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research that couples
should hear!

Seven Keys to

Balancing Family and Work


Family-work balance is a complex issue that
involves financial values, gender roles, career
paths, time management and many other
factors. Hidden values and models from our
cultures, original families and other sources
influence our choices in ways that we often
dont anticipate or understand and that have
far-reaching consequences for our lives.
Like so many of the challenges and dilemmas
of marriage, balancing family and work has no
easy solution-no one-size-fits-all approach.
Every person and couple will have their own
preferences and needs.
Many couples tell us that they have seen the
drawbacks of their parents attempting to do it
all and ending up very much over-extended.
Still others hope to avoid the restrictions of
roles and experiences that are too narrow or
mismatched for them. Couples are struggling
with the relative priorities of their values family
involvement, career and material goals,
personal growth and fulfillment.
The most important thing we can tell you about
balance: Preparation, intentionality and joint
decision-making are the key to creating and
maintaining the right family-work balance for
you. Many couples experience extremely
strong forces pulling them away from the
priority that they would like their family to have.
If you dont aggressively plan your balance,
these other forces will prevail. Without a clear
plan and commitment to maintaining balance,
time and energy for family erodes and

Success
Stages of Marriage
Five-to-One Ratio
Demanding Careers &
Marriage
What are the most
important factors in
marriage success?
Differences,
incompatibilities and
marriage success
Whos in control in
your relationship?
Communication &
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Becoming Parents
Financial issues
Balancing Family and
Work
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evaporates.
Family-work balance is a process, not a static
achievement. Its important to make the big
decisions selecting careers and jobs, timing
children, allocating roles and responsibilities,
etc. that will provide the opportunity for
balance. The real task of balance takes place
on a weekly and daily basis, even from hour to
hour. This is where couples hold the line to
protect family time or allow it to evaporatewhere they opt to take advantage of a family
opportunity or allow other priorities to interfere.
The process nature of balance means that you
can and must adjust as required. No decision,
plan or approach need be permanent. If its not
working or satisfying, you can reconsider and
make changes. In fact, constant tactical
adjustment and flexibility to keep on target
toward your goals and priorities (but not to
accommodate outside demands where limitsetting is usually more in order) is a hallmark of
couples who are satisfied with their balance.
But how can you tell when you have found the
right family-work balance for you and when you
need to adjustmake a different plan? According
to Sandy Epstein on BlueSuitMom.com, good
balance, while different for everyone, is
characterized by:
Having enough time for both work and family
without expending great effort, so that your life
feels relatively comfortable;
Having enough back-up, so that you can
cope with minor emergencies like sick baby
sitters, car breakdowns, etc.; and
Being on the right personal and professional
path for your future.

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The first big balance decision faced by couples


is when to become parents, if this is in their
plans. Among the most important, but least
appreciated, considerations is allowing an
adequate post-marriage bonding period with
your partner before children, even if you have
been (or lived) together for an extended period
before marriage. Experts recommend a
minimum delay of one year before trying to
become pregnant. Other issues include
reconciling personal, career and financial
developments with preferred timing of children
and biological imperatives.
Another key balance decision is whether one or
both partners will work outside the home and
the characteristics of their jobs. These
decisions will depend on your financial and
career goals, the amount of gratification that
you experience at work, your energy levels,
your willingness to forego a high level of
involvement in some aspects of your childrens
lives, etc. Talk to both working and at home
parents about the pros and cons they have
experienced.
Commonly cited pro-work factors include
potential income, career continuity and
advancement, workplace intellectual and social
stimulation, enriched childcare social
environment for kids, etc. Adverse factors
include reduced time spent with family, fatigue,
weekends dominated by domestic chores,
chronic crisis coping, etc.
If your motives for working are basically
financial, look carefully at the actual net benefit
after deducting childcare, taxes, transportation,
work attire and other work-related costs,

especially if you are earning a relatively low


salary.
If you decide to work, one key to balance is
finding family friendly employersemployers with
explicit, realistic policies, programs and
commitment to support the family priorities of
employees, such as flexible working
arrangements, on-site child care or emergency
child care coverage, limits on demands for
extended work hours, parent support networks,
sabbaticals, etc.
Work options that can promote balance include
part-time, flex time, telecommuting,
compressed workweek (full-time in 3 or 4
days), extended family leave, freelance and
consulting, job-sharing, seasonal work.
Some experts recommend asking about these
issues up-front during job interviews in order to
promote accurate expectations for the
employer and you. They advise that if these
discussions lead to your not being hired, it
probably wasnt the right job or organization for
your balance priorities. It is critical to distinguish
between lip service and real commitment.
Committed large employers will have written
policies and procedures to address these
issues. The attitude of your direct supervisor
will be critical.
Research Validated Models for Successful
Family-Work Balance
Both Full-Time Employed
According to a recent study (Zimmerman, et al,
2003) of dual-earning (both partners full-time
employed) middle-class and professional
couples with children that perceive themselves

