Why Is Work-Life Balance So Hard to Achieve?
Life certainly changes after you have children. Your entire framework for living shifts, and the lens by which you see the world becomes broader. My husband Jason and I thought we were as prepared as any couple could be as we entered the unknown territory of parenting. Some things came naturally - most things did not. And there was one area in this new world of parenting that knocked us for a loop and is still kicking our butts eight years in...work-life balance.
There are two main reasons I think we were so caught off guard. The first is that we certainly couldn't be the first family to be going through this. After all, women entered the work force decades ago! Surely the workplace and its infrastructure had evolved enough to reflect these major societal changes of the last 50 years. Right?
The second reason we were caught offguard is that dual income families represent the vast majority of households today. So even if women had only recently entered the work force, the sheer numbers would demand that businesses and corporations keep up with the times. Or so we thought. Sadly, neither of these assumptions turned out to be true. Which had Jason and I a bit stunned and unprepared.
Perhaps our biggest shock was not that the current business structure was a little behind the times, but that it was actually stuck way back in the days of "Leave it to Beaver." It hadn't moved an inch. Nothing. Nada. It is the same paradigm that supported Ward Cleaver over half a century ago: He worked at the bank and was the breadwinner. June was the homemaker. Two people. Two full-time jobs. As women started to gain employment outside of the home, they suddenly had two full-time jobs and their husbands still just had one. Luckily, women spoke up and couples began sharing home responsibilities. So the math got a bit better, but even today, it still doesn't add up. Two adults with, now, three full time jobs.
The good news is that many businesses are seeing the light. They are offering maternity and paternity leave, flex time, and telecommuting. They understand that sick kids take priority and that a school play can't be rescheduled. They are allowing parents to work as adults, taking responsibility for their work getting done whenever (and sometimes wherever) it most makes sense, as opposed to being confined to a punch-clock mentality.
Of course we have a long way to go, but I am optimistic. We are the generation of exhausted parents, trying to do it all because we refuse to settle for anything less. But we are tired of being tired. And that, I am hopeful, is our tipping point: In the end, our collective exhaustion will pave the way for a new world order where work and family have some hope of balance. And where the math finally makes sense.
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