The University Record, June 11, 1996

Balancing work, family can be like walking a tightrope without a safety net

'Walking the wire' between home and work requires communication and support, Shepherd told participants.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Striving to maintain balance in your life among work and family responsibilities is a lot like walking on a high wire---we're constantly trying to stay on the tightrope, often without a safety net.

But successfully walking the wire between your duties and commitments at home and at work requires a great deal of communication with and support from others about what you really can and want to do.

This was the message delivered by consultant Wendy Shepherd at a workshop on juggling work and family responsibilities during last week's 17th annual career development conference, Workplace of the '90s.

Shepherd said that a lot of people feel pulled in many directions by competing demands---often out of a sense of obligation---but are reluctant to ask for help from others or are unable to say "enough is enough" when asked to take on more responsibility.

"People say 'Oh, such-and-such makes me feel so guilty,'" she said. "Nobody can make you feel anything. You have to give people permission for you to burn out. We allow it to happen by taking on too many things."

Shepherd offered the following personal mantras for finding balance in life, especially on the homefront:


Get real! Be realistic in your expectations of what can and should be done, by whom. Don't expect miracles or mind-readers.


If I can visualize it, it can be done. Begin to assess the need to do everything. Why are you doing it? Why is your child doing it? Too many extracurricular activities? Are there other ways to meet the needs? Be courageous and stick to your guns.


With one tuckus, you can't dance at two weddings. Use lots of lists and date them with things that need to be donelarge and small.


Sometimes OK is good enough. You cannot be in two places at once. Begin to assess priorities. Be true to your own needs and communicate with others. Cut out what you need to cut out.


A place for everything... Take a look at your household set-up. Does it ask to be a disaster? How can you better organize the space? Baskets and boxes help kids store and stash.


June Cleaver doesn't live here anymore. Is a spotless house really the most important thing when your kids are young and you are working? What can go by the wayside?


Technology is my friend. Don't waste time doing something a machine can. Use your e-mail at home to keep in touch with family and friends if you don't have time to write or call. Use a beeper to make yourself more accessible when you don't want to be tied to the phone. Turn on the answering machine at meal times and don't answer the phone.


Get with the plan! Get kids on organizers/planners. Use this as a focusing tool to make sure that everyone knows where and when they are supposed to be someplace.


There's no job too big or too small that can't be tackled with team work. Make sure everyone has set and firm routines to follow for helping. Give ownership of roles. Delegate.


Don't sweat the small stuff. Clothes can stay in baskets. Sandwiches make good dinners. Don't let your own memories of how you think it was when you were a kid make you crazy. Substitute where it makes your life easier---make hot chocolate when you're out of milk.


If it's not fun, why do it? You'll have a better time if you make time for fun. Slow down the pace. Have young children sleep in the next day's clothes once in a while to streamline the next day. Eating waffles in the car is a treat, once in a while. Packing fun lunches the night before is a treat. Make the objective to be fun and not stress.


When the oxygen mask drops due to decompression, I'm to help myself first. Make sure you take care of yourself. Make time for a hobby and for friends. Don't put yourself last on the list.


When I procrastinate, the first person I punish is myself. By putting things off until it's the "right time," you make the job less manageable and much more difficult. Eat your vegetables firstdon't just move them around on the plate.


I have moved guilt out of my life. Make a pledge to do nothing out of guilt or obligation.