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Work & Life: Re-Thinking the Balancing Act

Work & Life: Re-Thinking the Balancing Act

Today’s post is courtesy of Lisa Oppenheimer, moderator of recent Family Matters parenting webinar: Integrating Work and Life – Four-Way Wins.

It was the “aha” moment heard round the world.

The revelation? That research shows parents who take “me” time raise happier kids.

The takeaway: When you go to the spa next time, you’re not just doing it for you. You’re doing it for your family. “The more time a mother spends on herself,” explained Stew Friedman during his guest appearance at the recent Bright Horizons Family Matters Webinar, Integrating Work and Life: Four-Way Wins, “the more emotionally mature are her children.” Commenters were quick to embrace the message.

“Good fact.”

“Must keep that one in mind!”

“I’m making a spa appointment right now!”

As lighthearted as the counsel might seem, it’s actually serious stuff. A big part of Stew’s message is that taking time for oneself is not only key – it’s a substantial part of how busy working parents can start re-imagining what we all think we know about work/life balance. In fact, for starters, we need to rethink the terminology – it’s not about balance at all.

“When you think in terms of balance, you naturally think of those scales,” he said, referring to familiar items from a judge’s desk – the ones that weigh one side of justice against the other. The problem with that metaphor is what it implies.

“When you’re thinking about trying to keep everything in equal balance, you start to think in terms of tradeoffs,” he says. But when you consider that those tradeoffs are going to come from things that matter – taking from your family to give to the job, or taking from the boss to give to the kids – you realize it’s a poor illustration. Not only is trying to get balance a losing proposition, it’s not going to appeal to those around you – bosses, spouses – with whom you’re trying to negotiate.

A better bet, said Stew, is to look for ways to bring together the four important parts of your life – work, family, community, and self – and integrate. The four-way win he talks about is when you have a formula that makes everything work better.

So then the question becomes…how? Stew’s Total Leadership approach says start with the basics of a three-tiered foundation:

  • Be Real: Know what you want and clarify what you care about.
  • Be Whole: Recognize the different parts of your life, who and what is important, and the different roles you play.
  • Be innovative: Investigate different ways of getting things done; figure out how you can juggle things to make yourself more available; continually experiment with approaches and ideas that can make things better.

Working Family at Child Care

Such clarity helps boil down what you want and then helps you open doors to creative ways to make it happen. Just as important, you need to understand the people around you – what they need and what they expect you to provide. That can seem obvious – after all, don’t we all know what our spouses and significant others are thinking? In a word…no.

In fact, so often, said Stew, conflict comes from assumptions about what we think we know about what others expect from us, compounded by our own resentment over our inability to provide it. In his book “Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life,” a key “being whole” exercise is about having real conversations with “stakeholders” – spouses, bosses, etc. – in which you ask the question, “What are the main things you want or need from me?”

“What you often discover,” said Stew, “is that what people expect of you is a little bit less and a little bit different than what you thought.” Armed with actual information, people can not only make adjustments to their thinking, they can also start the innovation process – some trial-and-error experimentation with new approaches – aimed at making everyone’s life better.

Still, such interpersonal undertakings may be surprisingly counterintuitive – meaning they take deliberate effort….and practice. Part 2 of Stew’s book contains many useful exercises that help you develop the skills you need. Funny as it may seem, even embracing the spa visit may be a learned skill.

“I think most of us know this,” observed one astute listener summing up the sentiments of many regarding the “me” time mandate, “but how do we not feel guilty about it?”

In this case, practice may very well make perfect.

Editor’s Note: Watch the recording of this recent Bright Horizons parent webinar with Stew Friedman – Integrating Work and Life: Four-Way Wins.

Lisa Oppenheimer Bright Horizons loggerWriter and blogger Lisa Oppenheimer has spent a career chronicling the travels, challenges, and delightful messiness of fitting together work, life, and parenting. The mother of two grown daughters, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two cats, and endless homeowner responsibilities.



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