By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor
To working parents across the country, the portrait that emerged from a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month is no surprise. According to the survey, in nearly half of two-parent families today, both parents work full-time. And these families aren’t just busy; as Claire Cain Miller describes in a follow-up report, today’s modern family is stressed, tired and rushed.
According the survey, 56 percent of all working parents say balancing work and family is difficult. Nearly a third say parenting is stressful all or most of the time. And 40 percent of all moms who work full-time say they always feel rushed.
Given today’s highly-competitive, 24/7 work cultures, this data isn’t surprising. It fuels a long and active discussion on work-life balance, and looks to public policies and workplace structures for solutions.
But let’s view the data in a different way. Let’s see a portrait of those working parents among the survey’s 44 percent who say balancing work and family is “not too, or not at all difficult.” Building on our philosophy of personal choice and intention, our picture is one of working parents who:
- Know and prioritize their values
- Know and maintain their boundaries
- Fearlessly share their values and boundaries with the important people in their lives
In reality, “balance” means something different to every working family. But at its core is a shared awareness and regard of personal values. “Balanced” working parents know their values and make intentional choices that support them. They value family, so purposefully prioritize time with their kids. They value work, but make choices around their work that don’t compromise their family time.
They also know that values change with life’s circumstances. While their kids are small, for example, they may set aside values around community or personal growth. And they’re OK with it because they know it’s not a forever choice. Creating balance around what we most value at the present moment gives space and acceptance to reserve other priorities for another day.
Closely linked to values is boundaries. Balanced families intentionally set and honor boundaries around their time and various roles. At work, they know when and where “office hours” begin and end, what meetings they can skip or delegate, how to say “no” to demands outside their scope. Increasingly, families are setting digital boundaries around their devices in an attempt to create more balance.
Finally, it’s not enough for working parents to know just for themselves their values and boundaries. Balance requires broader awareness among those with whom we work and live: the boss, clients, friends, and family. Communicating our values and boundaries appropriately sets others’ expectations and creates a layer of balance in the support we receive.
Of course there’s no such thing as a perfectly balanced working family. We are in and out of balance daily, weekly, yearly. But through our choices, we can gain an acceptable level of balance that minimizes the stress and exhaustion felt today by too many working families.