Career & Family Life: A Balancing Act

mother trying to juggle work and her child

by Charlotte Edward

Four kids to wake, dress and feed; four lunch boxes to pack; four backpacks to check; four kids to get to school on time. It’s high-volume at the Wittenberg residence.

With four kids, two companies and a private practice, Dr. Heather Wittenberg knows a few things about balancing work with family. Heather and her husband David, both psychologists, have worked hard to achieve a great balance between fulfilling careers and meaningful time with the kids and each other.

Whether you’re returning to the workforce because you want to pursue your career or for financial reasons, it is possible to maintain a semblance of balance so that you’re not completely sacrificing your family or your career.

father trying to work from home with a messy desk
If you are a self-employed parent who work at home, take the time and effort to create a separate work space so you can close the door and get work done.

Tag-Team With Your Spouse

“We’ve worked hard to develop opportunities where we have flexibility in managing our own schedules, so we can be as involved as possible in our children’s lives,” she says. Being able to have flexibility means sacrificing other things, like the usual 9-5 work day. She and her husband are no strangers to early mornings, late nights and weekends in the office. Working unconventional hours to allow for more focused family time was “a conscious decision we made together early in our marriage,” She adds, “It’s been quite challenging, but very much worth it.”

Being on the same page with your spouse is the key to achieving a good level of balance between work and family life. There’s no way you could handle all of the children’s activities and household responsibilities while your partner spends hours reading, out with friends or keeping up with the Kardashians.

It doesn’t matter if you’re getting ready to re-enter the workforce or have been feeling like a circus clown as you attempt to juggle a career and children, it’s never too late to sit down with your spouse and make some changes. Take turns cooking meals, save laundry and errands for the weekends and consider hiring outside help for yard work and housecleaning in order to achieve a balance that’s right for your family.

Request Flexibility At Work

Heather says that parents must take ownership of their work and family balance. It’s not an employer’s job to make sure that the balance is maintained, but many are happy to offer some solution when they’re asked. She provides flexible work solutions to her employees; “I know that providing flexibility to our employees helps them stay happy and productive at work. But many employees are afraid of asking for flexibility.”

You might ask for flexible start and end times if you don’t have tasks that require you to be in the office at a specific time. Perhaps you can get all your work done in four days or work at home one day a week. Whatever idea you come up with, you’ll never know if your employer will agree with it or not until you ask.

daughter clinging onto mom's leg as she goes to work
It is essential to give children your full attention while at home – this means turning off, or silencing, cell phones as soon as you walk in the door.

Setting Work Boundaries

With four kids, Heather’s had at least one child at home all the time – until this school year – since 2001. Having a separate office provided a way for her to shut the door, be away from the noise and get work done, yet close by for baby feedings and emergencies.

For self-employed parents whose main office is in their home, setting boundaries can be challenging. Take the time and effort to create a separate workspace in a spare bedroom or part of the basement to give you the feeling of being away from the sink full of dishes and the overflowing laundry basket.

You might want to rethink your habits if you keep the computer on all day because there is always that one thing that you needed to look up or the quick email you needed to send. Five minutes turns into fifteen and you’re suddenly feeling like the worst parent on the planet because the kids are still waiting for the story you promised them. Set, and stick to, designated work times and turn the computer and phone off when you’re not in work mode.

Even if you leave your office promptly at five-thirty every evening, there’s still the lure of emails that might have come in while you were fixing dinner, the pull to work on a report that’s due next week or a call from a co-worker asking for help on a project. Technology makes it hard to escape from work, but resist the temptation to be a slave to your smart phone. Turn it off, or at least silence it, as soon as you walk in the door. Don’t turn your laptop on until after the kids are in bed and you’ve had time to connect with your spouse; better yet, leave the laptop at work.

Making the Most of Your Mornings

It’s essential for the Wittenbergs to be organized and on top of things in the mornings. To ensure everything goes smoothly, they’ve found that evenings and weekends are key prepping times. Heather makes meal plans and shops for groceries on the weekend and preps as much as she can so that her kids get nutritious meals. She’ll turn a whole loaf of bread into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them and place in baggies. “I store them in the freezer and take them out when I pack lunches; they’re thawed out by lunchtime,” she says. She does the same with cooked dishes like teri chicken and veggies. It takes just minutes more to double the recipe and freeze single portions for school lunches. In the morning all she needs to do is heat it up and place it in a thermos and the kids have hot, healthy lunches.

She also makes sure homework is done and notes are signed and placed in the car the night before. This ensures nothing gets lost in the daily hustle to get out the door. Evenings are also when she and her husband fill water bottles and set out cereal bowls, cups and spoons.

Finding Family Time

The Wittenburgs connect and stay active with frequent volleyball games in their backyard after dinner and homework is done for the night. Afterwards, each child gets some one-on-one time with a parent as the child settles into bed. “We talk, tell stories and get more insight into their day. This is when we hear the real stories,” says Heather. Planning family nights, weekend outings with the kids and even a simple reading hour before bedtime is a great way to connect with the kids and keep up with what’s going on in their lives.

It also allows you to get in enough of their silliness so that you’re glad to return to work the next day and switch things up. “Having children is one of the most amazing experiences of my life; I’d never exchange it for a thing, but I’m also glad to be able to mix up things with a career.”

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