Working parents want success at home and at work. Businesses want productive workers. Enter work-life integration.
No matter where we are in our careers, we often talk about the importance of balance: an idea that conjures images of lotus poses and zen gardens. We talk about managing stress and finding time for sleep, meditation, friends and fun amid 60-hour workweeks. You know, balance.
But for those of us fortunate enough to enter the ranks of parenthood, balance becomes a seemingly unattainable ideal. We hear the messages telling us we can do it all, but if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know something has got to give. There simply are not enough hours in the day to care of ourselves, be the parents we aspire to be, be fully present with our partners and continue to excel in demanding careers.
While parenthood requires sacrifice, what we’re seeking shouldn’t be impossible. If we change our expectations and acknowledge that professionals and entrepreneurs have families, can we stop being so fixated on balance and instead turn our attention towards solutions that allow us to accomplish more of what we need and want?
The work-family conflict is a challenge that isn’t going away. If we want strong families and a thriving economy, we need to face it head-on. We need to shift to a model of work-life integration: not just in theory, but in practice.
The Work-Family Conflict
Consider this: 56 percent of mothers and 50 percent of fathers say juggling work and family is hard. When you also take into account that 33 percent of parents say they aren’t spending enough time with their kids, we are forced to acknowledge that this is about more than the need for more affordable childcare (though that would be nice).
To accommodate their needs their own way, millennials (both men and women) are choosing not to lean in, but to walk away. They’re going to new companies, and they’re choosing to become freelance workers or small business owners. In fact, it’s estimated that 40 percent of U.S. workers will be freelance or independent by 2020.
After I had my son, I had to make a choice. While I was ready to fully embrace my new role as a mother, I didn’t want to abandon my career. I no longer cared about getting to the next rung on the corporate ladder, but I certainly intended to use the skills I’d gained.
Plus, I was in the same boat as more than 40 percent of mothers in the U.S. who are the sole or primary source of income for their families. When I first started my career, I pursued my dreams. And I was successful. We relied on my income after I got married, and I was fine with that. But I didn’t realize what it would mean later. After I had my son, I didn’t have the choice to not work. But I also couldn’t work for an industry or organization that didn’t understand the commitment that parenthood requires.
The Work-Life Integration Model
As a business owner and a business strategist, I know the importance of the bottom line. The bottom line is that when we have the resources we need to grow personally and professionally — as well as the necessary support — we can achieve more. Plus, as we consider the growing number of independent workers, the resources of corporate America may fail to cover a large number of professionals.
So, we need to turn the conversation away from balance. Those of us who want to do everything — who crave more — quite simply are not the balance type. There are no zen gardens here. But we deserve the opportunity to succeed in multiple areas of our lives.
That’s why it’s essential that companies, organizations and individuals commit to providing working parents, caregivers and “parentpreneurs” programs and resources that support a work-life integration model. That means programs that account for more family time, family-friendly conferences and networking events, co-working spaces that offer daycare services and educational sessions that combine work and family.
It also means we should start changing the culture of business. If we need to schedule a conference call after 5 p.m., we’ll make that work, but you might hear my toddler playing in the background (or the foreground!) — and that’s OK. And you might have to end a meeting at 4:30 p.m. because your kid has a soccer game. That’s OK too. We know that we’re still smart, capable and engaged professionals and that being a parent doesn’t affect our competency or our commitment to a job well done.
Let’s embrace that things have changed: that we have tried the “having-it-all” thing and it wasn’t working. Our families, marriages and companies weren’t working the way we wanted them to. Work and life can intersect, and it should. So, let’s start by changing the way we talk about parents in professional environments and build a world where we embrace the messiness of it all and provide resources and tools that unite our personal and professional worlds.
Through tangible programming, I believe we can do more than change mindsets. I believe we can create opportunities that empower hard-working professionals to build a life that allows them to have all they want and more.