What Is The Best Career Path For Balancing Work And Family?

Can I continue working in a satisfying career without sacrificing my family life? – Product Marketer

My first concern when I read this question was how binary the choice seemed to this reader – yes, you can have a satisfying career and family life, or no, you can’t! I would challenge this product marketer to rephrase her question to start with How: How can I continue working in a satisfying career without sacrificing my family life? This makes clear that the primary assumption is Yes, it can be done! The only issue is how one might do it.

Finding the physical energy, mental bandwidth and emotional constitution to shine at both work and home is already challenging. This pandemic, with school, activity and childcare options diminished and boundaries between work and home also diminished, has been particularly hard on working moms. There are fewer working moms now – about 1.4 million fewer as of January 2021 than at that same time last year.

Should you take a break from working?

If you’re unhappy at your current job and looking for something different, it does take time to find a new job – that’s additional time from what you spend working  That additional time is probably all earmarked for family right now, so you’re stuck. Taking a break from work so you can focus on your next move and still have time for family seems appealing.

I’m all for taking breaks — everything short of quitting. Build in proper lunch breaks, take a sick day, use a few days of vacation or ask for a longer leave. If you think your manager won’t approve vacation or sabbatical, now’s the time to negotiate hard – the alternative is quitting with nothing. A big downside of quitting outright is that it just trades one problem (lack of time) for another (lack of a job now creates financial pressure and a red flag for prospective employers). You also can’t assume you can readily ramp back up when you’re rested and want to work again.

Should you pull back from full-time to part-time?

If you can afford the cut in pay that likely will result from decreasing your hours, then building a career out of part-time jobs may be one path to better balance work and family. Your current employer is a logical first step to explore this option. They know your work quality and the value you bring so are the most likely to approve a drop to part-time. You also know the environment so can more easily adjust. A part-time schedule allows you to stay involved in your career, maintain your skills and network and still contribute, just at a slower pace.

One downside of dropping to a part-time schedule is that you don’t really save on the hours; rather, you simply make less. If you’re an exempt professional paid for results or a specific scope of work, not by the hour, you may find that you’re expected to produce not that much less output as a part-time employee. You also may still get contacted on your off days. Preserving your part-time status will require strong boundary management.

Should you choose entrepreneurship instead of traditional employment?

Yet another career path is to shift from traditional employment, or working for someone else, to working for yourself – either building a business or working in the gig economy as a freelancer. This path gives you maximum flexibility to design the career that works for you – the schedule, the responsibilities, the people you serve. Your earning potential is limited only by how much business you can generate. You are the CEO, which can be a satisfying change from middle management or being an individual contributor.

With these rewards come the risks of business-building – mainly that you have to build the business. You are in charge of selling, pricing, marketing and then doing the work. It takes time and energy to get the business started, or as a new freelancer, to find companies to contract with. You don’t earn until you sell so there is money lost and potentially money spent on starting up the business (e.g., licenses if needed, equipment or space, website and other marketing). There is also a risk that if you try the entrepreneurial route and don’t like it, you can’t readily return to traditional employment.


There are multiple career paths, and they all could work

Having raised two daughters, now adults, I used all of the above options. I took almost a year off in between traditional jobs, I have worked part-time and I now run a business. Power Moms by Joann S. Lublin features dozens of real-life examples of working moms with satisfying careers and full family lives, and the stories all differ in how each mom came to her balance point. Multiple career paths can work. If we return to the original question that started this post, it depends on how you define “satisfying” and “sacrificing”. What makes a career satisfying to you? These are your priorities. What feels like a sacrifice or undue burden? These define your boundaries.