What This Director Has Learned About Work/life Balance

Thursday 13 September 2018
Liz Benison Explains How Shared Parental Responsibilities Can Work With a Management Career
hands holding a paper family

In March 2018 The Women and Equalities Committee issued a new report into why the take up of Shared Parental Leave in the UK is so low, even though legislation allowing men time at home was introduced in 2015.

An article on the BBC website told Richard’s story. His wife was the higher earner, so they decided it would make more sense for them as a family if he worked flexibly and did the school runs. However, he ended up quitting his job after numerous run-ins with his employer who simply couldn’t understand his role. Richard was asked, ‘what is your wife doing? Why isn't your wife picking up the children?’

Every family unit makes up its own mind about how to handle childcare (the joys and the demands) and having a career (or simply a job to pay the bills). Of course, options also arise out of necessity too. I talk to families where the father has given up his role outside of the home and become the primary carer. I see grandparents taking a central role. I see families where one career takes precedent over the other, and that works well for them.

In my relationship, our choice was to do the ‘two career thing.’ With our eldest now at University, and our youngest in Sixth Form, some of the most pressing demands are now removed: on reflection, we have made it work. Mostly. But it isn’t all easy, and we have learned some lessons along the way. I share these only so that families who have made that same choice may feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Why a Two-career Household Works

My partner and I both have fulfilling careers. And we both had a share of amazing times spent with our kids.

Our kids have had equal involvement in their upbringing from their mum and their dad. Inadvertently, we have shown them that they both can do anything, and not be driven by gender stereotypes. We have taken all decisions about them jointly too, so we both felt accountable for choices such as a particular school or childcare option.

Read more: gender stereotypes about careers start in childhood

Financially, pursuing two careers is clearly a good option in the long run. Neither one of us has had the stress of being the primary breadwinner.

The Difficulty of Being a Two-career Household

At times, our entire relationship became purely about logistics. Talk of who was picking up, and who was dropping off the children was a constant case of: ‘Can I leave early in the morning?’ We have called in a lot of favours over the years, and at times the routine came close to crashing down on us, particularly if one or the other was working away.

Even more so for Dads, I think there is still a real stigma about calling in to say you’re working from home because your child is sick, or you are leaving early to go to Parents’ Evening. I think men who regularly take on more responsibility for their homes and children do suffer from some prejudice, and are maybe seen to be less committed than some of their peers.

For us, plans have had to give. We haven’t had much time for friends and hobbies, and all of our spare time has been spent together as a family. But that’s also been one of the best bits: we really have spent quality time together, and still do.

The Lessons of a Two-career Household

1. Think of Childcare as an Investment Not a Cost

Your long-term earning potential will be better if you have childcare that you trust and feel comfortable with (assuming you are lucky to have the option of assistance). We have been so fortunate in that we have had the same lady work for us for more than 16 years. Never full-time, and never live in. But she is trustworthy and flexible, and now a very important figure in our children’s lives. (As are her two lovely daughters).

2. Agree at the Start That Both Partners’ Careers Are Equally Important

We never talk about who is earning the most, and we never ‘pull rank’ on each other.

3. Concentrate on Whether Your Kids are Thriving

Prioritise your own experience and child’s happiness over any advice you get. If your child is thriving, then don’t feel guilty, just enjoy it. If they’re struggling in any way, then re-think your schedule. Small changes can make a big difference, but adjust quickly and move on.

4. Seek Out a Manager and an Organisation With the Right Values

A good boss, who understands that school runs aren’t a luxury, and who values outputs over inputs, is a necessity. We have been blessed with some of those, but at times have had to endure the ‘other’ type.

Read more: Google has identified the traits of toxic bosses

5. Help Others

I desperately try to be the good type of boss to my teams, but it is hard sometimes to spot tasks that are difficult and make life more stressful. So I would urge that you discuss potential issues with your teams. While there may not be a solution all of the time, a little understanding can go a long way.

And in case you were wondering, Richard ultimately found an employer who ‘got it’ and is back at work now!