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Navigating Between Work and Family: 5 Tips That Can Help

Navigating Between Work and Family: 5 Tips That Can Help

We hear a lot about “work-life balance” these days, but, if you’re raising kids or caring for an older parent while bringing in a salary, is balance even possible? 

Dana Brownlee, mother of two young children, and founder of the Atlanta-based corporate training firm, Professionalism Matters, says trying to achieve work-life balance is akin to a dog chasing its tail. “There is no perfect balance when it comes to work and family,” Brownlee says. “It doesn’t exist.”

Margy Sweeney agrees. The divorced, single mother of two daughters, and founder of the Evanston, Illinois-based marketing and PR firm, Akrete, Inc., says the term work-life balance “oversimplifies” the issue. “The term implies you should be able to achieve one static, perfect balance between home and work – which is impossible,” Sweeney says. “When you have a full-time job and are raising children and/or caring for aging parents, that balance is never landing in one perfect place for very long. It’s an ever-changing juggle.”

[Related: I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time]

Nicolette Ferri, knows all too well about that ever-changing juggle. Ferri cared for, as well as managed caregivers, for her ailing mother from 2004 until her mother’s passing in 2014 – all while continuing in her job as a Chicago-based television producer. The Emmy Award-winning Ferri says her life revolved around her mother and her work. “I was on hyper alert – basically working 24-7 all those years,” Ferri recalls. “I don’t regret a moment of it, but I had no time for myself. When you’re responsible for the care and well-being of your loved ones, work-life balance goes out the window.”

Brownlee’s Survey

In an effort to learn specifically how other salary-earning mothers were faring in the work-life juggle, Brownlee conducted her own online survey. What started with just friends and colleagues, quickly gathered momentum, and, after one month, Brownlee closed the survey with 524 responses.

A number of issues rose to the top of Brownlee’s study. As with Ferri’s experience, Brownlee’s survey participants felt like they were in a 24-7 work cycle. “Many commented that they left one job to go home to start another,” Brownlee says.

According to Brownlee’s findings, the teeter-totter between the demands of work and family weighed more heavily to the work side for the majority of respondents, but, since survey participants reported their “#1 stressor” was finances, they did what they had to do to “make it work”, according to Brownlee.

When survey participants were asked how they’d spend a day off, Brownlee says the majority opted to run errands and get more organized rather than partake in any type of relaxing activity. “To me this is a testament to how selfless moms and caregivers are,” Brownlee says. “And how seriously they take their to-do lists.”

[Related: Balance is Bunk: Realistic Work/Life Integration Strategies]

The majority of salary-earning mothers, surveyed by Brownlee, said they were happy, overall (83%). “The respondents made it clear that, just because the work-life juggle was challenging, it didn’t mean it was a bad thing,” Brownlee explains. “The majority felt that the trade offs were worth it.”

5 Tips That Can Help

Brownlee offers these five suggestions for maintaining equilibrium while navigating the work-life juggle.

1) Conduct “Family Planning Meetings” – Sit down with the calendar at least twice a year (or more often) to determine which events are in the ‘not-to-be-missed’ category so they’re etched in Sharpie well in advance.

2) Avoid the “Octopus Syndrome” – Instead of multi-tasking, try to focus on one activity at a time. Studies have shown that doing too many things at once has negative consequences on productivity as well as brain function.

3) Delegate What You Can – Several respondents in Brownlee’s survey suggested reviewing household chores that could be “outsourced” to create more family time.

4) Make Time For Self-Care – Whether it’s reading a book before bed, getting to a Saturday morning yoga class, or just swinging through the drive-through to treat yourself to a latté, scheduling ‘you’ time, even if just for ten minutes, can make a huge difference in your ability to handle the juggle.

5) Surrender to the imperfection – “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Brownlee says. “It comes down to lowering expectations and knowing that we can’t do it all.”

Rather than “balance,” Brownlee says she and her husband are happy to achieve a level of work-life “harmony." “Harmony is about our family working together to keep all the balls in the air – even when things get crazy,” Brownlee says. “It’s knowing that situations on the work or home front can change at a moment’s notice, so tag teaming as best we can.” Brownlee continues, “Some days it works better than others.”


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, AOL Jobs, British online magazine – The Rouse, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show called: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.

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