The ebb and flow of balance in our family - it's not "fair"

My friend, Annie, recently wrote about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg  - two very accomplished women - and their decisions and comments that could be detrimental to families should their philosophies be openly implemented far and wide. Mayer's no-working-from-home inflexibility is already a reality in many businesses and I have no doubt that the law doesn't stop businesses from asking women about their plans for having a family. I have personally had comments made to me on more than one occasion that were at least borderline if not outright illegal.

A lot of the articles around these recent events are about achieving balance in families. The question of balance is often heavily weighted toward the need for it in women, but what about men? Or, what about overall balance in the family unit?

Actually, let me back up and say I don't believe there is such a thing as balance in the sense of a one size fits all amount of time to spend working and with family. I also don't think that balance for one family is going to look the same as balance for another family. I've written about the juggling act of work and family and gender roles before and - after reading it again - things have changed quite a lot for us in the last two years.

What our balance looks like

Since 2013 began, I've reduced my hours at my day job from full-time to part-time. This change was supported by my employer without hesitation. My co-workers have been equally supportive. My husband has given me an incredible amount of support as I pursue building a new business, but my new business is every bit as much work for him as it is for me. It's created an imbalance (temporarily for an indeterminate period of time) that was hard for him at first - change doesn't come easy to him. However, he worked through that adjustment in our lives and accepted it gracefully. His support of what I am doing has been unwavering since. I give him full credit for his efforts because it's just not easy to go from the surety and "security" of a salary to the ebbs and flows of consulting work.

I'm painfully aware that I allow Matt to do far more than his fair share of housework and parenting. He works full-time, does dishes, his laundry, cleans, vacuums, takes out the trash, buys groceries, gets the mail, and countless other things.

I've been sick for most of this year with one bug or another and working late most nights added to illness added to working through the day have made me drowsy and sluggish in the mornings. I wake up later and later and my poor husband bears the brunt of getting himself ready, getting Brandon ready, making breakfast for both of them, packing Brandon's lunch, book bag and daycare bag, packing the car and ushering everyone out the door. It's taken a toll on him and he's stressed and tired, so that imbalance has to shift.

We only have one car, so the commute involves first dropping Brandon off, then Matt, and I take the car most days. Brandon is at daycare for 9-9.5 hours. I pick Matt up first and he and I go spend some time at home alone. We talk about our day, do a bit of cleaning, then one or both of us will go pick up Brandon.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Unless Brandon has therapy. In that case, he gets picked up early and I take him to his appointments. I've taken on the lion's share of paperwork, appointments and other logistics of getting Brandon treatment. Matt is aware of what's going on and stays involved, but I have more flexibility for appointments and Brandon has many, many appointments. There is a perceived imbalance and I do more than my "fair" share, but it's working better than if I insisted Matt help.

We typically get home in the evening between 5:30 and 6:00. Matt or I prepare dinner for Brandon. I sometimes prepare dinner for myself. Sometimes we all three even eat together, but our dinnertime flexibility allows Brandon time to play, which is something he needs. He goes to bed early and he needs downtime as well. I dream of the day when we all three sit at a table at the same time to eat every night. We're not there yet, and it may take a while, but this is what works for our family right now. We're spending time together and that's the important thing.

After dinner and playtime, Brandon gets to watch a little TV before bed. At bedtime, I  lay down with Brandon for him to settle into rest more quickly. I enjoy this one-on-one snuggle time with my baby and I would miss it if he stopped wanting it, even though there have been many nights I wished I didn't have to do it. Matt spends this time eating his dinner or doing various household chores. Nearly every night when I leave Brandon's room, I head to the office to work some more.

By 10pm most nights, Matt is in bed trying to sleep, if not out cold. I try to shut down at 11pm and then spend some time reading to wind down my brain. However, it'snot unusual for me to stay up until 2am or 3am if I get really focused on something. (It's no wonder I'm sluggish at 6am.)

