4 Top Work/Family Challlenges: And How to Beat Them

By Lindsey Townsend

Forget the Marines: if you’re a working mother, you’re the one who does more before the sun comes up than most people do all day. Getting the kids up, dressed and fed, finding lost items, packing lunches, and getting everyone to school on time can feel like a full-time job in itself. And that’s before you fight the traffic to get to work.

According to the Families and Work Institute, 60% of working parents feel considerable conflict between work demands and time spent at home. No surprise there. And with 85% of employed women still working exclusively out of the home (Xylo Report, November 2000), that means millions of us are still dashing from the office to the soccer field or daycare center every night.

We recently asked working women around the country to tell us what their biggest work/family dilemma was. Here are their top four challenges, along with some tips that may help:

Needing to be in two places at once.

Check out how technology can work for you.
As wireless devices continue to gain popularity, using a pc is no longer the only way to work. According to International Data Corporation, by 2004, more people will tap into the Internet through Web-enabled cell phones and other mobile devices than through personal computers. And as early as 2002, more Internet-connected wireless phones, TV set top boxes, handheld computers, network computers, Web pads, and other devices will be sold than personal computers.

Even something as simple as a cell phone can work wonders. “When my son was involved in Little League, I was commuting 1 ˝ hours to work,” says Jan Yergan, a director of business development. “I had to pick him up several times a week, which is stressful when you are at the mercy of highway traffic. So I scheduled any conference calls I had on those days from 4 p.m. on, and used the cell phone and my car as my office.”

Getting to school and work on time.

Get organized the night before.
Ever fall into bed thinking that you’ll do it in the morning? Do you ever have the time? Force yourself to pack lunches, lay out clothes, and get backpacks ready the night before. “Figure out what always hangs you up in the morning. For us, it’s always socks,” says Lisa Williams, a vice president of marketing. To solve that problem, she bought two dozen pairs for each of her sons.

Meanwhile, MIS manager Beth Jones has found a creative solution to getting her kids dressed. “It sounds awful, but I let them sleep in the clothes they’ll wear to school, because I got tired of fighting battles every morning,” Jones says. “They’re wrinkled, but we’re not late any more!”

Never having enough time.

Give up what’s not essential.
“To keep the balancing act in motion, live your life according to your values,” says Sandy Anderson, MBA, Ph.D., and author of Women in Career and Life Transitions. “If your kids and work are your most important priorities, lower your standards on household responsibilities. Learn to let a few things slide.”

Be sure, too, that you’ve familiarized yourself with the Family and Medical Leave Act and investigated every possible option at work. Slowly but surely, employers are beginning to address the work/balance issue. “We expect strategies such as telecommuting, flex-time, and compressed workweeks to become even more widely used in the future, as employees are increasingly demanding these options to help them balance work and family,” said DJ Nordquist, vice president of the Employment Policy Foundation.

Human resources manager Denise Allen says that many women don’t even know what programs their company’s HR department offers. “Thoroughly investigate your options, do your research to support your cause, and who knows?” she says. For example, communications director Julia Lothrop was able to coax her employer into letting her work from home two days a week after the birth of her second child. “Two of my saving graces are e-mail and the Internet. I write a lot of speeches now from home, and with access to technology I’m able to e-mail them to the office and hardly be missed,” she says.

Remember--if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Getting it all done.

Enlist help.
Are you the one who always buys next season’s clothes for the kids? Drops off and picks up the prescriptions? Plans every family outing? Your problem is management, not motherhood.

Psychologist Diane Ehrensaft says that no matter how willing mothers and fathers are to share responsibilities, mothers inevitably take over three major management functions: wardrobe manager, psychological counselor, and social director. If this rings a bell for you, force yourself to delegate a little responsibility.

“I’ve learned to get the kids to help, to hire help when I need it, to accept that things may not be perfect,” says communications director Diane Dobry. “Flexibility and creativity are the key to getting through things-and a good sense of humor!” Editor Lori Fairchild says that her husband’s support has made all the difference in her own professional success. “He’s able to accept his fair share of trips to the pediatrician and even come home early from the office if our daughter is sick when I have an important meeting or deadline,” she says.

Of course, if you’re a single mother, it’s even more important to develop a network of neighbors and friends who can pitch in when there’s a problem. “Build a good support system by connecting with other working moms who are a positive influence,” suggests Anderson. “The key is finding working moms in similar situations who are upbeat. Attitude is everything.”