1 Million for Work Flexibility director Emma Plumb recently wrote a piece on LinkedIn called “Fixing Uber’s Failings with a Lesson from Its Successes” that generated a boisterous conversation on work flexibility, tech, gender equity, and business design. In this “Busting the Myths” series, we respond to some of the concerns voiced by readers in the comments section about the practicality of work flexibility. 

“The bottom line is if you want to work you have to go where the work is and where the company wants you. Just because your skill set could allow you to work from home doesn’t mean a company has to allow for that to happen.”
-Gary Miller

“Yes, but if you are married to someone who has higher earning power … unless you try to do some crazy commuting/travel arrangement, you actually have to live in the place where your partner has to work. Somebody has to compromise to make it work, and it is usually the one who takes on the primary responsibility of caring for the young children.”
-Nikki Suebwongpat

Do Parents Have to Choose—Success at Work or Caregiving?

Too often couples feel pushed to choosesuccess at work or time for family.  Luckily, there is a growing community of parents who are showing us new ways to navigate this crossroad.

When following this approach, both parents learn how to flex their jobs so they can share in the care of their family.  It also turns out this “shared” approach is the preferred approach for two-thirds of millennial dads.

However, most couples end up only having one parent become the flexing parent while the other continues a more traditional approach at work. Some couples prefer this “one parent flex” approach. Others fall into this pattern and develop increasing resentment.

For over 16 years ThirdPath Institute has been helping couples design their preferred approach to work and family. We’ve also been growing a community of shared care parents as well as male and female leaders who have followed this approach as they advanced in their careers.

Yes, there are a number of obstacles that can get in the way. But here are some tips for navigating past these obstacles:

Obstacle: Real men don’t do family.
When women make changes at work to create time for family they are being “good mothers.”  When men do the same, they may be seen as odd. But this doesn’t just happen at work. Sometimes it’s one (or both) parents who consciously or unconsciously believe only mothers can flex, or that mothers should be the primary caregiver.

This is what almost happened to Roger. Roger and his wife are both engineers. When they were expecting their first child, Roger’s wife assumed she would be the only one who would worked reduced hourseven though they both worked for the same employer and had the same benefits.  It was actually Roger who suggested they both could work part time. With Roger’s input the couple designed a shared approach to parenting that made sure both parents had regular “alone” time with their child.  Over time, this helped the couple develop a high level of trust in each other and confidence in their ability to work as a team to manage both work and family responsibilities. Not surprisingly, this feeling of trust has also helped the couple feel closer in their relationship.

Obstacle: Will we kiss our careers goodbye?
Yes, there are distressing stories of men and women who were put on the “parent track” when asking for changes at work.  However, ThirdPath is connected to a growing and group of men and women who are forging an integrated career pathpushing back at outdated norms both at work and at home.

Eric is a great example of this. Eric began his career as a community organizer. Doing this type of job required a lot of evenings and weekend work. But when he and his wife began thinking about their family goals, he knew this would need to change. After talking with his wife, Eric began looking for work that would allow him a 4-day workweek, that would also allow him to work from home. By doing this, Eric knew it would ensure he had days where he would be the primary caretakersomething he truly desired.  Ultimately Eric found a leadership position in an organization that was willing to meet his family’s needs. There were trade-offs, working 80 percent time also meant a 20 percent pay cut. But Eric knew this was the right decision and that it would allow him to enjoy fatherhood on his own terms.

Obstacle: More family time means less money.
Yes, having one (or both) parents always prioritize work over everything else may increase a person’s ability to earn the biggest income and reduce some risks in a world where too many organizations reward employees who always prioritize work over family. But we also know lots of families like Eric’s, men and women who are willing to trade money to create more time for their families, their relationship as a couple, and themselves.

We even know leaders who have launched entire organizations that support this approach.

Following this non-traditional approach also requires an on-going commitment. Babies grow up, jobs change, bosses come and go. This means parents who follow this approach may have to negotiate more than once to stay on course. But when they do, we’ve also seen it provides all kinds of benefitsnot just for the familiesbut their workplaces as well.

Interested in a “shared” approach to work and family?

Here’s one simple but powerful way to begin the conversation: over a glass of wine with pen and paper in hand, take turns with your partner thinking about what you would like work and family to look like 5 years from now. How old will your children be? How would you like their care to be arranged? How do you want to approach cooking, shopping and cleaning? What do you both want to be doing at work or in your careers? When couples “get on the same page” around these goals, they can better support each other to put these ideas into action.

Or join our next Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar.  This year we are exploring the 8 major crossroads you need to navigate when integrating work and life. Let us help you design your own unique “third path”an integrated approach to work and life.

photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com