Those words have the potential to elicit all sorts of reactions in working parents—not least of which is skepticism about how such balance is even possible in this day and age.
And if you think the struggle to maintain work-life balance only affects women, just take a look at a recent headline about the phenomenon known as working dad guilt.
Or a survey from the Pew Research Center that found 48% of working fathers felt they didn’t spend enough time with the kiddos, compared with 26% of working moms.
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It’s a hot-button issue, for sure, and some employers are taking note—companies like Netflix and Microsoft are rolling out more generous paid parental leave policies and encouraging flexible working arrangements.
Still, the demands of today’s highly competitive and fast-paced workplaces often leave little room for any, well, time for life.
But that doesn’t mean people won’t try to strike a better balance—people like these dads, who each have a clever work-life balance hack they’re using to make it all work.
“I Set Aside a Few ‘Oh, Boy’ Vacation Days”
Eli Martin, 32, sales director, Middletown, Del.
“I actually started pursuing stronger work-life balance before my son was born by moving, so I could reduce my work commute from an hour to mere minutes.
An even better work-life balance tip?
Since becoming a father 10 months ago, I’ve adjusted my approach to vacation time.
I used to plan days off well in advance. And while my wife, Kristin, and I still do some of that, I also save a few ‘oh, boy’ days for when my son’s sick and can’t go to day care, or ‘oh, boy, it’s been a bad night, so I’m going to take a half day to sleep.’
Those days are going to happen, so rather than scramble, I’ve planned for them. It gives me the chance to recharge my batteries when I need to, as well.”
“I Divide My Week Into Early and Late Nights”
Sam Anthony, 27, website co-founder, Minneapolis
“In a matter of two years, I got married, had a baby girl and started my own business.
There are about 800 different ways I could spend every minute of every day, and when it comes down to it, everything that needs to be tended to is important.
So organizing my time was critical to ensure I could be there for my wife, Nicole, and daughter (now 3)—without sacrificing the success of my web design business.
The result? My wife and I worked out a schedule in which I end two workdays each week a couple of hours early in order to spend quality time with the family—and two nights when I jump back into work around 8:30 p.m. and keep at it until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.”
“I Work the Kids Into Our Social Plans”
Omkar Karthikeyan, 35, pediatrician, Ann Arbor, Mich.
“We’ve made it a point to include our daughters (ages 3 and a half and 7 months) in the things we enjoyed as twenty-somethings, rather than lament the life we once had.
As I like to tell first-time parents who visit my practice, you can still do a lot of the same things you did a year ago—you just do them a little earlier in the evening.
So my wife, Samantha, and I go out for dinner as a family at least once a week—and it’s often to our favorite local brew pubs.
It’s a sign of how social mores have changed. Today, plenty of notable restaurants are welcoming to kids, and we see plenty of other parents following our approach.
Still, it helps to be strategic.
Weather permitting, we opt for outdoor venues because they’re more spacious and it’s easier to sneak in mac and cheese or a bag of carrots. Other times, we’ll feed the girls at home first, and then go out for a drink at a bar.
It’s tough to do on work days, since we only have about two hours between the time we get home and when the girls go to bed. But with enough planning, it can make your night.”
“I Got an MBA Online”
Nick Switzer, 31, engineer, Campbell, Calif.
“My traditional engineering career left me underprepared for cash-flow analysis and negotiation—both of which have become crucial to my current role.
So when I decided to get my MBA, I chose to do it through massive open online courses (MOOCs) because I wanted to have more time to spend with my daughters, ages 3 and 2.
The flexibility of online courses also helped me work around my wife’s demanding work schedule: Marlo travels regularly for her job at a big tech firm—sometimes weeks at a time.
I’ve since completed my MBA, with a focus on data science—and it’s already earned me a promotion.”
“My Wife and I Divide and Conquer the Kids’ Schedules”
John Lucas, 48, trader, Dix Hills, N.Y.
“It’s challenging to coordinate the logistics for four kids (8, 7, 6, and 5) who each do three activities. And it doesn’t help that my commute is nearly two hours each way.
My wife, Tanya, a full-time mom, bears the brunt of it all week, and I do the heavy lifting on the weekends. That said, she still can’t be in four places all at once, so my father, my mother-in-law, and a babysitter help with all of the driving.
We have a huge calendar in our kitchen listing each kid’s schedule and who will take them and pick them up.
We’ve also learned to volunteer for roles that allow us to play a part in scheduling events. Sure, it creates extra work for us—but it’s worth it.
For example, my two older boys are on different ice hockey teams this year. I agreed to be the manager of one team, giving me control over scheduling games. So I can coordinate (to a degree) with the manager of my other son’s team to avoid conflicts.
Similarly, Tanya signed up to be the ‘Class Mom’ at school, allowing her to influence the activities calendar and join the kids on field trips.”
“I Took Advantage of Extended Paternity Leave”
Karl Watson, 29, sales manager, Chicago
“My son was born in early August, and I recently made the difficult decision to take paternity leave: one week of paid vacation, plus 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act time that will be unpaid.
Although my career might be hurt by this extended leave, my priority is caring for my son—and supporting my wife, Maegan, in her efforts to launch a consulting business while working full-time. It’s not realistic for her to take a long maternity leave since she’s the sole consultant.
We’ve come up with a daily schedule that allows me to be Mr. Mom while also putting my sales expertise to use in helping to grow Maegan’s business.
Since you don’t exactly get much free time with a newborn, it helps that we made another big decision to move in with my in-laws and rent out our condo until our son turns 1.
We have built-in help with our boy, and they get to see him grow every day. Overall, it’s a pretty great setup.”
“I Became My Own Boss”
Brendon Few, 27, arborist, Hilo, Hawaii
“When my wife, Chelsea, and I lived in Richmond, Va., I’d be out of the house up to 70 hours a week, often leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. and not returning until after dark.
It just wasn’t sustainable.
So we decided to move to Hawaii, where I thought I could earn more—and have time to do more together as a family. But as it turned out, my hours were about the same during our first year here.
Then I had an epiphany of sorts: To get control over my time, I needed to go to work for myself. So I eventually partnered with an investor to get my tree management business off the ground, and staffed it with two employees.
Now, if something comes up at home or I want to leave early to spend time with my kids (ages 6, 2, and 2 months), I can—because I know things at work are covered.”
“I Aim to Work From Home Once a Week”
Chad Avery, 42, IT technology director, Parrish, Fla.
“My wife, Natalie, and I have two daughters, 7 and 4, and we both work full-time—but I try to work from home at least one day per week.
On my work-from-home day, I take the girls to school and pick them up. It’s about a 25-minute drive, which gives me some dedicated time to talk with them.
I’m lucky in that my company is pretty flexible with work-life balance—and I’ve let members of my team know they can follow my lead when it comes to working from home and taking time out for doctor or school appointments.”
“I’m Strategic About Business Travel Plans”
JJ Villani, 39, digital account director, Nesconset, N.Y.
“Consolidating work trips is something I didn’t really pay mind to before becoming a parent.
Now, if I can, I’ll fly into and out of a destination in the same day—so I can wake up in the morning and still see my 5-year-old son.
While the Westin does have the Heavenly Bed, nothing is better than my own!
I also maximize work travel, so if I have to see multiple clients, I’ll try to turn it into a two-day trip—say, a Miami-Atlanta trip—to check both clients off at the same time.
A bonus tip?
My wife, Nicole, and I feel that carving out adult time is vital. But instead of the ‘woohoo!’ Saturday nights we once had, we’ll do dinners with friends who are also parents on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when babysitters are easier to book."