Triumph Over Work/Family Conflict & Hack Your Way To Better Balance

#MomsBalanceHacks #MomsSelf-Care #MomsPersonalGrowth

“Wait… do you remember the rules?  You have to stay inside the playground, okay?”  The child spun around sheepishly and nodded with a big grin, then skipped merrily back to the circle of kids sitting on the grass.

How did an ordinary pick-up for her two boys morph into having her own baker’s dozen of little people?

“There was and end of the year BBQ at school that began at 4:30 pm and the afterschool program brought the kids inside at 4:30 until their parents picked them up. All of them would miss the event..”  Once Sasha realized this, she quickly began texting parents…offering to help.  She signed out eleven kids that day (in addition to her own) and took the swirling circle of excited kids into the playground. “There were rules…they had to stay in the area where I could see them…all of them. It didn’t make sense for me not to take that extra step and pick up more than just my own children.”

What Is Work/Family Conflict Anyway?
Sasha is writing her doctoral thesis on the correlation between work/family conflict and sense of virtual community in working parents.   I know… impressive right?  She describes work/family conflict as “When work interferes with your family and vice versa.   Fundamentally these are border issues”…I needed clarification, “…when we feel barriers associated with going back and forth between the two responsibilities.”

I nodded vigorously…after all I was living it and the fact that she was applying research rigor and study to this gave me hope!

Angela Duckworth describes it well, in her book, GRIT The Power of Passion and Perseverance “I had one goal hierarchy for work…but I had a separate goal hierarchy that involves being the best mother I can be for my two daughters.  As any working parent knows, having two ultimate concerns isn’t easy…there never seems to be enough time, energy or attention to go around.”

When asked how she chose this topic to research, “I originally studied organizational behavior.  However, when I needed to refine my focus I started to pay attention to the articles I shared, saved and read.  I wanted to pick a topic that I didn’t skip over… something that matters deeply to me.”  Once it was clear that she was already dissecting and living the details of work/family conflict, she embraced it for her thesis.

“It really does take a village….” She stated matter of factly. This is not just something she says… after spending a delightful hour getting to know Sasha, I was impressed and amazed that she’s actively living this world view by taking action, big and small to make life more manageable for other parents.

In her research it surfaced repeatedly, parents feel isolated living and working through the details of making ‘work/life’ truly work.  “It’s all about you. Your conflict. Your solution.“ Adding weight to the tremendous pressure most already feel.  

In Alain Ehrenberg’s, The Weariness of the Self, focused on the history of depression, he notes how “psychologically exhausting it can be to be so constantly self-reliant.”

Is Community The Answer?
She was curious about the role that community, particularly virtual community, plays in mitigating work/life conflict.  “It’s that sense of community and feeling of connection that appears to matter most.”  She surveyed parents about the communities they belong to online, whether large social sites like Facebook or a ‘Next Door’ community that digitally enables ‘borrowing a cup of sugar’ and other needs that can only be solved by connecting extremely local people.  

“Sense of community improves wellbeing.”  Virtual groups that are local, even if you never meet the participants, provide real-life value.  “If the question is time sensitive, ‘I need a plumber’ or requires local context ‘what do you know about a particular middle school’…it’s an efficient way to get helpful responses to questions versus calling 5 people.”

What about in-person communities?  She agrees live connections remain powerful and complement the virtual ones.  She’s in a book club with a group of Moms that meet once per month.  “Sometimes, we actually read the book.” She laughed.  “…This group knows everything about my life, including the ups and downs.  Each time I’ve had to evaluate choices in my career or navigate a challenge, this is my go-to group for support.”   Although they had established this deep bond of trust and connection, they didn’t see each other socially outside of the book club until recently.

For the last year she’s been enmeshed in her doctoral studies, working part-time from home, heading a committee at her sons’ school and being the Board President for Company One Theatre  (a local, non-profit theatre company).  “…This level of activity and community involvement, although demanding, has given me much needed adult interaction and challenge.”

The Role of Flexibility
“In my last role, I negotiated a flexible schedule.  My 80% workweek was spread over five days… I finished at 3 pm and worked half-day on Tuesdays.”  This allowed her to pick up her kids from school everyday. “…I saved a small fortune in childcare costs this way!”

