The Challenge of Work Versus Family
If you are anything like myself, you know the daily challenge of trying to balance career versus time spent with family. In our current society, this is more difficult than ever. Most couples I know, or work with, are both working full-time due to financial pressure and attempting to spend time with their children as much as possible.
Perhaps, nothing can trigger more guilt and shame for parents than trying to balance accomplishing work-related responsibilities, or take time for self-care activities, and being there for your kids. There is often a tension between providing and being there.
In my own life, I struggle with this constantly. One of the things my eldest son enjoys most, and we connect around, is athletics. He plays both high school football and wrestles. With my schedule as a psychotherapist, I am typically able to attend all his football games. However, his wrestling schedule is more difficult to accommodate. Every time I am unable to attend one of his matches, it kills me.
On one hand, I know these are priceless moments that occur only once. On the other, I have to provide for him and my other children financially. Working with so many couples and families, I know I am not alone in this predicament.
I have worked with so many mothers who struggle even more with this issue, especially in the early years of their children’s lives. I have sat with numerous woman as they wept and struggled with feelings of guilt at having to return to work when their children were young. “Am I damaging my child,” they would often ask.
Furthermore, it is more challenging than ever attempting to maintain boundaries between one’s employment and family life. In my field, I have many clients who are therapists whose agencies place unrealistic demands on them and expect them to take work home and have it completed by the end of the day to ensure insurance reimbursement. It is not uncommon for many of them to see a full caseload of clients and work till nine or ten in the evening completing paperwork.
Perhaps, you are experiencing the same battles in your industry or running your business. What are we left to do with this reality? As a psychotherapist and peak performance coach, the solutions my clients and I develop have to work in the real-world. Platitudes and clichés will not do.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review pointed to a research study done nearly two decades ago that can provide some credible solutions. I my work, I am committed to employing interventions and strategies that are evidence-based not anecdotal. I have found just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is correct.
The study was conducted by Drexel University’s Jeff Greenhaus and Stewart Friedman and was focused on how our careers affect our children by whether they contribute to behavioral problems. They also expanded the concepts in the original study by integrating issues related to the inner experience of work: parental values about the importance of career and family; the psychological interference of work on family life; the extent of emotional involvement in career; and discretion and control about the conditions of work.
The findings of the study provided insight, encouragement, and strategies for mitigating the potential negative impact our present career lives can have on our children. One of the first things the study revealed was children whose parents believed family life should come first rated higher on levels of emotional health regardless of the amount of time the parent spent working. I would encourage and emphasis the use of this information to reduce feelings of guilt for unavoidable time spent at work, not as a license to neglect your children.
Raising emotionally healthy, well-adjusted children is a product of both quantity and quality, but the study does reveal the significance of quality and ways it can moderate an inability to provide quantity at times. The study also revealed parents whose work provided a sense of fulfillment and intrinsic reward were better off emotionally. This makes sense if you consider parents who experience inner reward in their work rate for higher levels of happiness and contentment, which likely leads to them being more patient and understanding. Again, the results were not impacted by the amount of time spent with the child.
Contrastingly, children whose fathers were overly involved in their careers and both psychologically and emotionally unavailable when they were with them were more likely to exhibit evidence of behavioral problems. If fathers rated positive for satisfaction in their jobs, children were less likely to display behavioral issues.
Mothers who had higher levels of autonomy and agency at work, as well as practiced self-care and relaxation, had children with less behavioral problems and higher levels of emotional health. It’s not surprising that a mother who is in a better state emotionally has children who are more emotionally healthy. But what is counterintuitive is that it was not due to the amount of time spent with them. Even if she spent less time with them, they fared better if the time was spent for self-care. This is information I would want all those mothers who struggle with guilt over taking time for self-care to become aware of.
My guidance for implementing the knowledge provided by this study would be as follows:
- Find work that is meaningful and fulfilling
- Develop means for creating a level autonomy in your employment
- Take time for self-care and relaxation
- Set boundaries on yourself and be present when you are with your children
- Make the priority of your family and explicit value to your children
This research is encouraging for all of us attempting to build families and raise children in the modern world. Following these steps can help us bridge the gap between providing, pursuing a meaningful career, and raising emotionally healthy children who feel loved and valued.