Feeling like your life is out of balance? Too much work on your plate? Too many demands from your family? No time to do it all—let alone do it well or steal an hour of "you time"?
If you've answered yes to any of those questions, then the latest data won't surprise you. According to a recent survey from the Work and Family Institute, 60 percent of working parents feel considerable conflict between work responsibilities and time spent at home. And a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found the majority of full-time working moms would like to trade in their current situation for a part-time position. What's more, the same number of stay-at-home moms said they'd like to give up a bit of the carpooling and PTA for a part-time job as well. And, of course, plenty of new moms or moms-to-be are searching for ways to stay home full-time with their babies.
If you listen to me on Oprah Radio XM Satellite Radio then you know my feelings on this: I'm right in there with you. I don't believe balanced days are actually possible. There are some days when I'm good at work and others when I'm good at home, and if I can find balance over the week or the month, I consider that a success.
Whether getting in balance for you means scaling back on work outside the home or ramping it back up, there's one unfortunate fact of life involved: What we want to do to achieve more balance and what we can afford to do may not totally be in sync. After all, kids are expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it costs the average middle class family $184,000 to raise a baby from birth to age 17. And that's all money spent before college tuition bills are due. Yikes! On the other hand, working outside the home has its costs, too. Child care is the biggie, but you have to factor in transportation, dry cleaning and more takeout food, too.
Whatever your situation, it's important to take a hard look at your financial picture before you make any big changes. With this guide you and your Money Group members can start to ask the important questions that will help make it possible to add more balance in your life. Then complete our three tasks that will get you even closer to achieving your balance goals.
While you're considering your options, keep this vital fact in mind from Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute: There is no evidence that shows children of full-time, part-time or stay-at-home moms turn out any different. "The kind of parent you are makes the biggest difference, not simply whether you are employed or not." Ten Discussion Questions for Your Money Group
Women today are pulled in a million different directions. Between taking care of the kids, trying to stay connected with husbands or partners and, in many cases, caring for an elderly parent, most of us don't have time to make the grocery list, let alone think about balance. That's where your Money Group can help. Use your next meeting time to ask each other the following questions that will help get you thinking about whether or not your life is out of balance and what to do if it is.
How did you grow up? Did your mom work outside the home? Stay home full-time? How did you feel about the situation?
What makes you feel the most guilty at work? At home?
What's your definition of the perfect balance between home and work? (Jean's take: In the morning when I'm getting my kids off to school, I can't wait to get to work. In the evening after I've put in a full day, I can't wait to get home. Taking the time to live in each moment helps me approach that feeling of balance I'm after.)
Have you considered working part-time?
How flexible is your current work situation? Are there any programs at your company that might help—flex-time, job sharing, etc.? Are there other companies in your area that offer more flexibility for your particular position?
Do you think you have enough money to make a change? If not, what would you need to do to afford to work less? How can you cut back your expenses?
How much does your partner help out at home? How much do your older kids? (Jean's take: Women naturally take on more of the at-home jobs—social organizer, meal planner, bill payer, gift buyer, etc. But if it's balance you're looking for, there's one surefire way you can get more of it immediately—delegate. Start assigning some of the chores you've taken on to your spouse and older kids—then use that time strictly for yourself.)
If you had to go back to work tomorrow, where would you start looking?
It's Saturday morning and you're in luck—your family has disappeared for two whole hours. Would you get a manicure or read a novel? Finish unanswered e-mails from work? Go through the homework folders to see what needs to be done by the end of the weekend? (Jean's take: You'll always be out of sync if you don't take the stolen moments for yourself. Go ahead, pretend you're 25 and single again—even if it's only for an hour. You'll be amazed how reenergized you'll feel.)
Who can help you achieve the perfect balance? Your spouse? Your boss? Help from parents and other relatives?
Okay, here's a bonus question: Are you happy? New research shows that men have gotten happier than women over the years. Why? Because they're working less and taking more time for themselves and we're doing the opposite. Do you have the ability to add one more enjoyable task a week to your schedule?
Three Tasks You Can Do to Get a Better Balance
Plan a vacation—a real vacation. We all know household work never ends. There's always the next meal, the next load of laundry, the next school lunch to pack. But these days with e-mail, cell phones and blackberries, our jobs have us on the same 24/7 tether. The work on both sides just never seems done. What's more, we're not ever getting a break. Most Americans don't use all the vacation time that's owed them. And when they do, they often find it difficult to truly leave the office behind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 574 million vacation days go unused each year by American workers.
With all this constant work, it's even more important to take a real break once in a while—from mid-year reports as well as dirty dishes in the sink. And I'm not talking a three-day weekend here and there, during which you're answering e-mails all day. Studies have found that to feel truly rested and recharged you need at least four or five days off. A true getaway will not only help you reenergize, it'll provide the downtime you need to think about the changes you and your family want to make to get more balanced.
If you truly can't swing five days off, I suggest a travel-free mini-break. I find that my stress level goes up the minute I have to get on a plane, in a car, or on a train to go away somewhere. So when I need a vacation but just can't fit it in, I book a hotel room nearby—preferably somewhere I can get a massage or a manicure, or that has a pool I can sit by and read a book for a few hours. Give it a try and see what I mean. Ban the e-mail. Ban the cellphone. And breathe!
Figure out if you can afford to stay home. If you're considering (or your spouse is considering) leaving the workforce to stay home for a while, try living on a single salary for a few months first. Not only will this give you an indication of whether or not you can actually live on what you make, but it will give you several weeks of banked income that becomes a sizable emergency cushion. Plan your monthly budget using only one paycheck and see if you can stick to it!
For a better sense of whether you can afford to stay home, there are a number of calculators on the Web. I like the one at TodaysParent.com.
Look into all your options. It's not perfect out there yet, but it is getting easier to find employers who will offer family-friendly work arrangements, says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy and author of Off Ramps and On Ramps. She says that 57 percent of employers now offer a serious form of flexibility. In many cases, however, they don't advertise these policies—you have to ask. Make an appointment with your boss or the human resources department to find out what types of flextime, job sharing and other flexible arrangements your company may offer. (Be sure to have a good plan in mind of what you'd ideally like, what you can realistically handle and assurances of how you will still get your work done.)
If your own company is behind the curve on this issue, start networking and researching to explore what may be available at other companies. It may be worth making a move if you can get a more flexible arrangement elsewhere.