as successful in balancing family and work,


these couples strive for marital partnership to
support balance by:
Sharing housework (negotiating equal
division of labor)
Mutual, active involvement in child care
(wives resist monopolizing and controlling,
make room for equal contribution by husband)
Joint decision-making (free expression of
needs, negotiation and compromisewife
perceived to have slightly more influence)
Equal financial influence and access based
on joint decision-making, planning
Valuing both partners work and life goals
(husbands careers somewhat more prioritized,
support for separate, individual time and
activities)
Sharing emotional work (primacy of marital
relationship, time alone together
These couples (Haddock, et al, 2001) also
employ adaptive strategies, including:
Valuing family as the highest priority over
professional responsibilities and advancement
Deriving enjoyment and purpose from work
Actively setting limits on work by separating
family and work and negotiating with
employers
Focusing at workthey experience limits as
making them more productive at work
Prioritizing family play and fun
Taking pride in dual earning
Living simply, giving up some material
amenities in order to reduce financial pressures
and work hours
Proactive decision-making: If you just

define success as what you do at work, then


that is all you will do. Whereas, if you define
success as having a happy family and a happy
marriage and [being] happy at work, then you
make all those things happen.
Recognizing the value of and protecting time
for family, being present oriented
While this is not the only set of strategies for
balance, it has the virtue of being one that is
derived from the experience of satisfied
couples.
Modified Traditional
A study (Marks, et al, 2001) of working-class,
white couples produced a very different model
of balance-a contemporary variant of traditional
marriage where primary gender responsibilities
are clear, with men earning while women are
caretakers. For these couples, husbands role
balance is related to higher income (better
providing) and spending more leisure time with
their families. Wives balance is enhanced by
contributing through paid work of their own,
involvement with relatives and friends, and
when husbands spend time alone with children,
are communicative about their own needs and
are willing to change their own behavior to
meet their wives needs. Financial strain
detracts from balance for both partners.
Whatever your work arrangements, experts
recommend a range of coping strategies to
enhance balance:
Make a list of essential activities and
involvements that you want to maintain.
Set and guard limits and boundaries to

protect these; say no firmly to activities that


would interfere with your essentials.
Make a list of dont want to do items that
are aversive, waste your time, sap your
energy.
Delegate these and other non-essential
tasks and find or hire help.
Negotiate to achieve the most advantageous
arrangement possible when its not feasible to
reject or delegate an activity or task.
Clark (2002) found that individuals who
communicate with work associates about family
and with their family about work are more
satisfied and higher functioning in both arenas.
Make long-term plans with your partner to
meet your individual and mutual balance goals.
Engage your partner in regular short-term
planning: Briefly review activities and
arrangements for the coming week every
Sunday evening. Briefly review activities for the
next day every evening.
Organize division of labor with your partner
so that you each cover those tasks that are
easiest and most enjoyable for you.
Try to let go of the responsibilities your
partner has accepted or you have delegated to
others. Try not to control or criticize. Let go of
guilt.
Strictly prioritize tasks. Include slack time in
your plans and schedule. You wont be able to
maintain a schedule plan that commits 110
percent of your available time, let alone
accommodate emergencies. See our time
management article: stayhitched.com/time.htm
Take care of yourself first whenever feasible.
You cant do very effectively for others if you
are depleted. See our stress management
article:stayhitched.com/stress.htm

Always be professional at work. Arrive at


work early; leave work on a strict schedule.
Block out work when at home or confine it to
strictly scheduled times. Minimize weekend
work. Be prepared for family emergencies that
call you away from work. Train subordinates to
cover responsibilities when you are away from
work.
Recognize that it will be hard but necessary to
accept compromising some of your goals in
order to protect higher priority involvements
and activities. Remind yourself frequently that
these strategies are critical to maintaining a life
based on your true values.
Resources
BBC work - family balance site
Bluesuitmom.com
Beth Sawi, Coming Up for Air: How to Build a
Balanced Life in a Workaholic World
(By a senior brokerage firm executive with
advice, exercises and real-world examples.
Available remaindered or used for a few
dollars.)
Click here to buy this book: After clicking thu to B & N or Amazon
via any of our our bookstore links, search for the title, then click the
used copies link.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, Ph.D., The Second


Shift
(A landmark book about the dynamics of dual
career households based on research by a
sociologist. She concludes that, despite great
societal changes in the United States allowing
women more choices in life, women are still
responsible for the majority of household

chores and child care and that this has


profound implications for marital happiness for
both men & women.)