Walking the Work-Family Tightrope

These 8 tips can help you to balance the demands of work with the needs of those you love

Your life just isn’t working out the way you planned. Nothing is simple anymore. In the morning, you find it difficult to get out of bed knowing that you’re already behind schedule. In the evening, you come home from work physically and emotionally drained, with little energy left over for your family.

The Seven Dwarfs probably said it best: “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go.” Americans log more hours on the job than any other comparable country on the planet, with the average worker toiling 44 hours per week.

A 1998 study by the Families and Work Institute in New York determined that nearly 85 percent of today’s workforce has day-to-day family responsibilities, and more than three quarters of all married employees have partners who also work.

Working parents are under pressure to divide their loyalties between succeeding in the workplace and nurturing their children at home. And their kids have to adjust to this balancing act.

On the whole, parents must labor many more hours to even come close to approaching the standard of living they enjoyed just a few decades ago. In families where parents work different shifts, the children may never see their mother and father together. What’s more, work has now invaded the home, thanks to the rapid spread of mobile phones, portable computers and e-mail.

After the financial crisis of the last few years, many people finally realize that what really matters is having time for family and friends, rest and relaxation, service work and spirituality. So what can you do, short of abandoning job and family to join the circus or foreign legion? These eight suggestions can help you get your act together:

  • Re-evaluate your priorities. Adopt a boot-camp mentality that focuses on returning to the basics. This means positioning your needs ahead of your wants. So what if your kids brown-bag peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week, and you wear the same suit two days in a row? What’s important is that everyone is clean and fed.
  • Lifestyle choices. Are you taking on too much? Keeping up with the Joneses can be a full-time job itself. So for the time being, practice saying No to requests for help at school, office and church. Remember, you are under no obligation to attend every Rotary Club meeting or enroll your kids in multiple activities.
  • Refine your management skills. You likely multitask at work. So generalize those planning skills to map out the week ahead for both home and family. This includes meal menus. Draw up a family/work calendar. List all appointments for each family member over the next seven days and have them check it daily so there are no surprises. Notify your office staff of important family obligations several days in advance.
  • Clarify and delegate responsibilities at home and office. When it comes to determining what needs to be done and who needs to do it, good communication is essential. Decide who makes the beds and who does the laundry. Enlist your children and your spouse to lend a hand. Remember the boot-camp mentality? Turn your head on quality here! If possible, hand off routine tasks at work to an intern or assistant.
  • Avoid the morning rush. Pull yourself from your bed at least 90 minutes prior to leaving for work. A few more minutes of morning preparation time can help prevent the need for last-minute dressing, skipped breakfasts and forgotten tasks. Place everything you need for the day — such as keys, briefcases, purses and schoolbags — in the same familiar locations.
  • Set your clocks and watches ahead. It’s purely psychological, but setting the clocks 10 minutes ahead can help keep you on schedule.
  • Ease the transition. Children’s top wishes, according to Ellen Galinsky’s book Ask the Children, are for parents to be less tired and stressed at the end of the workday. So use your travel time to finish thinking about work and shift gears. Then, when you get home, you can focus on your family and your responsibilities.
  • Investigate company policies. Does your company offer flexible work/life programs such as telecommuting, job sharing, alternate work schedules, compressed work weeks, employee assistance programs, child-care services or eldercare resources? If so, take advantage of them. But if not, you may want to give careful consideration to joining a more family-friendly organization.

Above all, remember that you can’t do it all. Perfection is simply unachievable – you will never get there. But with strategic planning and the right attitude, you can maintain a healthy balance between your work and your family.

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Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at www.pesi.com. To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at joe@thepharmatherapist.com.