Systems Thinking and Work Life Balance

We Need to Join Together for Change

In her book, This is Not How I Thought it Would BeKristin Maschka shares her struggles on the road to work-family balance. She also illustrates why changes are required of the “whole system” – work, home and in public policy – in order to create lasting change for everyone. After the birth of their daughter, Kristin was unable to negotiate a part-time arrangement with her current employer and then laid off from the next part time arrangement she negotiated. This left David as the sole breadwinner, working 70+ hours a week at a law firm.Kristin writes, “When Kate was eight months old, after endless weeks of David being at work all hours on all days, I hit the wall. I heard myself shouting the unthinkable at David. ‘If you can’t figure out a way to fix this mess and spend more time with us and less time at work, I’m leaving with Kate for my parents’ house in Minnesota, and I’m not coming back until you do!”

David was also extremely unhappy. His boss and colleagues assumed he could work and travel on demand because Kristin would take care of everything else, and he add enjoyed very little alone time with their new baby.

To get to a more shared approach, Kristin and David learned they needed to stop blaming each other. Instead, they needed to work together to find jobs that would meet the needs of their whole family.

Kristin quickly learned, “integrating work and family is not ‘my problem’ but ‘our problem.’” They also both discovered there was no single fix to making their jobs fit together. Over time, their daughter’s needs changed, jobs changed and their lives changed. It was a process that required constant tinkering and collaboration.

Here are some of Kristin and David’s lessons learned:

  • Know your ideal jobs and what it will take for the two jobs to fit together
  • Small steps in a shared direction can make everyone feel better
  • Experiment with ways to relieve critical pressure points as quickly as possible
  • Create regular time to review progress and make plans together
  • Invest money and time to do whatever it takes to make progress toward your vision
  • Ask for help from friends and family
  • Celebrate small victories along the way

Reflecting back on what gave her the courage to push for change, Kristin said:
“I knew what I would lose. I’d lose my marriage, maybe not literally, but something vital at its core. David and I got married as equals, as best friends, as partners… How could we hope to have our marriage stand the test of time if we gave up on that vow to be true to the dreams we share? I would always carry some level of resentment, and he would always feel some defensiveness. If we gave up on the idea that we could share responsibility for our family, effectively we would be giving up on a core value in our marriage.”

She also knew David had a lot to lose
“I didn’t want David to miss out on the richness of the relationship I had with Kate. A richness that came from putting a cold washcloth on her feverish forehead, from reading and giggling about stories in her bed at night, and, yes, from the times she drove me crazy and I yelled and then said I was sorry and she hugged me anyway. I didn’t want David to find many years later that he didn’t know his own child, had missed her childhood and couldn’t have a meaningful conversation with her. I wanted more for him, so badly it brought me to tears.”

Learn more about “whole system” thinking by listening to our Thursdays with ThirdPath episode with guest Peter Senge. We also invited two parents to share their work-family stories as well.

Peter is the author of the ground breaking book The Fifth Discipline. Together we discussed the importance of finding the right balance between time for work, time for life, and time to recharge. Or as Peter said, “if we don’t choose the boundaries that make the most sense for us, technology and the norms of our workplaces will choose them for us.”

To hear the webinar, click the YouTube video above.

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