Some nights, I go out to functions, which leaves Matt in charge of doing everything for the evening. He doesn't complain and I know I've got it good.

This time in our lives is tricky. It's requiring Matt to sacrifice his hobbies and downtime. It hasn't been easy for him and I won't pretend it hasn't caused problems between us. The better my business does, and the more Matt sees that I'm not leading us down the garden path, the less he minds the sacrifice. I like to think he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I am.

Like Sarah Lacy, I don't expect anyone else to want *my* life and *my* version of balance for themselves. This is what works for me and my family right now. A year from now, the picture will likely look very different. 

If individual couples can figure out that balance requires flexibility and constant renegotiation, then companies need to learn that as well. They may just find that employees enjoy their work and become more productive as a result.

Where do you draw the line?

Eons ago, way back when I was working retail in my days of college classes and trying to pay for said classes, I worked in retail. It's not an easy gig, but most stores give a pretty awesome discount that takes away some of the pain of being on your feet all day. I had no problem taking advantage of the discount. I like clothes. They wanted me to buy clothes. I "needed" these clothes for work - you know, advertising the product and all that.

Fast forward a few years and I'm older, perhaps a bit wiser and now working full time in office jobs, most of which don't come with perks like employee discounts on the product, unless you work for a company that sells consumer products or services.

One such job was with a business that provided services that came at a price. Employees weren't offered discounts, but there was a convenience factor to using our employer's services. I was there for over two years and after the first year I started to think about possibly taking advantage of their services. But I couldn't do it. Every time I thought about doing it, I would literally feel sick to my stomach. Clearly, my comfort level with handing over the required personal information was non-existent.

In the end, I realized that I would never be comfortable using or purchasing an employer's services or products unless the context was similar to retail. Perhaps it's because I'm part of the generation where workers are becoming more transient, but all I could imagine was what would happen if the relationship ended? What if I got laid off? What if I decided I didn't want to work there anymore? Then I have a permanent souvenir of my failed employment. If that doesn't make sense, here's an example of what I mean:

Imagine yourself to be an employee of a hotel - a really nice, swanky hotel. Like most hotels, they have facilities for weddings and other events. You, as a long-time employee, are given a generous discount if you choose to utilize their services. So, when you get engaged, you march right over to your colleagues' office in event planning, show off the engagement ring and book the date. Everything goes perfectly. Then the hotel goes through a re-org and your boss saves his/her own job by sacrificing yours. You feel betrayed, lost and you wonder how you will ever look at the 300 billion wedding pictures again without wanting to scream (or cry).

Okay, so it's extreme. And if you work in the hospitality industry you can probably tell I never have because maybe hospitality employees can't get a discount on events. But you get the idea, right?

I'm very protective of my personal privacy, though I really love to connect to co-workers on a personal level. I just don't want the organization I work for to be intertwined in or know about my personal life in anything more than a superficial way. I realized that this was where my comfort level is and my personal policy is that I don't buy/use my employers' products/services. What about the information that's out there on Internet? How much do you say about work if you're on Facebook? Twitter? Blogging?

When I started blogging it was really easy for me to decide how to deal with my professional life online.

I don't.

I don't mention who I work for, what industry I work in, the type of job I do (other than in very general terms) or any specific work-related information. For example, my Facebook profile is locked down, completely private and no one but my friends (and whoever hacks into their accounts) can see what I post. When a friend of mine mentioned the name of my employer once, I deleted the comment. I'm not comfortable putting any of that out there. I don't want my personal web presence to be scrutinized by my employer and found less than desirable.

There are stories all the time now about people who can't get job, lose jobs or get reprimanded for little tidbits that their employer picks up about them on the web. What that says to me is that they weren't being very discriminating in how they use the Internet, but that's a whole different post.

What about you? Do you keep your personal web activities separate and distinct from professional ones? Or is the line blurred? Do you have a line at all?