How We Maintained Work-Family Balance During a Spike in Work Demands

About two months ago, I wrote about my wife’s new show, and how her work hours would spike for several weeks. I discussed our family’s plan for handling this time period, considering my work commitments and increased duties at home. The show is over, so now it’s time to see how we did, and what lessons we learned.

My wife's career as a stage actress has led to lots of cool experiences, funny costumes, and work-family juggling
My wife’s career as a stage actress has led to lots of cool experiences, funny costumes, and work-family juggling

(On Monday, I’ll be commenting on this week’s Pew Study’s findings on breadwinning moms and dual-career couples- SB)

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that my incredible wife Amy is a musical theater actress, and, depending on the project, her work schedule is often demanding, haphazard, inconvenient and inflexible.

About two months ago, Amy began work on an excellent new play, “The English Bride”. The play was very well-received (see this review!), so much so that it will run at the 59 E59 Theater off-Broadway, NYC in the Fall.

Her rehearsal schedule was intense- just 2 ½ weeks to get the show up and running. In general, rehearsals were 1-9, with tech week going even later (plus, the theater is about an hour’s drive away). This meant that, for a while, Amy saw Nick for 25 minutes in the morning and didn’t get home until after he was asleep. Her one day off a week was precious. During the show’s run, it was 8-shows a week- evenings, weekends and matinees, but she was able to be home more than during rehearsals.

For a while, most of the parenting and household duties, which we normally share, fell to me.

My wife, the lovely and talented Amy Griffin, and her co-star Michael Gabriel Goodfriend in “The English Bride”- coming off-Broadway this fall

So, how did our family make the past two months work?

In the original article (I’ll wait here while you go back and refresh your memory… Good, now let’s continue). I wrote that our plans fell into 4 categories:

  1. Shifting Where and When I Work– Relying on my work flexibility to be home when needed
  2. Getting Organized– Planning ahead and coordinating before conflicts arise
  3. Marshaling Our Resources– Relying on friends, neighbors, family and coworkers when needed
  4. Pacing Myself– Making sure I get some “mental health breaks” and exercise so I don’t become an overwhelmed, stressed-out parent.

1. Shifting Where and When I Work

Luckily, as a college professor, I have a very flexible and autonomous job. Aside from class, office hours and some meetings, most of my work can be performed from home/phone/laptop. This is a huge advantage in my ability to accommodate Amy’s work, and to help her to “Lean In” to her career when opportunities present themselves.

Except for Mondays when I taught until 4:30, I was able to arrange my schedule to meet Nick’s bus almost every day. My on-campus days were more rushed than I would have liked, but I made sure to be super-efficient while on campus, so I could do the tasks that did not require interaction later on at home after Nick went to bed.

Considering people felt I was doing a really good job at my core job tasks, no one minded much that I was unavailable for some non-core campus time. (I have always found that performing at an “A” level on the most important parts of one’s job gives you the slack to do non-core tasks at an adequate “B” level). Sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves, perhaps even more than bosses or employers do.

The Take-Away:

At first, I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my usual hours on campus. I feared this would decrease my job performance and/or make me seem less committed. These fears proved unfounded.

2. Getting Organized

Calendar is life. And, here, most of the credit goes to Amy- she is the master of the school/work/family event calendar. Because we had some lead time to plan to deal with conflicts, Amy (I confess it was usually Amy) was able to arrange play-dates, sleep-overs, baby-sitting, etc. when we needed help. Organization is not my strong suit, but I used my Outlook calendar and made many to-do lists. It all seemed to work out pretty well.

The Take-Away:

Emergencies happen, and creativity/flexibility is needed. But planning means fewer stressful emergencies.

By planning ahead, I was able to step up taking care of Nick while Amy's work demands spiked
By planning ahead, I was able to step up taking care of Nick while Amy’s work demands spiked

3. Marshaling Our Resources

Thanks to #2, we identified the days and times we needed help well in advance. This made it easier to call on my fatherhood network and line up help from our friends, family and neighbors.