She also picks up other people’s kids…often. Back to the theme ‘it takes a village’ “…I have an arrangement that makes my life easier and if I can help other parents, I do.” She’ll text people to see if she can pick up their kids or arrange a quick play date to give them more time. “…If more people took these small steps, we’d all find this so much easier.”  Amen to that!

Take That Extra Step
Become aware of how to help others.  “I posted to my Facebook page, ‘Does anyone want to take a six-year old for the day?’ My oldest was out with a friend and my six-year old son was doing everything in his power to drive me crazy!” Another parent from the kids’ school said yes within five minutes of the post and they were at her house 10 minutes later.  “…Social media for the win!”  The two kids were not in the same class, but they now play together regularly. The next weekend, Sasha was able to have the little girl over for a playdate when the other mom was out of town. This act of kindness and support of another Mom built a new friendship that might not have existed otherwise.  

Sasha shares the many benefits, including reciprocity that has come from helping other parents.  “My kids love having friends to play with.  Also, by building up my community of friends and neighbors (my village) I have found that others are happy to help me when I am running late for pickup, need coverage for a half-hour gap or when my kids are in desperate need of getting out to play with a friend.”

“I’m the mom that tells the playground kid (who is not mine) to come out of the tree.”  As a culture that’s moved away from the ‘be home by six’ guidance from the seventies and eighties, parenting today is fundamentally different. “…We choose to live in a vibrant city neighborhood that offers diversity and tremendous cultural opportunities.  We don’t want to give that up, but it also means we can’t just say go play in the yard.”  

Regardless of where you fall on the ‘helicopter Mom’ spectrum, today’s school-aged kids often grow up with less independence and freedom to explore than in generations past.  This adds to the fraught feeling of  ‘always on’ vigilance that strains most caregivers.

Enlisting Kids To Help Manage Overload
Enthusiastic to give children a wide range of experiences and skills, limited discretionary time often becomes heavily scheduled.  Sasha lets her kids pick a sport and for the rest of the time, they can play on the playground after school with friends at pickup..  “Otherwise, I’d spend all of my time shuttling the kids around with sports schedules.  You have to pick and choose.  You can’t have it all also applies to kids.”

She’s elected not to attend every game, but chooses the events that are the most important.  “…I was reminded as a child to feel personal connection and enjoyment from participating in a sport or activity.  My Dad told me if you love doing it, it doesn’t matter if I’m there to watch. Do it because you love it.”  There’s wisdom in this and the approach has helped her reduce calendar overwhelm.  

She’s also implemented smart systems at home.  “My children get ‘points’ not to wake us up before 7 am.”  Her kids are at an age where they can handle the basics of breakfast cereal if everything is set up and accessible.  “The six year old especially loves earning points and is developing independence and important life skills. When we’re on long car rides they listen to audiobooks on an iPod.” Yes… you heard that right, an old-school iPod versus the screen-time-temptress that is the iPad.  “They’re thrilled to listen to books, many of which they’ve also read in physical form and it helps me keep them entertained and engaged while still limiting screen-time.

Balance and Self-Care
“I have a group of Mom friends that join me for the occasional ‘Moms only’ getaway… we started with just one night away and gradually built our way up to taking a full weekend.”  They just planned their first three-night trip about an hour and a half away. “By being close to home, everyone felt  that we could jump in the car and return quickly if anything came up.  We rented a house, and we are planning on going out to  dinner, maybe going dancing, spending some quality time hanging out and checking out the area.  I can’t wait, it is going to be amazing!”   

By giving herself permission to take this time, recharge and nurture friendships she (and by extension her family) receive countless benefits.  Creative and practical ways to manage the stress inherent with work/family conflict is an important part of self-care.
The hour passed quickly, before I realized it and I found myself still smiling as I left the coffee shop.  Sitting down to talk with Sasha was like taking a master class in Mom-juggle life hacks.  She and her husband have aligned on strategies that work for their family with solutions tailor made to their needs.  

When I asked Sasha how she became so wise, so quickly, as with most innovation her methods were driven by necessity “I had to find a way to get stuff done.”

Follow Sasha on LinkedIn to learn more about her research and latest adventures.

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