Work-Life Balance: Not Just a Myth

Whether you need—or want—to work as a parent, finding work that fits with your family life can be challenging. How do you do it?

I’ve known some families with two parents who work different shifts so that one parent is always home with the kids. That’s good for the kids and for saving money on child care costs, but it can be hard for the parents to find time to connect. For single-parent families, work can become even more complicated. I know one working, single mom who has three jobs that she’s cobbled together—mainly because her ex has disappeared and doesn’t provide child support. She feels trapped and overwhelmed.

Other families deal with different work-life issues: How much should they travel for work? How do they juggle work deadlines and their kids’ activities? How do they finance a college education for a child while also following their own dreams?

Every year, Working Mother magazine names the 100 best companies for working moms. When I first saw this list, years ago, I dreamed of working for these companies. Now, I look at the criteria of what makes these companies great, see which ones matter most to me, and either take advantage of what’s offered at my current job or advocate for change.

The five major criteria of great companies according to Working Mother include:

1. Flexibility
2. Parental leave
3. Child care
4. A work-life business culture
5. Employee advancement.

When my kids were young, I negotiated with my employer to allow me to use my sick days to care for a sick child. When one of my kids became chronically sick one year, I was grateful that the company let me use all my sick days to care for my child and then use my vacation days. Now that I have a high-school student and a college-age student, I still like having flexibility in my job. It helps that I can easily take time off when my college-age student comes home for a break. It matters that I can rearrange my work hours one day a week to take my youngest to a bassoon lesson after school.

With the struggling economy, it’s an intimidating thought to advocate for a work-family balance, yet it’s still important to try. We shouldn’t have to work long hours because we fear we could lose our jobs. We shouldn’t have to always sacrifice our families for our jobs. We should be able to have both: good jobs and strong families.

Jennifer Owens, editor, “100 Best Companies 2010,” Working Mother magazine, October 2010, 59-150., work and family

Kerstin Aumann and Ellen Galinsky, The State of Health in the American Workforce: Does Having an Effective Workplace Matter? (New York: Families and Work Institute, 2009).

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