  • There were a few days when Nick got off the bus and went home with one of his friends from around the corner. This meant I could be at work until 430ish instead of leaving by 3ish.
  • We scheduled our regular sitter for a few evenings well in advance
  • Nick had play-dates and a sleep-over with friends
  • My mom and my in-laws each came for a weekend (my mom and my in-laws are awesome, so this is a blessing and not one of those in-law horror stories). I let them take the lead with Nick when they visited. This opened up time for me to de-stress and also to get ahead with work over the weekend.
  • Nick spent 3 days during his “spring break” at the local (and very reasonably priced) YMCA’s kids camp- along with his two best friends. He had a blast. I *could* have managed and had Nick the whole time, but I would have been a distracted stressball, and Nick wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun.
  • For the other two days, Nick and I spent time at our town’s indoor pool and spent unstructured time together. I arranged my work schedule to allow for this time. I didn’t want to make him feel like he was being shuttled back and forth to things and that he was not my priority.

The Take-Away:

I get by with a little help from my friends.

4. Pacing Myself

This was an intense month and a half. I needed a release and some “me time”. I maintained playing in my volleyball leagues, making at least one match per week, and often two. Nick did great with friends and our sitter, and I got to de-stress.

The Take-Away:

I’m a much better parent when I’m not burned out and can get an occasional break. I think we all are.

In Conclusion

I didn’t write this post to pat myself on the back or anything- just to share how our family worked around a temporary challenge.

All in all, I think we did pretty well.

I can’t say it was always easy for me, but Nick is a great kid and I’m happy to be able to spend as much time with him as I do.

I know it wasn’t easy for Amy, who worked so hard throughout the rehearsal and the run of the show, and missed Nick like crazy. She is such a great wife and mom- the least I can do for her is step up for when needed.

While Nick missed his mom some, he was busy and happy and well-cared for. Through this process, we even got to reinforce the idea to him that his mom’s career is as important as his dad’s.

As I wrote in a prior article:

Part of the reason Amy and I have been a successful married couple/co-parents is that we fully discussed and are on the same page about how our lives together would include commitments to our family and each other’s careers. In general, we do a good job of prioritizing, communicating and coordinating so we can accommodate each other’s work demands. The rhythms of our household vary over time, but we make it work- Nick gets a lot of both of us, and if some months it’s more of mom or more of dad, that works for us, too.

What do you do when your family’s work-family balance temporarily changes? Any advice or stories to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

Like the article? Think it would make for a good facebook or twitter conversation? Then please share it using the buttons below. You can also follow the blog via email, facebook or twitter. Thanks!

9 thoughts on “How We Maintained Work-Family Balance During a Spike in Work Demands

  1. Great points, thank you for sharing! I love the ‘unstructured time’ at the pool idea, as well as the other ways you found to keep Nick entertained. My opinion of soccer mom style appointments is that they create more stress than good feelings when a person is shuttling kids around in the car. I understand that kids need ‘team time’, but in a way, it seems that a shuttling soccer mom is another way to ‘Keep Up With the Joneses’. And you know what I think about that 🙂

    Sorry if I went on a tangent 🙂

    • Over-scheduling is a killer! Yes, our kids benefit from SOME structured activitites, but our kids need unstructured time with us more than a second or third or fourth activity. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. We all have spikes in our work schedule. The article had some great take aways for those times. Thanks, Scott.

  3. Scott I think that you are very much in the ball park. This family thing is not just about single person (mostly mom’s), it is about working as a team including our kids. Scott you really put this in perspective and the benefit you have is your schedule and I wish others would work towards that to create a life/work balence. I as a contractor do not always have that but it has worked out in the past. There is no true perfect job but you can create the perfect life and again when the family works together. If I an in NY we would love to see your wife’s play:) Scott thank you for sharing.

    Tommy

    • Hi Tommy-
      Thanks for reading and for your comment. Obviously there is no “one size fits all approach” and I realize I have more flexibility than most. But, as you say, maybe we can work towards getting ourselves more flexibility and think about things more creatively and in a more integrated fashion. If you see the show, let me know!

  4. Sounds like you managed very well as a team. Over the past year my wife visited family in Florida two times (a family member was sick), and so I took care of both girls for several days by myself. I did OK but I admit that I was an emotional wreck by the time my wife returned; your ideas will really help if/when we face a similar situation. I now see I could have used a babysitter to get some “me” time those weeks!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: