes to read a story to your kids. How good IS good enough?
- Have a heart-to-heart talk with your family. Sit them down and brainstorm solutions to the problem of having too much to do and too little time to do it in. Who is willing and capable of feeding the dog each day? Is your partner willing to commit to cooking or providing take-out four days a week? My husband tells the story of when his mother, at the age of 52, decided to finish her bachelor’s degree and pursue a master’s degree with the dream of becoming a teacher. She held a family meeting to announce that her education would be her top priority and that the family would all need to work together to figure out a plan to put meals on the table each night. She was not going to be providing that service to them anymore. The beautiful part of this story is that the family collaborated, Ruth attained her college degrees and the lives of the students she taught were positively influenced. By having the strength and courage to speak her truth and let go, she created a win-win for everyone.
Balancing your professional life and your personal life does not have to be elusive. Using these suggestions, we can all take one small step today to slow down, become aware and make a deliberate small but mighty change. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, stressed and tired, we can feel a bit of peacefulness and enjoy our work and family situations again.